More About “Private Tongues”

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I recently had opportunity to teach again on different aspects of speaking in tongues, and in the course of teaching, I referred people to my post entitled “The Private, Devotional Use of Tongues.” This was a piece I wrote in the middle of the “Strange Fire” controversy several years ago.

Things had quieted down on that front but, to my surprise, a flurry of comments has just come in from someone who disagrees with me strongly about speaking or praying in tongues privately. I wanted to give this brother, Mr. Ron Cash, the courtesy of addressing his objections in the form of a actual post, rather than a comment thread, which can become hard to follow. I also want to reassert my position and see if working through his objections could be helpful. When talking about spiritual gifts (and certainly tongues) I think it’s a good thing to deal with people’s real questions, concerns, and objections, rather than being too theoretical.

Here are Mr. Cash’s objections and, as always, I invite his (and your) further thoughts.

Objection 1: …you have not taken the entire context into account. The epistle to the Corinthians was addressed to the most carnal church in the entire NT. You cannot just take a few verses out of context and make a doctrine out of it. What you are actually doing is appealing to the way the Corinthians were using the gift and somehow using that as an example to emulate. Again, Paul considered them carnal, as in “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal”. So what you are doing is using the practice of carnal christian’s as your example.

Response 1: On the contrary, I think I have taken the whole context into account. There’s nothing in what I’ve said that seeks to use the practice of carnal people as an example. Thoughtful Pentecostals and Charismatics have always taught that Paul was correcting the misuse of a valid gift. Especially do we see this in Chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians, where Paul takes great pains to emphasize that the rule of love (specifically the rule of seeking to edify the church) must govern whether one speaks in a tongue or in the vernacular at any particular moment. What was making the Corinthians carnal was not speaking in tongues per se, but their unloving (or otherwise inappropriate, unedifying use of tongues). I agree with Mr. Cash’s statements to the effect that 1 Corinthians, Chapters 12-14, are corrective in nature. No one is debating this. But this does not mean that there is no valid personal use of tongues — it only means that the personal use of tongues is inappropriate in certain settings, and Paul gives examples to show us what he is getting at.

Objection 2: So his whole train of thought is very consistent in Chap. 12 to Chap 14. It is all about using the gifts for the common good to edify the body, anything else is abuse, self centered abuse, remember Chap. 3 he called them “babes in Christ”.

Response 2: Yes, I think anything else is definitely abusive of the gift, but I’m afraid it’s Mr. Cash who has gone beyond Paul’s argument, which is to address the corporate setting.

Objection 3: Notice he mentions what tongues are here, he clearly calls them “languages”, which is why he concludes that thought with “13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.” He never said, sometimes interpret. Who is to pray to interpret? The “one who speaks in a tongue”, which means always. If you speak in a tongue, then pray to interpret. How many who practice this as a “private prayer” language are doing that? If not you are disobeying the word of God, plain and simple, every time you ignore this verse. This verse has never been rescinded!

Response 3: The context here, again, is a church gathering, as Paul says in v. 6, “But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?” (1 Cor. 14:6, NKJV) In such settings, an uninterpreted tongue is unloving, inappropriate, unedifying, and therefore forbidden by apostolic command. See also verse 12, the immediately preceding verse: “Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.” Of course, the verse which follow on from v. 13 show very clearly that there is an appropriate giving of thanks, etc., in tongues, and that Paul would regulate himself in the matter depending on his situation. You cannot deny that this is the context of v. 19, in which he says that in the church he will speak in the vernacular.

I woudl also point out the word language in 1 Cor. 14:10 is questionable in this context. The KJV is actually better when it renders it as voice, because it is the Greek word phone. It means a voice or sound. The languages in Acts 2:6 are the word dialektos, something more like an actual language. Your argument assumes that all tongues speaking at Corinth was xenolalia, which I don’t think was your intention.

Objection 4: You said, “As for the devotional practices of Paul himself, we have his own record in 1 Cor. 14: 18-19a: “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: yet in the church…” Where did Paul’s frequent tongues-speaking take place? By his own words, it was done mostly outside of the church – in other words, privately.” I certainly accept the verses as quoted as being true, but you have made numerous assumptions about these verses that are just no supported by Paul and the NT. First and foremost, you said, ” in other words, privately.” Where does it say that anywhere in Scripture? I would be interested in seeing where it says Paul used it “privately”. I myself do not know anywhere that is stated. So this would seem like a big assumption on your part and that this slight twist you put on his quote is what you are using to try to shift the meaning of what tongues is. Paul made it clear that as a basic tenet not to be violated, “13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.”

