Wondering if Pentecostals Speak in Tongues? Get the Facts


The New Testament teaches that the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues is when a person talks in sounds, syllables, and words that the speaker doesn’t understand. Some Christians, their churches, and the denominations they belong to speak in tongues, but others don’t because they believe the gift was for the first century only. What about Pentecostals?

Pentecostals believe that the gift of speaking in tongues is operational today and didn’t cease in the first century. Pentecostal churches teach and encourage their members to pray to God and praise him with tongues. Pentecostals believe tongues are the initial evidence of being baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Why do Pentecostals believe speaking in tongues is a proper practice? What is being filled with the Holy Spirit in Pentecostal theology? Is Pentecostalism a denomination? What do Pentecostals believe about baptism in the Holy Spirit? What are the largest Pentecostal denominations? Keep reading to learn answers to these questions and others.

praying in tongues
Is speaking in tongues for public or private use? See below

Why do Pentecostals believe speaking in tongues is a proper practice?

Pentecostals believe speaking in tongues is a holy and edifying practice that strengthens individual believers, churches, and the mission of the church around the world.

What is speaking in tongues? “Speaking in tongues” refers to when a person talks, often in the context of praying to God or praising God, with sounds, syllables, and words that they don’t understand. Tongues are a way that people can communicate with God, though other people in close proximity of the speaker may overhear them.

Are tongues for private or public use? Speaking in tongues is mostly between an individual and God, whether the gift is employed in a person’s private prayer time at home or as they pray or sing while sitting in a pew at church.

How can tongues be used in public? It’s less common, though biblically permissible, for someone to speak in tongues in front of an entire congregation. On such occasions, the Bible demands that an interpreter be present and explain the message of the tongues to everyone. If there is no one with the gift of interpretation present, then tongues should not be spoken to the entire congregation.

If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.

1 Corinthians 14:1-2 (ESV)

Why do tongues require an interpreter in a congregational setting? Speaking in tongues doesn’t directly edify people who merely hear them, but don’t speak in them. The congregation doesn’t benefit from words they can’t understand. Additionally, unbelievers won’t understand the prayer or praise without an interpretation.

If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?

1 Corinthians 14:23 (ESV)

How does the baptism of the Holy Spirit relate to speaking in tongues? Pentecostals believe that baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs sometime after a person decides to follow Jesus Christ. Other Christian theologies believe that Spirit baptism occurs at the time of conversion.

Pentecostal theology teaches that the initial evidence of being baptized in the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues. Other Christian theologies believe that speaking in tongues isn’t the only evidence of being baptized in the Holy Spirit, especially after the first century.

What is being filled with the Holy Spirit in Pentecostal theology?

Pentecostals use this phrase to describe a blessing that occurs after a person converts to Jesus Christ, in which the Spirit “fills” a person in a fresh way that empowers them.

The result of being filled with the Holy Spirit is multifaceted and may include a deeper devotion and affection for God, overcoming sin, and empowerment for ministry effectiveness. In common use, being “filled with the Spirit” is used in slightly different ways.

  • It’s synonymous with baptism of the Holy Spirit: In this usage, being filled with the Holy Spirit occurs at the time of Spirit baptism and for the purpose of incorprating believers into the body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13). Example: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4, cf. 1:5).
  • It’s describes unique empowerment for Christian ministry: In this usage, it refers to spiritual gifts God dispenses to a person for purposes like effectiveness in prayer or evangelism. Example: “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders…” (Acts 4:8, ESV).
  • It refers to a person who is fully devoted to God: In this way, being “filled with the Spirit” doesn’t necessarily refer to a spiritual gift, but a person’s heart, affections, and commitment to God. Example: “Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty” (Acts 6:3-5).
speaking in tongues to God
Is “Pentecostal” a denomination or something else? See below

From Pentecost in Jerusalem to Azusa Street in Los Angeles

Where does the term “Pentecostal” come from? In the book of Acts, “Pentecost” describes the day that God poured out the Holy Spirit in a unique way to mark the establishment of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ (Acts 2; cf. Jer. 31). One result of Pentecost was that the gospel of Jesus Christ would be proclaimed around the world to people of all languages, tribes, people, and nations (cf. Rev. 7:9).

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Acts 2:1-4 (ESV)

Is “Pentecostal” a denomination? The term “Pentecostal” describes a belief system, as well as the people, churches, and practices, associated with it. “Pentecostal” isn’t a denomination per se, but a belief system that characterizes certain denominations.

What are the largest Pentecostal denominations? The largest Pentecostal denomination in the world is the Assemblies of God, whose churches are found throughout the world. At a little over 100-years-old, the Assemblies of God is one of the fastest-growing denominations and movements in the 2,000-year history of Christianity. The Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel also have Pentecostal beliefs.

Are Pentecostals found in other denominations? Christians who have beliefs and practices that align with Pentecostal theology are found in other Protestant denominations like Baptist, Methodist, and Nazarene. There are also some people with Pentecostal convictions found in Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Catholic churches, but they are few in number.

Often, but not always, people who speak in tongues, leave mainline churches and attend a church that encourages Pentecostal beliefs and practices.

What is the origin of Pentecostalism? For Pentecostals, their origin is rooted in the early church, as recorded in the book of Acts. As a modern movement, Pentecostalism originated in the early 20th century. Many historians mark the Azusa Street Revival led by William Seymour, in Los Angeles, California, in 1906, as the birthplace of the movement. Some cite evidence that the movement started a few years before Azusa Street in the American Midwest.

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