The Church of the Nazarene combated Pentecostalism from its beginning. In Nazarene theology, the authentic experience of Pentecost was the cleansing and empowering work of the Holy Spirit. Nazarenes considered tongues-speaking contrary to its doctrine of holiness.
Nazarenes believed Pentecostals were mistaken in teaching that everyone would receive the gift of tongues. Pentecostals made speaking in tongues, rather than heart cleansing and perfect love, the sign of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Pentecostals suggested that ones who spoke in tongues had superior spirituality. Holiness people— not to be outdone in their pursuit of spiritual things—sought the “more excellent” gift of love and the fruits of the Spirit. Tongues-speaking disconnected human minds in the very moments when they ought to have been listening most intently for what God had to say to them, remarked Timothy L. Smith.
One common Nazarene response to Pentecostals was that the glossolalia or prayer language spoken by Pentecostals was not the same gift of tongues as described in the New Testament. W. T. Purkiser, Richard S. Taylor, Timothy L. Smith, and others among the church’s scholars believed the gift of tongues at Pentecost was that of a known language for the purpose of intelligibly communicating the gospel. The authentic New Testament gift was a known language used to communicate the gospel. When Paul said, “I speak in tongues more than you all” (1 Corinthians 14:18) he meant he spoke Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and probably Aramaic, and communicated the gospel in all of these languages. At Pentecost, wrote John May, there was “no gibberish, hysteria, hissing, or unintelligibility.” The common interpretation of the situation at Corinth was that it was a congregation in which many different languages were spoken. The problem was that someone would stand and testify in a language others did not understand, rather than speaking Greek, a common language, or having the native dialect translated into Greek. Purkiser hypothesized that 1 Corinthians 12 referred to the valid gift of languages, and 1 Corinthians 14 the counterfeit gift.
There were variations of this interpretation among Nazarenes. Ralph Earle and Norman Oke believed the Bible was not clear enough about what was happening at Corinth to indicate whether they were using real languages or ecstatic utterances.109 Albert Harper got into trouble with the Nazarene constituency and the general superintendents for positing in an adult Sunday School lesson in 1963 that the tongues that occurred at Corinth were different from the tongues at Pentecost. Whereas what happened at Pentecost was speaking in a known language for the purpose of communicating the gospel, what occurred at Corinth were ecstatic utterances, Harper conjectured. Donald Metz likewise believed what took place at Corinth was ecstatic utterance. He described this as a carry-over from the converts’ heathenism. The genuine gift of tongues, said Metz, was what occurred at Pentecost, speaking in a known language. Likewise, Professor Harvey J. S. Blaney believed the Corinthians spoke in some sort of ecstatic language, but that the genuine gift of tongues was a language used to communicate the gospel. Paul was tolerant of the kind of tongues-speaking practiced in the Corinthian church, said Blaney, just as he was tolerant of slavery. But it was “an expression of undeveloped Christian spirituality.”
In Great Britain, Maynard James, the former president of the Calvary Holiness Church, criticized Pentecostals for believing that everyone who was filled with the Holy Spirit spoke in tongues. He believed love was the “infallible evidence” of a pure heart. Gifts, James said, could never satisfy deep human longings. Nevertheless, James believed there was a genuine gift of tongues among Pentecostals, and the church dare not prohibit it. He liked the Christian and Missionary Alliance philosophy, “seek not, forbid not.”
The tongues issue created controversy at the 1972 General Assembly. Each delegate received a packet of materials advocating that the Church of the Nazarene change its stand and allow tongues. Warren Black, a former accountant at the Nazarene Publishing House and a member at Kansas City First Church before he received the gift of tongues, was behind this push. “Immersion in the Holy Spirit” was something more than sanctification, Black said, and praying in tongues, to him, brought “new spiritual power.”
General Superintendent Emeritus Hugh C. Benner referred to this in his address to the assembly. He called the attempt to get the church to change its position on tongues a “highly organized and strongly financed operation.” What could the church do? “Have something better—an old-fashioned, second-blessing holiness that brings the fullness of the Spirit with joy and freedom and blessing.” His advice to those advocating speaking in tongues was for them to find another denomination and “not to be unethical enough to try to infiltrate or confuse or proselyte our people.”
