To Speak in Tongues or Not to Speak in Tongues? That is the Question!

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?

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About Joshua

Writer, husband, father, friend. View all posts by Joshua

10 responses to “To Speak in Tongues or Not to Speak in Tongues? That is the Question!

  • alan

    Funnily enough, Sunday before last we were in a congregation and someone spoke in tongues and it was interpreted and it really was quite special. It was full of praise and exaltation of God, and seemed on a ‘higher plain’ than normal. Very uplifting for all..and also, I trust a blessing for the Lord!

    • lawdawg23

      Hey Alan! Thanks for the comment. I hope it was clear from my post, but just to reiterate let me say that I’m definitely not against the kind of positive experience you recently had. No more than Paul was.

      By the way, do we know each other?

      • alan

        I’m sure we’ve never met! I live in Leicester UK. My wife and I (in our mid-60’s) attend an AOG church, but have embarked on a ‘mission’ to visit other congregations in this city. We want to get beyond the ‘web-site hype’ and see what is actually happening. It’s fascinating. Thanks for your blogs – well written and stimulating!

    • Dale

      I have an honest question for Alan. Why would God speak to someone and cause that same person to speak publicly in an unknown tongue, and in turn, request that the person (or group gathered) praise and exalt Him? Shouldn’t praise and exaltation come naturally from the heart? If God really needs praise so badly, why would He just impress it upon the heart of someone in a language that all understand? No offense intended, but I just don’t get it.

  • patrick

    I read this recent blog of yours. It’s a topic that I have studied more to prove it’s still around today. The gift of tounges is what I’m refering to. I know so many men and woman of God that I dearly respect. That in fact sometimes I believe have a better approach or use of the bible than some of my favorites who fall under the pentescostal charismatic circle . They cross their t’s and and dot their i’s perfectly if you know what I mean. When someone like me so to say can easily just write in capital letters or lower case without periods. I spell pretty bad and use my periods sometimes in the stranges areas of a sentence. My point here is some just don’t know better. We learn different topics I hope one or two at a time. A person like me speaks a lot from emotion and I love to paint pictures with my views and words. I can’t be so perfectly hermanutic all the time. My walk with Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Father just can’t be so precise and limited to certain rules or traditons. I read in Joshua chapter 1 a wonderful story/history of a beatiful conversion that God had with Joshua. This took place a few thousand years ago. But the other day I really believe after prayer with the Lord , He told me to go to Joshua 1. I felt he was talking to me at that moment. In context it was Joshua, but Jesus spoke sweetly to my heart through these scriptures that it put me in tears. I know I’m kinda getting off the topic or even seem to be debating. Trust me I’m not. well i am getting side tracked. anyways. recently i went to brooklyn tabernacle. wonderful time of worship. a person began to worship loud in tounges next to me. i knew it was not a dotted i so to say. but they loved God so much. I knew it from the brotherly love that came from them to me. i do agree with most of your blog here, perhaps even the whole thing. one last story. when amanda and i were newly weds over 6 years ago. we lived in a small nasty apt in a run down town. one night when we were praying together. this fire type feeling came around my neck and my heart was pounding. i began to shout in tounges. it then got quiet and then i interprtted. i thought it unusual. i mean this only happens in “church” among many… right? or does it? it never happend again, but that night was prophetic and a blessing for us. we ended up in africa short after. I guess some of my point is God knows the heart. when christian joe shouts in tounges 2 couch cushions down or 3 balconies up my concern is not always if he is out of line and maybe causing new belivers or non belivers to think we are crazy. my concern sometimes is he being embarrsed and rebuked for what he has done and wounding him and binding him up that he’ll never excersise such language again or doubt a move of God. The Holy Spirit will teach him the rest. The real deal and not so real. let us correct the crazies with love aswell. new belivers and non belivers think this christain walk is loony sometimes without having to hear tounges with out interprtation. sometimes its just crazy because we have to love each other. its weird to the new beliver at first sometimes that he might have to give up bars and sex out side of marriage etc. the list goes on. i lied i have one more story. before i was saved i visited alot of churches in nyc. a few times i heard tounges. i thought it sounded holy, pecular and i knew in my heart it was the power of God. any ways brother. good post. beside me sounding contrary, i think it good to be sensitive to what you say here. i will definately consider it and be more self aware with my charismatic ways. lol. the most charismatic i get is a hand lifted up and maybe a whispered amen here and there. lol
    love you bro
    patrick

    • lawdawg23

      Ha! Thanks bro. I think you’re right. My point in writing this blog certainly wasn’t to bring the hammer down on anyone. This is something a few of the brothers and sisters in our fellowship have been discussing lately, so I thought I would put some of my own thoughts together, that’s all. As always, I appreciate your insight. Send me an email if you get a chance; I wrote you a few weeks back but didn’t get a response.

  • aaronkreider

    Josh,

    I appreciate your candid approach to the subject. I personally come from that baptist background that you talk about. Anything charismatic was considered to be “self-deception” at best.

    I spent two summers where I was with a different local church every night… while the majority of the “institutions” were baptist, the experience was so rich and enlightening. The bride of Christ is so diverse and full of life… two things stand out to me from those summers. First, the unity we have in Christ. Second, never put worship and praise in a box. I think what is most important is the heart fully surrendered to Christ… and how can we as humans judge the heart of another; we have trouble enough judging our own hearts. 😉

    I have very little experience with tongues; but I do know that God works in and through His people however He chooses. I also believe that just as I relate to my two boys differently because of their unique personalities, He relates to His children in the ways that they most need to be related to. So, if tongues be used by God to build up, praise the Lord! 🙂

    God bless brother… some good words in this post.
    -Aaron

  • Acidri

    Hi Law Dawg,I grew up pentecosal/ charismatic. I am currently reformed. you probably will like this article i have just featured. It basically looks at how pentecostalism emerged from cesassionism in that when it started in early 30th century Parham and Seymour looked at it as a return of the gifts of the spirit.In which case had it ceased? Read on http://7drizzles7.wordpress.com/2010/09/12/pentecostal-history-proves-cessation-of-spiritual-gifts/

    • lawdawg23

      Thanks for the link, Michael. I assume you are probably familiar with Frank Bartleman’s book on the Azusa revival? It’s really all I’ve read of Pentecostalism’s early days, before it became Pentecostalism, that is. Very stirring.

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