Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who has made headlines for his practice of speaking in tongues, believes all Christians are charismatic—in the sense that they’re all “filled with the Spirit.” Welby, head of the Church of England since November 2012, says in a recent interview that praying in tongues is “part of my daily discipline,” not “an occasional thing.”
Welby downplays his 5 a.m. habit, saying, “It’s not something to make a great song and dance about.” He adds, “Given it’s usually extremely early in the morning, it’s not usually an immensely ecstatic moment because I’m sort of…struggling.”
Welby also says he seeks—and is encouraged by—words of knowledge and prophecy. “I expect to hear from God through other people with words of knowledge or prophecies,” he says, “some of which I am unsure about, others I can sense there being something of the Spirit of God.” At his official residence, Welby receives many letters claiming to have a supernatural source.
Spiritual Gifts Aren’t Denomination-Specific, Says the Archbishop
The spiritual gifts of speaking in tongues and receiving words of knowledge and prophecy usually are associated with charismatic churches, such as Pentecostals. But Welby dismisses denominational distinctions, warning of “the danger of putting ‘charismatic’ as a tribal category within the church.” He adds, “All Christians are filled with the Spirit, so every Christian is a charismatic, in that sense.”
Welby, who’s from the evangelical wing of the Anglican Church, once belonged to a congregation where speaking in tongues wasn’t uncommon. He was first filled with the Holy Spirit at age 19, he says. “It was from that moment and in the days that followed I realized that the Holy Spirit of God had touched me in a very powerful way,” he said in 2015. “I began to speak in tongues and began to learn of the intimacy that Christ brings to us.”
The Biblical Basis for Speaking in Tongues
Before Jesus ascends into heaven, he tells his disciples about speaking in “new tongues” (Mark 16:17). At the first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples, Peter quotes Joel 2:28, which mentions prophecy, visions and dreams. And Romans 8:26 refers to the Holy Spirit’s “groanings too deep for words.”
Tongues, which have no easily understandable meaning, are useful when you don’t know what to pray, say some Christians. Some people believe speaking in tongues ceased with the early church, but Welby says the Holy Spirit remains alive and active through all believers.
The Archbishop uses the early church as a model for what’s possible today, citing Thy Kingdom Come, a global prayer movement focused on evangelism. Between Ascension and Pentecost (May 30 through June 9 this year), Christians from more than 65 denominations and 114 countries pray that more people will come to know Jesus. The movement, which Welby helped organize in 2016, “has no deeper rationale than the command of Jesus,” says the Archbishop. “[Jesus] said, ‘Go back into the city and pray for the Spirit of God.’”