In response, the 1972 General Assembly resolved: “Any practice and/or propagation of speaking in tongues, either as the evidence of the baptism with the Holy Spirit or neo-Pentecostal ecstatic prayer language shall be interpreted as inveighing against the doctrines and usages of the Church of the Nazarene.”
Four years later the general superintendents issued strongly-worded statements in their Quadrennial Address to the 1976 General Assembly, and in October 1976, in the Herald of Holiness. The general superintendents wrote:
It is our considered judgment and ruling that any practice and/or propagation of speaking in tongues either as the evidence of the baptism with the Holy Spirit or as a neo-pentecostal ecstatic prayer language shall be interpreted as inveighing against the doctrines and usages of the Church of the Nazarenes. . . .
From the beginning we have believed that the authentic gifts of the Spirit belong to the Church. While it is God’s will that every believer should be baptized and empowered with the Holy Spirit, it is not God’s promise that every believer should receive any particular gift. On the contrary, the gifts are distributed by the Holy Spirit to the various believers according to the Spirit’s sovereign will (1 Corinthians 12:11).
The gift of tongues is related to the miraculous gift of many language barriers. The people present were astonished because each one heard the gospel being preached in his own native dialect (Acts 2:6, 8). This special miracle was an expression of God’s desire to reach every man everywhere through the spoken and written word. Language is the vehicle of God’s truth.
We believe that the biblical material supports one authentic gift—a language given to communicate the gospel and not an unknown babble of sounds. It is our understanding that in 1 Corinthians 12; 13; 14, Paul was seeking to prevent the abuse of the authentic gift and condemning that which was spurious and of the flesh. We believe that the religious exercise called “tongues” which is not a means of communicating truth is a false gift and a dangerous substitute. We do not believe in a so-called prayer language.
We have concluded that what is being practiced and promoted today is not the true scriptural gift and is therefore not to be condoned by our church . . .
Therefore, we counsel that people practicing “tongues-speaking”or promoting it in any way should be encouraged and advised to seek membership elsewhere unless they are willing to discontinue their practice and their advocacy. Furthermore, we believe that our people should not participate in services or meetings which encourage the practice of speaking in tongues or schedule in our churches speakers or singers who are known to be active in the so-called charismatic movement.
In taking this stand, we do not wish to reflect on the sincerity or integrity of those who differ with us on these matters. We recognize as fellow members of His universal body all who are in Christ and extend to them the right hand of Christian fellowship.
BOARD OF GENERAL SUPERINTENDENTS
The general superintendents urged pastors to preach entire sanctification with doctrinal precision as a means of guarding against tongues. Their interpretation of tongues expressed the thinking of Nazarene scholars such as Purkiser and Smith. It found support among many laypeople.
On the matter of faith-healing, which Pentecostals also emphasized, the Nazarene Manual continued to affirm it. Pastors in local churches anointed the sick with oil, and healings by faith commonly took place.
The rise of Pentecostalism in the world set clearer boundaries around the Church of the Nazarene. Pentecostalism disturbed the Nazarene sense of order and discipline. Nazarenes contrasted their own concern with “purity” and the “fruits” of the Holy Spirit with the Pentecostals’ search for “power” and emphasis upon the “gifts” of the Holy Spirit. When Nazarenes spoke of “power” it was in relation to the boldness to witness and evangelize. Nazarenes emphasized love and compassion as the most authentic fruits of the Spirit-filled life. They might well have remembered that John Wesley’s admonition, “There is nothing higher in religion; there is, in effect, nothing else; if you look for anything but more love, you are looking wide of the mark, you are getting out of the royal way. And when you are asking others, ‘Have you received this or that blessing?’ if you mean anything but more love, you mean wrong; you are leading them out of the way, and putting them upon a false scent. Settle it then in your heart, that from the moment God has saved you from all sin, you are to aim at nothing more, but more of that love described in the thirteenth chapter of the Corinthians. You can go no higher than this, till you are carried into Abraham’s bosom.”
Source: Examining Our Christian Heritage 2, Clergy Development, Church of the Nazarene, 2004