Response 4: The word privately is not used, but it is certainly descriptive of what Paul is conveying to us. You and I agree that Paul commands interpretation in the church, but you are not grappling with verse 19 in which Paul says he spoke with tongues more than them all, yet in the church he would rather speak five words in the vernacular. You have gutted completely the force of your own argument. He did it more than the Corinthians, who did it a lot, and he contrasts that frequent use of tongues with what he did in church.

Objection 5: You said, “Where did Paul’s frequent tongues-speaking take place? By his own words, it was done mostly outside of the church” Of course, Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles and he was a Hebrew of Hebrews, so he needed the gift of languages to communicate the gospel to them, nowhere does it say “privately”, that is jumping completely out of context. And that is exactly what he had in mind when he said, “”If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian,”. He even goes on to say, “In the Law it is written, “By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me,” says the Lord. 22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers;” So he also has the idea of his talking to “unbelievers” in mind in this passage from chap 12 to chap 14.

Response 5: Again, you’re confounding the context here. The verse about the barbarian, verse 11, is followed immediately by verse 12 which says to excel in edifying the church. He’s clearly talking about the need to interpret tongues in a public meeting, as you yourself wished to emphasize from v. 13. Even the passage about being a sign to unbelievers has to do with avoiding the problem of unbelievers coming into a gathering were everyone is speaking in tongues and thinking the saints are mad. Perhaps we should notice again that verse 23-28, which give more insight into public meetings, follow verse 22.

You’re also attempting to make a strong conclusion from a very weak argument from silence. We have no record whatsoever in Scripture that the Gospel was preached through a gift of tongues. Even in Acts 2 the Gospel was not preached in tongues; rather, the wonderful works of God were extolled. It was left to Peter to preach Christ in the vernacular. No one, no one at all, preached the Gospel in the Book of Acts by speaking to them using the gift of tongues. Such a thing (which I admit is possible) would undercut your cessationism, since if tongues were given for that purpose, it would seem it should still be needed.

I would also point you to 1 Corinthians 14:2 where Paul specifically says that he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. This forces honest readers to confess that tongues are for prayer and/or worship only, as they are directed God-wards.

I will close with this:

Three Things Cessationists Ignore, Demonstrated from a SIngle Verse, 1 Corinthians 14:28: “But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.” (NKJV)

  1. Private tongues: notice that the man is told to speak to himself if there is no interpreter or, we may surmise, if he himself does not have the faith to interpret. Notice that he is in a church service.
  2. Praying in tongues: notice that the man is speaking to God. I think most Christians would agree this limits his speech to prayer or expressions of praise. Of course, some Cessationists have denied that there is even such a thing as praying in tongues at all, even though Paul specifically alludes to the practice in 1 Cor. 14:14 and says that when a person prays in a tongue his spirit (not his mind) is praying.
  3. Edifying of the self is a good thing, not a bad thing. It can certainly be wrong to edify yourself when you’re in church to edify others; our use of the spiritual gifts is always to be governed by love. However, there is nothing wrong with edifying ourselves per se. And Paul allows people here to speak in a tongue to themselves and to God, even in church. This is clearly a private activity, which will result in spiritual edification to the one speaking, however unquantifiable or inexplicable to us. We know this is so because Paul has said that he “who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.” (1 Cor. 14:4)

These one verse shows these three concepts dovetailing together: there is a private use of tongues, in praying and worshiping God, which has the secondary (but unselfish and beneficial) effect of edifying oneself.

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Noah Found Grace

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So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. (Genesis 6:7-8)

We serve a holy God. And we serve a merciful God. Here, in the midst of one of the most terrifying stories of judgment, we see the grace of God.

God will always have a remnant of people who will serve Him. He always finds a man whose heart is toward Him, someone in whose heart are the ways of grace, someone He can use. There are times when God declares He must start over, He must begin again. There are sometimes new days, or new seasons, or new wineskins — and this is our challenge, and this is how the Holy Spirit provokes us: He stirs our hearts, to make us zealous to be a people who find favor in His sight, people who can serve His purposes in whatever He chooses to do.

Betraying the Son of Man

Photo posted by U2 on Instagram
Photo posted by U2 on Instagram (https://instagram.com/p/2-ON_VAF1Q/?taken-by=u2)

An interesting bit of news. As Ireland votes on whether to allow homosexual marriage, U2 frontman Bono has come out in favor of a “Yes” vote and was quoted as saying, “Marriage is now an idea that transcends religion.”

