Distinguishing Between True and False Utterances by K. Neill Foster
A lecture delivered at the Evangelical Theological Society Jackson, Mississippi, November 1996
I propose this day to investigate a phenomenon, both ancient and contemporary, called glossolalia and the application of the Ruark procedure of testing to that phenomenon.
To suggest that true and false exist in this field of investigation is itself provocative. A large segment of evangelicalism affirms that no such examples of true glossolalia exist.
Conversely, another very large segment of evangelicalism affirms that glossolalia, when it exists in a Christian context is almost undoubtedly a true expression of the Holy Spirit, and indeed many suggest that no true Christian can ever come under the sway of a demonic expression.
However, of late, there are cracks in the monolithic stance of the Pentecostal movement, especially the larger churches.
[C]ontemporary classical Pentecostals must admit that speaking in tongues has gradually diminished in importance in many of their larger churches and that leading Pentecostal spokepersons hardly mention the experience at all. That is not to say, of course, that they reject glossolalia, but it seems undeniable that its status as the sine qua non of authentic Spirit-filled Christianity is steadily losing ground in Pentecostal circles (Olson 1996:53).
Nevertheless, in this area in which angels certainly fear to tread, let us march forth. There are strong Scriptural admonitions to proceed. "Test everything, hold on to the good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21) is given in a context of prophesying. "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1) is given in a context relating to false prophets. The argument here is that the Scripture must be obeyed, even when it flies in the face of commonly held beliefs.
The issue, of course-how does one test an utterance of tongues? A.E. Ruark has provided an answer to that question.
Archie Ruark (1900-1994), whose story is disarmingly told in Quiet Warrior (Brotherton:1991), was a simple man who for years labored unobtrusively as a professor in two Bible institutes in the province of Alberta, Canada. Ruark first served at the Peace River Bible Institute in Sexsmith, Alberta. Later he ministered with L.E. Maxwell at Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta. He was ordained by The Christian and Missionary Alliance but never served with that denomination.
After considering that the Pentecostal evidence doctrine was new in Church history in 1901, Brotherton intimates that Ruark may have been historically inevitable in that he was the first, so far as can be determined, to apply First John 4:1-4 to glossolalia (1991:29).
There are hints among the Church fathers that could suggest otherwise. Reacting to Montanism, Eusebius tells of arriving at a church in Ankara, Turkey where he "found the local church deafened with this new craze" (G.A. Williamson 1965:218). Eusebius further described the spirit-speaking he encountered as "psuedo- prophecy" and admits that some thought Montanus was a demoniac in the grip of a spirit of error (G.A. Williamson 1965:219).
The Montanistic prophetesses Maximilla and Prisca also came in for some attention. An attempt was made to silence the spirit that was in Maximilla (Williamson 1965:220) and to exorcise it (Reinhold Seeberg 1977:107). Ruark, for his part, 1800 years later, forthrightly challenged tongues manifestations with testing and exorcistic procedures and achieved some rather dramatic results.
The Ruark procedure of applying exorcistic procedures to an utterance is not totally without precedent. Three centuries after Eusebius, Montanists were in fact brought back into the church and (interestingly enough!) made Christians the first day, made catechumens the second day, baptized the third day and exorcized the fourth day (John de Soyres 1878:52).
The belief that some glossolalia may be spurious has been held from the very first expressions of the Pentecostal/charismatic (similar though diverse) movements. Charles Parham, originator in 1901 of the evidence doctrine (McGraw 1996) was saying some dramatic things about the movement he had helped to launch just eleven years earlier.
Hear this: three-fourths of the so-called Pentecosts in the world are counterfeits, the devil's imitation to deceive the poor earnest souls. . . . Many hundreds, in seeking Pentecost, were taught to yield to any force, as God would not permit them to be misled; under those conditions they were ripe for hypnotic influence. . . . Two-thirds of the people professing Pentecost are either hypnotized or spook-driven, being seized in the first place with a false spirit or coming under the control of one afterward. We cannot be too careful to try or test the spirits and any person unwilling to have their experience tested by going to God for themselves or with the brethren, reveal the fact that they are demon-controlled. . . . They plead the blood, and claim to be Jesus, giving messages, and imitate every gift of the Holy Spirit and Pentecostal tongues (Parham 1911: 55, 72, 120-121).
