The heart of the "tongues" issue is not words, nor outward appearance, nor emotional response, but rather deeds and truth. Whether tongues has a place in the church today stands or falls on the answer to the following question:
Does speaking in tongues contribute to Christians' loving God and others in deeds and in truth?Let us therefore examine tongues and true love in the New Testament church, both at Pentecost and afterwards.
On Pentecost, the Body of Christ spoke its first words. These words were produced by the whole Body responding to the Holy Spirit in coordinated action. These words were the "tongues" described in Acts chapter 2.
Not everyone who heard could understand this speech, but only those whose hearts were open and receptive. In the very same way, when the Father spoke from heaven to His Son Jesus, some heard Him speak while others heard only thunder (John 12:29). Again, on the road to Damascus, Paul heard Jesus speak intelligible words, while the others heard only raw noise (Acts 9:7, 22:9). It seems likely that at Pentecost there were instances of two people with the same native language both listening to the disciples, one hearing praise and the other hearing only drunken babble. As any communications link involves both transmission and reception, so the divine communication mediated by tongues involved miraculous speaking AND miraculous hearing.
Neither should we assume necessarily that individual disciples at Pentecost spoke individual languages. Indeed, this seems quite unlikely -- a large crowd of men all shouting simultaneously in different languages would have been unintelligible to everyone. Rather, it was the CUMULATIVE effect of their speaking which somehow diverse hearers were able to resolve into diverse languages. The Church spoke as a single Body, not as a collection of unconnected individuals.
In summary: Tongues
at Pentecost attested to the birth of the Church. Tongues bore witness
that the Church was One in mind and spirit, with one Head Jesus Christ.
The only way to thoroughly understand what "speaking in tongues" truly is, is to examine the New Testament descriptions of phenomenon which it refers to.
First, consider the outward appearance of speaking in tongues. The New Testament descriptions consistently indicate that tongues-speakers appear like drunks or madmen gibbering nonsense. Not only are the words apparently meaningless, the animated demeanor of the speakers makes them appear nuts.
Next, consider what's going on inside the tongues-speaker as he gives forth utterance. Paul provides us a detailed description in 1 Corinthians 14 of the internal state of the tongues-speaker. First, Paul says that he or she is speaking to God, and not to men. So tongues is for prayer, and not for preaching or teaching. Second, he or she is speaking mysteries in the spirit. Mysteries are hidden truths which cannot be fully expressed in human language, and cannot be fully comprehended by the human mind except through a special revelation from God. Third, Paul indicates that the speaker himself does not understand what he is saying (although some would claim otherwise, a close analysis of 1 Cor. 14:13-19 leaves no room for any other interpretation). He is speaking directly from the heart, moved by the Holy Spirit, and his speech is not processed or understood by his mind.
In summary, New Testament
tongues was an intensely personal, mystical encounter with the Holy
Spirit which outwardly appeared bizarre to the point of insanity
(compare the behavior of King Saul in 1 Samuel 19:23-24, which apparently
was not unusual among prophets).
Pascal said, "The heart has its reasons that the reason does not understand." When speaking in tongues, the heart expresses itself directly, without being filtered through the intellect. A deeper, fuller expression of the soul is possible, though its essence cannot be captured in rational words. Just as Paul tells us in Romans 8:26-27, "The Spirit also helps us in our weakness: for when we don't know how we ought to pray, the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings which cannot be expressed. The one who searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."
Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 14 that a person speaking in tongues is actually praying with his/her spirit. If a tongue is interpreted in an assembly, the interpretation is not necessarily literal, but rather conveys the import of what the person is trying to express through his/her spirit.
I remember hearing about a linguist who taped the tongues spoken in a Pentecostal assembly, analyzed them and concluded that they do not have the characteristics of a language. This causes no problem for our understanding of the significance of tongues. Someone who is expressing mysteries in their spirit is not necessarily using a "language" as we ordinarily understand the term. Music is highly expressive medium, but neither does music have the characteristics of language. We must be aware that any 'interpretation' of a tongue is only a partial representation of its significance: we should not expect that 'mysteries' or the hidden things of God can be adequately expressed in human language.
Can music be edifying? There is scarcely a Christian who would deny this. Can music inspire to a greater love for God and for others? Again, we have near-universal agreement. But does music have a rational significance? That is, does music have a meaning which can be equivalently expressed in words? Obviously not. But for that reason, is it any less edifying and inspiring?
Now how about tongues? Tongues admittedly does not have a rational significance which can be equivalently expressed in words. However, this does not disqualify tongues from our spiritual repertoire, any more than music.
Music is an expression of the soul; tongues is an expression of the spirit. There is a great deal of leeway in the interpretation of a piece of music; and the same holds true for tongues.
Many are suspicious of
tongues because it conveys to them the impression of uncontrolled
emotionalism. Emotions are easily manipulated by skillful demagogues,
the kind who "speak great swelling words of vanity, who allure through
the lusts of the flesh" (2 Pet. 2:18). To be sure,
excesses and abuses of the gift of tongues are epidemic. It all depends
on the heart of the speaker. Is the speaker motivated by a desire
to be the center of attention? Is he trying to impress others with
his (so-called) "spirituality"? Is he trying to manipulate others into
being carried up in a wave of enthusiasm? Is he subtly trying to promote
his own spiritual agenda? Such motivations are all to common, and
the false is probably more prevalent than the true. Even the true usually
has some "leaven" mixed in: for "The heart of man is desperately wicked,
who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)
you are the living God. Forgive us for limiting You by our man-made
doctrines and concepts, which can never adequately capture Your nature
and truth. We pray that you will invade our hearts and minds and destroy
the religious fortifications which we have built to keep You out.
Through the cross of Jesus Christ we have forgiveness of sins.
Through Jesus are free to forsake the darkness and enter into Your marvellous
light. Draw us out of our self-protective bomb shelters and pillboxes.
Father, strip us of our self-wrought armor, and bring us out into Your
open pasture, soothed by the cool wind of Your Spirit, clothed only with
the righteousness we have by faith in Christ. Place a seal and mark upon
us, Father, bestow heavenly graces upon us by Your Spirit, that we may
know You have adopted us as Your own children, sharing Your nature and
Your inheritance. We pray in the name of Jesus Your only-begotten Son,
through whom we have privelege to request these things of You.
Copyright © 1999 CrossPollen
Last Revised: Augsut 28, 1999
CrossPollen Main Page || top of page || CrossPollen e-mail