The History Of Gibberish Speaking In American Churches

By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)

One of my favorite fields of study is history.  

Throughout my life, I have been an avid student of this subject. Whether we are talking about national history, world history, character history, religious history, philosophical history, etc., this has always been one of my favorite things to learn about.  

With that in mind, I want to share with you an interesting “history” of a religious nature.  
In many American churches, there is a phenomenon practiced which is known as “speaking in tongues.”  
In this practice, an emotionally charged religious devotee experiences a profound sense of elation as he begins to babble incoherently in a type of gibberish. The speech is not actually language, but is instead of an assortment of disjointed and unrelated fragments.  

One author, while examining the actual Bible gift of tongues (i.e., the miraculous ability of a person to speak fluently in the language of another culture that he had not previously studied), points out the contrast to the modern definition of “tongues” as speaking gibberish.  

He highlights the fact that this “gibberish speaking” was a common element of ancient pagan religion, and then shows how it became prevalent in American “religion.”  

He writes: 

“My exposure to this charismatic “tongues team” reminded me of some things I had read in my history books growing up. This modern manifestation of tongues finds its roots not in the Bible, but rather in ancient pagan spiritualistic rituals. In the sixth century b.c., the Oracle of Delphi was housed in a temple built near the foot of Mt. Parnassus. Delphi was also sacred to Dionysus, the god associated with wine, fertility, and sensual dance, and to the nine Muses, patron goddesses of music. While exhilarating music was played, Pythia, the chief priestess, would breathe intoxicating vapors, go into a frenzied trance, and then begin jabbering. The weird sounds the priestess muttered were then interpreted by a priest, who usually spoke in verse. Her utterances were regarded as the words of Apollo, but the messages were so ambiguous that they could seldom be proven wrong. 1 While living with the Native Americans in New Mexico, I witnessed a similar ritual several times. The Indians would eat the hallucinogenic peyote, then sit in a circle and chant and pound drums for hours. Before long, several were spasmodically muttering as they experienced their tormenting visions. Today the charismatic churches are by far the most popular among the Native Americans because it is such an easy and natural transition from their old religions. Among many heathen African tribes, in order to invoke the blessing of their gods, the people would sacrifice a chicken or goat and then dance around a fire for long hours, chanting songs to the hypnotic rhythm of a pounding drum. Eventually some of the people would become possessed by their gods and begin speaking the eerie languages of the spirit world. Then the local witch doctor or priest would translate the messages. This ritual is still practiced today among the Voodoo Catholics in the West Indies. This pagan practice first found its way into the North American Christian churches in the early 1800s. Many of the African slaves who were brought to America and forced to accept Christianity were unable to read the Bible for themselves. Even though they came from a variety of tribes in Africa, one practice most tribes held in common was the “Spirit Dances” with the “spirit-possessed” person muttering. The slaves mistakenly associated this with the Christian “gift of tongues” and began to incorporate a modified version into their meetings. These frantic services, which were accompanied by heavy rhythmic music, began to spread at first only in the South and the participants were mocked by the mainline denominations as “Holy Rollers.” Some even went so far as to grab venomous serpents during their possessed trances as a means of proving that they had the “spirit.”…The national expansion of the Pentecostal movement among Caucasians began in Los Angeles at the Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission on Azusa Street in 1906. The leader was a black former holiness preacher named William Seymour. From there, leaders continued to refine the doctrines and make them more attractive and palatable to other mainline Christians….It is important to note the prominent role music plays in all the pagan religions that practice glossolalia. This counterfeit gift of tongues first found its foothold in mainline churches through “baptized” pagan music and worship styles. The dominant, repetitious rhythms and syncopated beat disarm the higher reasoning powers and put the subconscious mind in a hypnotic state. In this vulnerable condition, the spirit of ecstatic utterance finds easy access.” (Doug Batchelor, Understanding Tongues, 248-279 (Kindle Edition); Roseville, CA; Amazing Facts, Inc.). 

From this information, please notice several things with me.  

First, there is a clear distinction in the Bible between the gift of tongues and what is practiced in modern day churches. The gift of tongues was the ability to speak in the languages of other nations without having previously studying such.  