Ruark's procedure is not complicated. He assumes several things. He assumes that tongues-speaking is a spirit-utterance. He assumes further that he would be in order to try such spirit-manifestations in a manner consistent with First John 1:1-4. His hermeneutical assumptions also are very simple. He would plainly do what the Scriptures plainly advise when plainly read. Thus, his hermeneutic falls clearly into the grammatical-historical classification. The most revolutionary assumption of Ruark is that there are indeed true tongues as well as false, and that the test as he administered it, would not only identify the spurious but would seize upon the valid and the good.
Finally, he makes assumptions of his completeness in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:10), and thus his ableness to administer the test. He assumed further that his authority was indeed the authority of the believer (Ephesians 1:19-21), that he was seated in the heavenlies in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:6) and not only was he in Christ but that Jesus Christ was in him (John 14:20).
These assumptions pressed Ruark down a path of historic implications. Through forty years of ministry, he kept cryptic notes (400 case studies) about the various deliverance encounters he had while applying his procedure to tongues manifestations (nineteen per cent of his encounters involved glossolalia) and to other spirit-expressions. He wrote little, just four small booklets (Brotherton 1991:141-173). These notes, however, now stored at the School of World Mission in Pasadena, show that consistently through forty years, A.E. Ruark challenged various manifestations.
In 1988 while Archie Ruark was still living, I wrote that
After fifty-five years of ministry, and dealing with anti-charismata (in-place-of charismata) through much of that time, he believes that about 90 per cent of all the tongues manifestations he has ever encountered have been false. And he reiterates his belief that tongues is one of the most frequent entry points for Satan in his attack upon Christian people. He also still affirms that a fear to put First John 4:1-4 into practice with the charismata is a major strategy of Satan to avoid if at all possible any uncovering of his work (Foster 1988:180).
In a fourteen-point questionnaire Ruark used in his counselling ministry, his final query in the effort to discover possible occult involvement was this:
"Have you spoken in tongues or been present with others when they were speaking in tongues?" (1983:7).
So far as Ruark was concerned, the testing procedure was simple enough.
(E)xperience has proven that the greater part of speaking in tongues is done through evil spirits. These evil spirits, when asked in the Name of Jesus Christ, "Is Jesus Christ come in the flesh?" will refuse to answer that question, will give an evasive answer, or say "no" in English with the person's voice (1947:2).
His further elaboration on his methodology was as follows:
The test of a spirit should be made. . . (when the person) is speaking in tongues. The one who does the testing should address, not the human being, but the spirit, in this manner, "Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, answer, is Jesus Christ come in the flesh?" A demon is most reluctant to answer this question. It will either leave, evade a definitive and positive answer, or say "No" (Ruark 1947:8).
Despite the weight of evidence on the negative, Ruark continued to believe that authentic experiences in tongues were possible, although he understandably declined to press that argument (Ruark 1947:8).
The other main witness to these procedures is George Birch. Long a missionary of the China Inland Mission, and for years semi-retired, in 1986 Birch issued a paper entitled "Testing Spirits of Tongues According to God's Word." He and his wife kept chaste though precise notes of their counselling ministry from 1972-1987 when I received copies. I understood at that time that their ministry was ongoing.
Ruark and Birch seem to have been in some contact, but there are some procedural differences.
In the Birch records, the tongues-testing procedures were isolated from other deliverance encounters and were 229 in number.
The heart of the testing procedure, as Birch described it, is as follows.
When there is a sincere desire before God, and cooperation in the test, we have found this test entirely reliable and effective. The tongues speaker must agree that the spirit of the tongue may answer in English, and that he himself will not give the answers, but will as it were "sit back", and allow the spirit controlling his vocal organs to give the answers, while he simply listens. Then we are testing the spirit of the tongue directly, and will prove whether this spirit is of God or of the devil (1986:1).
Birch reported no cases of authentic tongues in 229 cases, but he persisted like Ruark in his belief that such phenomena might be authentic (1986:3).
Birch's concepts and ideas appeared in print in 1988 in a volume still in print, The Deliverance Ministry. Arthur F. Glasser recommended the volume with "utmost confidence" (Glasser 1988) and it continues to enjoy moderate sales.
Yet another powerful witness in this area is Gerald E. McGraw, director of the School of Bible and Theology at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia. McGraw published two articles, one entitled "Tongues Should be Tested" in 1974.
In particular, his description of the testing encounter sounds like the counsel given both by Ruark and Birch, but it is more thorough, reflecting his strong academic background.
