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Pentecostal and charismatic churches often disregard the guidelines in 1 Corinthians 14:27–28 by praying in tongues without order.

Speaking in tongues, or glossolalia, is one of the most distinctive features of modern Pentecostal and charismatic churches. This phenomenon, often seen as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, is rooted in biblical accounts, particularly in the New Testament. However, a detailed look at biblical precepts, particularly those the apostle Paul lays out in 1 Corinthians 14:27–28, reveals a difference between what the Bible says and what is done now in these churches.

The Biblical Context of Speaking in Tongues

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul addresses the proper use of spiritual gifts within the church, emphasizing the need for order and enlightenment. Verses 26–28 specifically state:

“What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? Each of you has a hymn, a word of wisdom, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation when you get together.”If the church is to expand, everything must be done methodically and according to the rules. It is necessary to have a translator present when someone speaks in a tongue, and two or three people should speak in turn. The churchgoer who speaks without an interpreter should remain silent and talk to God alone.”

Paul clarifies that speaking in tongues should only be done in small groups, one after the other, and with constant interpretation. Individuals should remain silent in the church without an interpreter and speak privately to God.

Modern Practices in Charismatic Churches

Contrary to these guidelines, many charismatic and Pentecostal churches encourage congregational speaking in tongues without interpretation. During services, it is common for pastors to prompt the entire congregation to pray or speak in tongues simultaneously. This practice is widespread and often regarded as a powerful expression of collective spiritual experience. However, it directly contradicts Paul’s explicit instructions.

The Discrepancy Explained

Lack of Interpretation

One of the most glaring issues is the need for interpretation. Paul emphasizes that speaking in tongues in a congregational setting must be interpreted to ensure the message edifies the church. With interpretation, the exercise becomes meaningful to the listeners, defeating the purpose of communal worship, which is to build up the body of Christ.

Disorderly Conduct

Paul’s insistence on order (“one at a time”) aims to prevent chaos and confusion during worship. The contemporary practice of collective speaking in tongues can create an environment of disorder, which Paul explicitly sought to avoid. This practice can also alienate new believers or visitors, who may find such scenes overwhelming or incomprehensible.

Neglect of Edification

According to Paul, the primary purpose of spiritual gifts is the church’s edification. When speaking in tongues is practiced without interpretation, it fails to instruct, encourage, or console the congregation. Instead, it serves the individual’s spiritual experience, which, while valid, should not take precedence over the communal benefit during corporate worship.

Theological Implications

The divergence from scriptural instructions in modern charismatic practices raises significant theological questions. It challenges the authority of scripture and the integrity of worship practices. Not following Paul’s instructions jeopardizes the argument that these practices have a scriptural basis.

Possible Justifications and Rebuttals

Cultural Context Argument

    Some might argue that Paul’s instructions were context-specific, addressing issues unique to the Corinthian church. However, this perspective overlooks the broader principle of edification and order that Paul emphasizes. These principles are not culturally bound but apply to any church context, aiming to foster meaningful and orderly worship.

    Personal Revelation and Experience

    Another justification is the emphasis on personal revelation and the immediate experience of the Holy Spirit. While individual spiritual experiences are vital, they should not override scriptural commands designed for corporate worship. Paul was a proponent of spiritual experiences but always within scriptural order and edification boundaries.

    A Call for Reformation

    To make sure that Pentecostal and charismatic churches adhere to biblical teaching, their pastors should take action on the following:

    1. Emphasize Interpretation: Churches should prioritize the gift of interpretation when tongues are spoken in a congregational setting, ensuring the message is understandable and edifying.
    2. Promote Orderly Worship: Leaders should encourage orderly worship practices, adhering to the “one at a time” principle to maintain clarity and prevent confusion.
    3. Educate Congregations: Teaching the biblical basis for these practices can help congregants understand the importance of aligning their expressions of spirituality with scriptural commands.
    4. Foster Private Devotion: Encouraging speaking in tongues in private devotion can help individuals grow spiritually without disrupting corporate worship.


    The contemporary practice of speaking in tongues in many charismatic and Pentecostal churches often violates the scriptural guidelines outlined in 1 Corinthians 14:26–28. By disregarding the need for interpretation, promoting disorderly conduct, and neglecting the principle of edification, these practices diverge significantly from the apostolic instructions meant to guide the church’s worship. For these churches to honor the biblical foundation of their faith, a reformation in practice is necessary, aligning their worship with the clear and purposeful instructions provided by Paul.

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