When the Apostle Paul was writing to the church of God at Corinth, he pointed out that they were often misusing their miraculous gifts. One such gift which they were missing was the gift of tongues in the worship assembly. In quoting the Old Testament, Paul gives us the definition of what it means to “speak in tongues:” 

1 Corinthians 14:21-In the law it is written: “WITH MEN OF OTHER TONGUES AND OTHER LIPS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE; AND YET, FOR ALL THAT, THEY WILL NOT HEAR ME,” says the Lord.

The gift of speaking in tongues was the ability to speak in other languages which a person had not previously studied. Indeed, this is made especially clear in the Book of Acts:

Acts 2:4-12- (emphasis added M.T.) 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to SPEAK WITH OTHER TONGUES as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from EVERY NATION under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak IN HIS OWN LANGUAGE. 7 Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each in OUR OWN LANGUAGE IN WHICH WE WERE BORN? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in OUR OWN TONGUES the wonderful works of God.” 12 So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?”

The text is clear that the gift of speaking in tongues was the ability to fluently speak in the language of other nations without having previously studied such.  

Second, this information shows us that the practice of speaking in gibberish was commonplace in ancient pagan religions throughout time. Indeed, this was well-known and practiced among the cultures of the ancient world, just as it is in many place in our day and age. The combination of false religion with the lying wonders of Satan has the potential to deceive many people.  

The Bible warns us: 

Revelation 16:13-14-And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.

Batchelor’s comments on this passage are equally fascinating: 

“Why is understanding the subject of tongues so essential for us today? I believe the modern charismatic movement was foretold in Bible prophecy….We must remember that one of the principal characteristics of ancient Babylon at the tower of Babel was a confusion of tongues (Genesis 11: 7–9). Revelation is telling us that in the last days, God’s people are to be called out of Babylon and its confusing counterfeit religious systems. “And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet” (Revelation 16: 13). The phrase “out of the mouth” represents speech, and please don’t miss the fact that a frog’s main weapon is its tongue. Unclean tongues? Perhaps God is trying to tell us something. Remember that the confusion of tongues at Babel was not a blessing of the Spirit, but rather a curse for their rebellion. In fact, we get our modern word “babbling” from the story of ancient Babel.” (Doug Batchelor, Understanding Tongues, 317-329 (Kindle Edition); Roseville, CA; Amazing Facts, Inc.). 

Please consider that it was the bringing in of pagan forms of religion and worship which led to this “gibberish” phenomenon in American churches. When people depart from God’s standard of authority of religion and worship, it is difficult to determine how badly things will degenerate. The Bible constantly reminds followers of Christ to adhere to the apostolic faith as it was delivered to God’s people.  

Colossians 2:6-7-6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.  

Jude 3-Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

2 Timothy 1:13-Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.

I have watched in horror as in many places in our country, “worship” has become a place of “entertainment.” One person I was studying the Gospel with recently told me that she had attended a church service where things were more like a “rock band” than worship, and this greatly troubled her.  

And this should trouble us!  

Finally, please notice that the religious division and confusion in our world plays perfectly into the hands and plans of Satan. Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44), who has sinned from the beginning (1 John 3:8). At this late day and age, there is no greater need then for men and women everywhere to abandon and renounce humans creeds and denominational barriers and return to the Word of God (Jeremiah 6:16).  

This starts with realizing the incredible love that God has for fallen and dammed mankind. God, Who is rich in mercy, has sent His Son Jesus to die for the sins of mankind on the cross of Calvary (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). Dying for rebellious humanity, Jesus was buried and arose from the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Today, He invites all men and women everywhere to turn to Him to be saved (Matthew 11:28-30; Acts 2:40).  

When we learn the Word of God with an honest and open heart (John 6:44-45; Acts 18:8; Luke 8:11-15), faith is produced (Romans 10:17). This faith is not a dead faith, but an active and obedient one (James 2:17-26) that leads believers to obey the Lord (Hebrews 5:8-9). This faith leads a person to repent of sin (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30-31), confess faith in Jesus (Acts 8:37), and be baptized into Him to receive the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38).  

The Word of God also assures us that when we as Christians sin against God and fall way (1 John 1:8; Hebrews 12:1-2), God is there to forgive us when we repent and confess our sins to Him in prayer (1 John 1:9-2:2).  

Why not obey Him today?  

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.  

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