In keeping with the biblical directives (1 Thessalonians 4, 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 John 4) it is proper to conduct a prayer session to test a tongues spirit. I believe that such a testing is best done in a private setting, with a chairman and a small group of intercessors and only with the full consent and intelligent cooperation of the tongues speaker.
After a period of intercession it is well - but not essential - for the counselee to speak in the tongue. Thereupon the chairman addresses his questions not to the person but to the spirit inspiring the tongue. If the chairman and the counselee normally speak English, then the tongues spirit should be commanded to give all answers in English (1974b:4-5).
Before I cite McGraw further, I must observe that the tongues testing procedure assumes the doctrine of the authority of the believer. The chairman addressing the spirit and the spirit being commanded to respond in English are expressions of an authoritative stance.
The chairman should be alert for deceptive answers. judgment depends not on the sound of the tongue nor upon subjective feelings but upon answers given to the questions in God's Word (cp. Psalm 105:19).
The Holy Spirit promptly, freely and consistently confesses Christ. A demon will give one or several answers that betray his real identity, or he will stubbornly evade the question, in itself a refusal to confess (1 john 4:3). A demon may give a number of favorable answers, for he hopes to preserve his hold on the victim, but persistence and faith will soon unveil his actual identity, name and purpose (McGraw 1974b:4-5).
In 1988 I observed that "McGraw also reports a frequency of Jesus spirits, a clear case of true and false tongues in the same person, and one instance of a Hallelujah spirit (1974b:4-5)" (Foster 1988:186).
Like Ruark and Birch, McGraw and his colleagues report a large majority of false tongues in their testing procedure.
Some had doubts about the validity of their gift, but many were quite confident that the test would demonstrate a true gift from the Holy Spirit. But the shocking fact is that over 90 percent of those who requested a tongues test had a demonic tongue (1974b:5).
In my 1988 dissertation I refer to quite a list of additional witnesses, some of whom have written, others not. They were Walter L. Jespersen, Kurt E. Koch (1971), Ernest B. Rockstad (1986), W.L. McLeod (1978), Grayson H. Ensign and Edward Howe (1984), Conrad Murrell (1971), Dean Hochstetler, Leary G. Hood and C. Fred Dickason (1987). About half of these are still living and all came to the fore after 1901 and the introduction of the evidence doctrine (McGraw 1974, Parham 1911).
In a paper so brief as this I can only refer to them by name. Each has approached the application of First John 4:1-4 to glossolalia in similar though slightly differing ways. In overview, the approach is synoptic and powerful .
But I must make reference to W.L. McLeod, the pastor in whose church the Canadian Revival began in 1971. His observations come from his itinerant ministry as a revivalist in which the testing of tongues occasionally takes place.
On a number of occasions I have been asked by tongues speakers to test their gift. I have found some that were entirely a self thing, and some that had demonic overtones, but I cannot deny that some were as genuine as any Scriptural test could make them. The test I applied was simple. I would kneel with the person and ask them to exercise the gift. . . . When they go into this other tongue, I then address the spirit controlling their tongue and ask it, on the authority of 1 John 4:1-3 to confess in the English language that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. I think of one such case where the reply was given in perfect English, loud and clear, "Yes, yes, Jesus Christ is the Son of God and He came in the flesh." The person was so overcome afterwards by the manifestation of the power of God, that she was unable for a few moments to rise from her knees. This was witnessed by myself and six or more other people (1978:24).
McLeod is not quite as negative as some of the others who have written about this phenomena.
You cannot begin to suppose that most tongues speaking is demonic on the basis of what I have just said. It must be remembered that people who come to have their tongues tested are normally people who have some reservations or doubts about the validity of their gifts. . . . There are probably as many genuine cases as there are phony ones. I do not think it is possible to come close to the truth by any clever generalizing, one way or the other (1978:27).
To continue with this kind of research is not further necessary, but if we admit the synoptic value of what we have, various questions and theological considerations emerge.
This is as well a good point to pause to observe that much of this paper has been cast in the negative mode. Paul's treatment of glossolalia can be categorized as "cautiously positive" in First Corinthians. He wishes that everyone would speak in tongues but rather preferred they prophesy (14:5). He also prohibits the prohibition of speaking in tongues (14:39). He was, I think, hitting the brakes, not the accelerator. If this brief effort is too heavy on the brakes, a full discussion has been undertaken elsewhere (Foster 1978).
1. Does not the Ruark procedure of testing imply the existence of tongues, true and false?
I answer in the affirmative in that First Thessalonians 5 makes clear that utterances are to be tested so as to isolate and seize the good (Foster 1988:155-158).
