Tongues

The gift of tongues in the Bible causes confusion for many today. The issue isn't as clear as I would like. Some Reformed teachers seem to go too far, teaching their personal opinions too dogmatically on this topic. Some seem to be trying to guard against some real dangers, but in doing so, use a meat cleaver where a surgical laser would be better.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS CLEARLY

Most or every time the Bible talks about the gift of speaking in tongues it refers to  someone speaking in a known language that they didn't know how to speak. It would be like someone going to Russia on a mission trip and starting to preach the gospel in Russian even though they never studied a moment of Russian. The Bible never says this gift has ended. I have heard some claim that this type of "missional tongues” still happens. I cannot prove or know if it does or doesn't.

Acts is a transitional book going from the way the Holy Spirit worked before the resurrection to the way the Holy Spirit works in believers since the resurrection and Pentecost. You see in Acts that when people were converted, the Holy Spirit came into their lives (as He does to any convert, anywhere and anytime). But He came in with obvious evidences such as speaking in other tongues (But, this is not the norm in church history.) (Acts 2, 10, and 19)  

The Bible makes clear all people do not speak in tongues, nor can all interpret (1 Corinthians 12:30). The Bible also says no one should speak in tongues unless someone could interpret (1 Corinthians 14:13, 27-28). 1 Corinthians 13:8 says tongues will cease but it doesn't say when. The chapter seems to point to when Christ returns and not to when the Biblical cannon closed as some teach.

DANGEROUS SITUATIONS TODAY

Some that emphasis the gifts of tongues today that I've interacted with don’t think about speaking in tongues the way the Bible does. They speak of tongues as a heavenly, angelic language. This doesn't seem right although Paul possibly makes one reference to such language (1 Corinthians 13.1).

Some that emphasis tongues today also talk a lot about praying in tongues, which seems to be more of the emphasis today. However, it is only mentioned once in the Bible with virtually no explanation (1 Corinthians 14:14). This modern day emphasis doesn't seem to align with the Biblical account.

The most extreme charismatics teach that if you don't speak or pray in tongues then you either aren't a Christian, aren't baptized in the Holy Spirit (which Biblically means being a Christian), or aren't filled with the Holy Spirit (essentially that you aren't living with the maximum experience of the Holy Spirit's power etc...). There are others that say when they speak in tongues, they are giving new revelation from God. The Bible certainly doesn't teach any of these three perspectives.

CHURCH HISTORY

Another big argument is that virtually everyone I respect and have been impacted by throughout church history since the close of the apostolic age has not spoken in tongues or prayed in tongues (that we know of). They don’t talk about it. Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther, George Whitfield, John Bunyan, John Piper, Tim Keller etc... Surely these men are Spirit filled. Yet there seems to be nothing about tongues in their lives!

CHARISMATIC DANGERS TO RESIST

It is sinful and dangerous to believe:

  1. People speaking in tongues can give new revelation. There is no new revelation since the apostles died.
  2. If you don't speak or pray in tongues, you aren't a Christian.
  3. If you don't speak or pray in tongues, you aren't baptized with the Holy Spirit.
  4. If you don't speak or pray in tongues, you aren't filled with the Holy Spirit and thus are a second class Christian etc…

TRADITIONAL CONSERVATIVE DANGERS TO BEWARE OF

The Bible never clearly, 100% says that the gifts of tongues have ceased. Maybe they have, but the Bible never says so explicitly. So I think we should only be as clear as the Bible is. I think what some do in the name of protecting the Bible as the only authority is they add to the Bible and thus make themselves an additional authority which is the very error they are trying to fight against! 1 Corinthians 14:39 does clearly say not to forbid speaking in tongues.

OTHER THOUGHTS

1 Corinthians 12-14 is the major teaching on these gifts, and it's clear tongues caused a lot of problems even then. Tongues were treated like the best gifts by immature Christians, when they were one of the least gifts.

PRACTICALLY

I have heard people claim to "pray in tongues" often and "speak in tongues and interpret tongues" maybe 1-2 times. They didn’t claim any new revelation but just more a word of encouragement such as "God really loves you." I have no way of knowing whether any of this genuine. I am very skeptical but try not to be dogmatically judgmental on an issue the Bible isn’t clear on. I know conservative reformed people who claim to pray in tongues when alone. I can’t say for sure if they really do or don’t.

I have spent many different hours praying alone and with others for the gift of speaking and/or praying in tongues and have never "received” anything. Where I live now, I rarely think about it. It plays virtually no role in my life.

If I ever do think about it, I pray, "God I want to be filled with the Holy Spirit and have all the gifts you want me to have. If that means tongues, great. If not, great. I trust you."

RIGHT FOCUS

The one time in history we know everyone in the church was speaking in tongues, the emphasis wasn’t on tongues. It was on preaching the gospel, and thus our primary emphasis should be today.