So you see, this is how you can claim to be a committed Christian and yet not have to face the scorn of the world for saying that marriage is only between a man and a woman. You just say that marriage has nothing to do with religion.

That may be a coherent line of thinking in the opinion of someone who does not profess to be a follower of Jesus Christ, but it can never be considered “wholesome words” for someone who truly loves God and His Word.

No Christian can ignore the fact that the very first recorded words of a human being are these:

“This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:23 KJV)

After telling us this, Moses, the founder of Western Civilization (may it rest in peace), immediately comments, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24 KJV)

Read the beautiful creation story in Genesis 2 and you will see that marriage was God’s idea. The man-woman bond was reinforced in the Law of Moses and, despite what homosexual activists say, was restated by the Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles Paul, Peter, Jude, and John in the New Testament.

And U2? The band posted on its Instagram (see photo above) a phrase from Bono’s song, “Pride (In The Name Of Love).” The song, which has a social justice theme, contains a line about Jesus:

“One man betrayed with a kiss…”

I wonder if we’re doing the same.

Southern Baptist missionaries now allowed to speak in tongues

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Reversing a 10-year old policy, the International Missions Board of the Southern Baptist Convention will receive applications from missionary applicants who admit to speaking in tongues.

The Board will still end employment for any missionary who places “persistent emphasis on any specific gift of the Spirit as normative for all or to the extent such emphasis becomes disruptive.”

I can’t be sure how much of change in theology this is. Clearly the Southern Baptists are not going full Pentecostal, but the acknowledgment that there even is such a thing as a private, devotional use of tongues would seem to be a big step. (This was something we wrote about at length during the “Strange Fire” controversy in 2013.) Because so many Baptists of different stripes are cessationists, meaning they believe the gifts of the Spirit have passed away, it will be interesting to see the reaction to this decision within the wider Baptist family.

The mystery of the missing Millennials

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It may be bad form in 2015 to disagree with Rachel Held Evans too much, but perhaps the lack of Millennials in the pews will not be solved by offering an experience of a God who is somewhat tangible in bread and chrism.

In last week’s super-viral piece in the Washington Post, Ms. Evans skillfully calls out the hip Evangelical worship paradigm, but is veering towards sacramentalism the answer?

I don’t think so. I think the reason Millennials aren’t in the pews is simply because they have no Christian cultural background that makes going to church part of being an American. In a great many parts of our country, going to church is just not something you do any more. (So I can at least acknowledge their lack of hypocrisy.) And the culture has changed so completely in the past 50 years that we have jettisoned what was affirmed for the last 3,500 years.

The consequences? To give just one example, teens and 20-somethings come into churches already “knowing” that there is nothing wrong with gay marriage, to say nothing of homosexual activity. How do they know this? They know this because it’s what everyone in their world believes and knows. So when, as a young person, you go to a church and hear someone reading Romans 1 from the pulpit, you are outraged and you want to call the Human Rights Commissions. You do not cringe with disgust or cover the ears of your kids as your grandfather did in 1955.

So, with due respect to Ms. Evans, encountering God in a “sacrament” is meaningless without the content of faith (the Word) which is behind it, and giving God’s own definition to it. The baseline of the Gospel (which everyone’s flesh hates) is the call to repentance – to yield to God’s diagnosis of my condition and to yield to His prescription for my condition.

Under the wisdom of such a Physician, “culture-war sins” such as abortion and homosexuality are ills just as dangerous for the human condition as the sins that Left and Right can agree to denounce such as greed, racism, and theft. When the Church refuses to say so, Millennials – and others – will not only be missing from the pews, but they will miss their opportunity for repentance and life.

Reading Some Old Letters

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About a week ago, controversial pastor Rob Bell told Oprah Winfrey that the Church is “moments” away from accepting gay marriage:

“… I think culture is already there, and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense…”

Bell’s comment proves we are never static in our view of God’s Word. We are either increasingly devoted to it with the passage of time, or else we move in the opposite direction: first neglecting it, then questioning it, and then rejecting it.

But once people reject the Word of God they never stop there… they go further, and end up despising it, even disparaging it to others.

As Psalm 1 shows us, once we heed the counsel of the ungodly, we end up sitting in the seat of the scornful. Bell ridicules the Word as something we have outgrown in our current state of societal sophistication. But his statement is not sophisticated – it’s sophomoric, and blasphemous.