2. Does not the Ruark procedure put pressure on both of the dominant views about tongues-speaking today?
I answer again in the affirmative since there are a very great many who deny the validity of tongues speaking today. An equally great number celebrate tongues-speaking as almost invariably an expression of the Holy Spirit.
3. Does the Ruark procedure assume that tongues is spirit-speaking such as is described in First John 4:1-3?
Yes, Ruark, a man of simple hermeneutics looked at the phenomena he was seeing and believed it correct to seek to apply this Scripture to it. The results were impressive (Brotherton 1991:93-97). My witness based upon an incident of over-the-telephone testing of tongues on October 10, 1996 is that the procedure still has validity.
4. Are all spirit-manifestations to be tested, or just some? Is this to be an occasional or a regular procedure?
My answer here is to cite the Scripture, "Do not put out the Spirit's fire. Do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good." And to offer the paraphrase from my work in 1988, "The Holy Spirit stop quenching. Prophecies stop depreciating. Absolutely all utterances are to be tested and verified, so that you will be able to isolate and seize the good" (Foster 1988:158).
5. Since First Thessalonians 5 relates particularly to prophecies, are we correct to assume that tongues is a form of prophecy?
We are correct, in my view, since the Apostle Paul has been there ahead of us, suggesting that tongues with interpretation is equivalent to prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:5). John has likewise been there, connecting spirits and prophets (1 John 4:1-4) and suggesting, "Be in the habit of refusing to believe every spirit, but continually test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (Foster 1988:175).
6. Are single expressions of Christ's incarnation or lordship adequate?
The answer is negative. The confessions must be continual because of the prevalence of the present tense in Greek. My conclusion as early as 1975 was as follows:
the verb forms used indicate that every spirit that continually and genuinely confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God. . Therefore reluctant admissions or occasional positive declarations that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not adequate. The confession must be continual. (Foster 1975:110).
7. Is it not an insult to the Holy Spirit to apply the Ruark procedure to a possible manifestation of the Holy Spirit?
The answer is no. Obedience to Scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit cannot be construed as an insult to the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, this question emerged in the early church as well. In the attempted exorcism of Maximilla, the early Montanist prophetess, some "were present in order to test and converse with the spirit as it chattered," the exorcism was prevented by others present in league with the false spirit (Williamson 1965:220). In the Didache which was never received as Scripture, and finds itself in conflict with Deuteronomy 13 and First John 4:1-3, the advice is not to test.
And every prophet who speaks in the spirit ye shall not try nor prove; for every sin shall be forgiven but this sin shall not be forgiven (Philip Schaff 1885:201-202).
What is the meaning of Archie Ruark's life and ministry? Do they have implications beyond the Province of Alberta and two frontier institutions of biblical instruction? In the years since Ruark's lonely foray into the deliverance ministry through the tongues manifestations of a troubled student at Prairie Bible Institute, the Pentecostal and charismatic movements have spread around the world with hundreds of millions of adherents.
Still, as I have just mentioned, when asked just recently to test tongues over the telephone in the lives of people in Wisconsin whom I have never met, after several phone calls and some preparation, I did so. I regret to tell you, the same phenomena that Ruark, Birch, McGraw, Murrell, McLeod and others have reported still take place. This issue does not go away. And regrettably, the glossolalic manifestations very often do break down under pressure.
THE CATCH 22 QUESTIONS
There are some devastating questions in this world. For missionaries and evangelists, none can give more pause for apprehension and alarm than A. W. Tozer's question: "When we have reached the world with our gospel, will the world have been evangelized?"
If anything, an even more incredible, incomprehensible question must be asked - are the Pentecostal and charismatic movements what they claim to be? Do they represent a true movement of the Holy Sprit? If the movements are indeed orthodox, why do the manifestations very often break down before Christian workers willing to apply the Ruark procedure?
(The evidence doctrine, apparently the cause of so much difficulty, does fly in the face of a very plain statement of Scripture: "Tongues then are for a sign not for believers, but for unbelievers" [1 Corinthians 14:22].)
Could these modern movements ever repudiate the evidence doctrine, stand corrected, and return to the theological mainstream as has the Worldwide Church of God appears to want to do? (Joseph Tkach 1996). Yet to be dealt with in the WWCOG: annihiliationism and soul sleep.
