“Pudding, Praise and…speaking in tongues”
Controversy has raged over the phrase “speaking in tongues” throughout the history of the church, particularly since the start of the Pentecostal era in 1904. So, what are we to make of it?
We have to acknowledge that there are fine Christians on all sides of this discussion – some of the greatest believers in the history of the church would not agree with what is in this document! Also that it is not a major item of Scripture. Yet there are three instances of it in the book of Acts, and over thirty separate verse in the Bible refer to it. There is a lot more teaching about subjects that are mentioned a lot less! So we have to say something about it.
“I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you”
The Apostle Paul.
So, if the apostle Paul made such a claim, and was happy for believers to know about it, to the extent that he also said
“I would like each one of you to speak in tongues”
…there is certainly is discussion to be had.
So we need to put aside fear, prejudice..and whatever else holds us, and look to the Scripture, and the Scriptures only, for our guidance.
So…speaking in tongues….what is it?
In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, the believers spoke in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. They were real languages, recognised as such by the Jews present in Jerusalem, who described them as “declaring the wonders of God”. It is said that they were preaching the gospel in other languages. Personally I do not believe that this is what the text says, and of course, Peter did preach a few moments later. It appears that they were praising God in languages that they did not know.
In Acts 10, the Spirit cam on the first Gentile believers at Cornelius’ house. When they spoke in tongues it is unlikely (not impossible) that there were unbelievers there, and they were described as “speaking in tongues and praising God”.
In the third case in Acts there were certainly no unbelievers, and in Ephesus they “spoke in tongues and prophesied”
Put them all together and you get the picture that where people received the Holy Spirit, they spoke in tongues, speaking directly to God, in languages that could, at least sometimes, be recognised.
The only teaching we have on it in the New Testament is where it was all going wrong, in the city of Corinth. What seems to have been happening is that believers were using this ability to speak in tongues in settings which were designed to build up believers – the church meeting.
“Wrong, says Paul. Tongues is for building up yourself. Personally, I am glad that I speak in tongues as much as anyone, but in the church, where we are trying to edify one another – speak so as to be understood. If you want to speak in tongues – only do it where there is an interpreter present. If there isn’t, keep quiet and speak to yourself and to God.”
So, Paul gives us some clues here as to how he sees tongues:
1. He does it more than anyone else
2. It for building himself up (so that he can then minister to others)
3. In the public setting it is not encouraged, unless it is interpreted, so that people can be edified.
Wayne Grudem defines speaking in tongues as “prayer or praise spoken in syllables not understood by the speaker”, and makes the following points:
a. Spoken to God
b. Not understood by the speaker (“if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful”)
c. ….but with the Spirit
d. Not ecstatic, but self-controlled
This is a supernatural ability, given by God, to enable an individual to grow spiritually.
1. For everyone?
In all of the accounts in Acts, it is interesting that they all spoke on tongues. When Paul gives the list of gifts in 1 Corinthians, he asks the rhetorical question “do all speak in tongues” – clearly expecting the answer “no”. But he may well be referring to the gift of speaking in tongues, with interpretation, in a setting designed to upbuild people, saying that this was a gift for only a few – and possibly one of the least of the gifts. The private use of tongues to praise and worship God, may not be covered by this. So a strong case can be made that this grace of speaking in tongues is one that is available to any believer who earnestly asks their Father for it
2. What about counterfeits?
This is a real and genuine concern. We know that Satan can appear as an angel of life. He can counterfeit most things – including tongues. So the question can be asked:
a. did I ask my Father for it?
b. Do I trust His Spirit to lead me more than the devil’s ability to deceive me?
c. Does the use of this gift result in a closeness to God, a hunger for His word and a desire for righteousness?
If the answer to all the above is “yes” – we need have no fear of counterfeits.
3. What about craziness?
Yes – there are so many examples of excesses, and one can well understand the wish of God’s people to avoid the risk. But of course there are equal excesses by those who have rejected the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We need to be bold, and to trust God to deliver us from excesses, and to keep us deeply rooted in the scriptures.
As last week, when we said that if you want God to fill you with the Holy Spirit, you have only to ask. There is a gift available here that enables believers to grow closer to Jesus. We have a Father who delights to give good gifts to His children. Should we not simply ask?