I suppose every truly worthy blog will have at least one article concerning the gift of tongues, so here is mine. Keep in mind that I’m dealing with the issue of speaking of tongues in the church meeting, not in a person’s private life.
So then, to speak in tongues or not to speak in tongues-that is the question! Why it bothers so many people and why it remains unclear to so many people I do not know, but I do know that to this day it remains a very volatile issue among Christians.
Consider the following scenario…
Joe Christian has just received the Lord. He steps into his first meeting with the church and takes a seat. After the first song a brother two couch cushions down starts to speak in a language that Joe has never heard before. Is he talking to everyone, or just praying? Joe doesn’t know. All he knows is that he is confused. After the brother is finished speaking no one explains what he has said, and the meeting continues.
Fortunately, Paul made mention of this very situation to a church many years ago. “If there is no one to interpret what you are saying,” Paul said, “then don’t speak in tongues in the meeting. Otherwise, when an unbeliever or someone who is unaware of what is going on comes in, he will hear you talking in your foreign language and quickly come to the conclusion that you are crazy.” (This is from the NLT – New Lawson Translation. :))
Simply put, Joe Christian has not been built up and made strong by his brother’s speaking in tongues. He has been confused and brought low instead. And simple logic fairly screams out in reply – what good is that?
Allow me to relate a little of my own personal history with speaking in tongues. When I first began to follow the Lord I was attending a Southern Baptist church. Such things as speaking in tongues were heavily frowned upon in that congregation, so I stayed away. However, I had a friend who went to a Pentecostal church, and we often got together for fellowship. Over the years his influence won me over and I became what his pastor called a “bapti-costal” (a Baptist who had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues). And I loved it.
It didn’t take long for me to realize, however, that I wore my tongue-talking abilities like a spiritual badge of honor. In church services and prayer meetings, whenever I could, I felt like I needed to speak in tongues in order to “get God’s mind” or “enter His presence” or whatever. Mostly, though, it was just the fact that I enjoyed looking spiritual to those who heard me exercising my little gift.
Nowadays I look a whole lot less charismatic than I did back then. Many of my old Pentecostal friends wouldn’t enjoy a prayer meeting with me at all, I’m afraid. Even still, there is still a lot of experience from that season in my life that I do not discount. And yes, even today I will sometimes pray to the Lord with words that better express the deep desire of my heart when my own expression seems inadequate. And I am able to touch the Lord in that way.
But this whole business of speaking in tongues in a church meeting is simply crazy to me. Paul makes the matter very clear in my opinion. He goes to great lengths to show that he himself is not against people who pray/speak in tongues, noting how he does so probably more than anyone else. (He even wishes that all believers would speak in tongues!) “But in the meeting,” he declares, “I would rather speak five intelligible words that reveal Christ and build everyone up than ten thousand unintelligible words that serve for nothing more than to make me look spiritual at best and crazy at worst.” The key phrase here is “in the meeting…” The highlight is on what works best in the corporate setting.
I have been in meetings where a person spoke in tongues and then an interpretation was given. That seems to be fine from what Paul has to say. However, in every one of those meetings I was left wondering, what is the point? Why not just give the message without the tongues? Unless, that is, someone is here who doesn’t speak English and who needs to hear the message in his own language. Could it really be so simple and practical as that?
Now I meet mostly in homes with believers who seek to gather around Christ in an “organic” fashion. And to be honest, I have no idea how the gift of speaking in tongues could or ever would fit into such a context. Not that I’m not open to it, or wouldn’t welcome such a manifestation of the Spirit, but from my own limited experience, I just don’t know. What I do know is that too many people make an issue of their own personal tongue-speaking which I strongly suspect bears little resemblance to the actual gift which the Spirit gives for corporate use. And this is not good for the church; rather, it only serves to distract God’s people from Christ.
Again, though, Paul is very liberal. “Don’t forbid speaking in tongues” is his final word on the matter. But only after making himself very clear. Unless it is for a practical purpose, there is no reason anyone should be speaking in tongues in the meeting of the church. The rule of thumb is quite simple: Everything I say in the meeting my brother must be able to say “amen” to. And if my brother can’t understand what I’m saying then he can’t say amen to it, can he? To me it doesn’t get any clearer than that. Your thoughts?