What if evangelicalism world-wide has been penetrated by a Trojan Horse of gargantuan proportions? Are millions around the world deceived by an alternate Jesus? Note I am not saying hundreds of millions.
Some in the tongues-testing movement have been given to repeating details of the manifestations and multiplying the accounts of demons. That I consider counter- productive, and it is not indulged here. Building any kind of theology on utterances from the counter kingdom has to be the depth of foolishness. Though Origen was one of the first universalists, he had sense enough to say that we should never become "listeners to" or "disciples of" the demons (Osterreich 1930:166).
Nevertheless, the sheer weight of the evidence following biblical testing demands that consideration of the validity of the Ruark procedure needs to come from two directions.
1) Those who disbelieve in tongues of any kind are caught in the application of the Ruark testing procedure in that it clearly has the intent of isolating the good (1 Thessalonians 4:20). How does one conduct a test which might bring a true example of glossolalia, a manifestation in which one does not believe? A very tough call.
2) Those who discount any possibility of demonic tongues also face a problem posed by the Ruark procedure: How can it be admitted that premises a century old, but now eroded, must be abandoned? If one is to isolate the good, there is the possibility and reality of the evil and false. This challenge is not easily embraced by the Pentecostal/charismatic movements.
Material like this draws interesting responses. It challenges the paradigms with which we have long been familiar. And it causes us to ask elemental and unthinkable questions, to face incomprehensible possibilities.
For that reason I offer no better advice than I once received from a Ph.D. candidate who was preaching a Sunday night sermon. His name I have forgotten. Whether he completed his course or not, I cannot tell. But repeatedly, that evening holding his Bible high over his head, he said, and I'm paraphrasing of course, "I am a man under a book. I am under this book, the Bible. It rules my life. I will not superimpose myself on this book, ever." I have never forgotten. I have never recovered.
And, when confronted with this material, I know of no better stance. I am, also, a man under the book. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Figure 1. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Figure 2. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Birch, George A.
1988 The Deliverance Ministry Camp Hill, P A: Horizon House Publishers
1991 Quiet Warrior Beaverlodge, Alberta: Spectrum Publishing
De Soyres, John
1878 Montanism and the Primitive Church Cambridge: Deighton, Bell and Sons
Dickason, C. Fred
1987 Demon Possession and the Christian Chicago: Moody Press
Dayton, Donald W., ed.
1985 The Sermons of Charles F. Parham New York: Garland
Foster, K. Neill
1995 Warfare Weapons Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc.
1988 "Discernment, the Powers and Spirit-Speaking" Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation Pasadena, CA: Fuller Seminary
1975 The Third View of Tongues Camp Hill: Horizon House Publishers
Glasser, Arthur H.
Cover copy on The Deliverance Ministry Camp Hill: Horizon House Publishers
1971 The Strife of Tongues Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications
MacMillan, J .A.
1980a The Authority of the Believer Camp Hill, P A: Christian Publications, Inc.
1980b Encounter With Darkness Camp Hill, P A: Christian Publications, Inc.
McGraw, Gerald E.
1996 "Dynamic Sanctification" Unpublished book manuscript
1974a "Tongues-True or False?" The Alliance Witness, May 22, pp. 8-10
1974b "Tongues Should be Tested" The Alliance Witness, June 5, pp. 3-6
1978 Charismatic or Christian? Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: By the author
1973 Practical Demonology Pineville, LA: Sabre Publications
1971 True and False Tongues Pineville, LA: Sabre Publications
Olson, Roger E.
1996 "Romancing Pentecostalism" A review of Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit, Clark Pinnock, InterVarsity, in Christianity Today, November 11, p. 53.
Osterreich, T .K.
1930 Possession: Demonaical and Other Secaucus, NJ: The Citadel Press
1911 The Everlasting Gospel Baxter Springs, KS: Apostolic Faith Bible College
1986 Papers on Speaking in Other Tongues Andover, KS: Faith and Life Publications
n.d. tape recording "Tongues Scripturally Tested" Andover, KS: Faith and Life Publications
1983 The Christian and Evil Spirits Kelowna, British Columbia: By the author
1947 Falsities of Modern Tongues Three Hills, Alberta: Prairie Bible Institute
1885 Christ and Christianity New York: C. Scribner and Sons
1977 The History of Doctrine Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Tkach, Joseph
1996 The Plain Truth as cited in Footprints, a newsletter of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, Tempe, Arizona, November, p. 1
Williamson, G .A.
1975 History of the Church from Christ to Constantine Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House