Was the Apostle Paul unaware of the “modern” issues we grapple with? Were there no homosexuals in the Roman Empire? What conceit and self-deception! The Emperor Nero himself had a homosexual ceremony of sorts. But Bell says we’ll be increasingly irrelevant if we rely upon the Bible. Granted, there are certainly a number of “civilizational” reasons to oppose gay marriage, but Scripture can never be irrelevant to morals.

Ironically, it’s our failure to uphold and submit to the authority of the Word of God that makes the Church in North America so anemic and timid. The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword and therefore, having cast it aside, the Church makes few converts… but it hatches scorners in abundance.

Photo by Savio Sebastian on Flickr under Creative Commons License.

It’s All About Your Lampstand

In the weeks since the Super Bowl, many Christians have found themselves arguing or being asked to weigh in about Katy Perry’s halftime performance, and her claims that God spoke to her beforehand. Over the past several years, a number of people have written blogs or produced videos critical of Katy Perry and how she has released music with overt lesbian and occult lyrics and themes. Others have defended her: some saying that we should not “judge” her; others on the theory that what Katy produces is harmless. Still others are concerned that, whatever we may think about Katy, Christians are wrong to be critical in public fora where unsaved people can see us disagree and perhaps speak harshly.

In addition to arguing about Katy Perry, there has been renewed discussion about social issues in general and the steady drift of churches, even ostensibly Evangelical churches, in the direction of accepting homosexual marriage. These mini-controversies have surfaced a lot of discussion about how we should act and speak in social media.

Having watched this happening, I will put forward a few observations:

1. It may no longer be the conservative Christians who are the “attack Christians.” Despite the stereotype of the conservative Christian who bashes those who disagree with him, things seem to have flipped. To merely express an opinion contrary to the spirit of the age is to make yourself a prey for slander – not only from those who do not profess Christ, but from those who do. This is troubling. While these friends attack conservative Christians as judgmental, they don’t seem to realize that they have become equally judgmental, maybe more so.

Here’s a thought. It may be that someone who posts a video attacking Katy Perry’s music does not hate Katy Perry, and isn’t trying to make a buck, but is trying to warn parents about the dangers of letting their young daughters listen to her music. For parents, such discussions are not academic.

2. There is almost no desire for holiness in North America. It is abundantly clear that we can no longer be shocked by anything. Society has accepted as the new normal behaviors that only a single generation ago would have made a person liable to arrest. Does anyone take this to heart? No. King David’s vow to set no wicked thing before his eyes finds very few imitators today.

And yet, this is not a matter of rule-keeping, but a matter of the desires of the heart. What are we looking for? How many among us still have that spirit of Jonathan Edwards, who said, “The heaven that I desired was a heaven of holiness?”

3. Much of the complaining about “division” in the Church is a red herring. Christians who believe in the integrity of God’s Word cannot afford to be cowed here, although Christ-likeness is always required. For not every division necessarily grieves the Spirit of God. It may surprise us to recall that some division in opinion and even in fellowship is expected by Scripture. The New Testament is clear that offenses, and even heresies, will come. They will happen because of human weakness and pride. Paul is clear about this: For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. (1 Cor. 11:19) God uses division, using it to make obvious those of whom He approves.

In Romans 16, Paul tells us to take note of those who cause divisions – but his concern is actually quite specific and not directed against all division:

Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple… I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.

So then we are not necessarily to be grieved by the mere fact of disagreements, but we are to make note of those who cause divisions by contravening the Word of God. Contrary to the modern spirit, Paul was shocked that the Corinthians tolerated flagrant sin: …you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. (1 Cor. 5:2) Paul and his fellow apostles could not have imagined a situation in which Christians would argue that the Holy Spirit was speaking a personal word to an alleged prodigal to encourage her to sing about the glories of lesbianism in front of a billion people.

4. Because of false “tolerance” (which is actually false love), the lampstand of the American Church may now be going out. I won’t argue here with professing Christians concerning “social issues” such as gay marriage. (And let’s face it, the battle over that issue definitely seems to be lost.) So, if you claim to be a Christian and you believe in gay marriage, I’m not addressing you here. Go ahead and tune me out for a minute.

Now, for the rest of us, are we sure that our lampstand is not even now being removed? When was the last time we read the letters to the seven churches (Revelation 2-3) and trembled in fear at the thought of being inspected by the One whose eyes are a flame of fire? The fact that we operate in a false tolerance which masquerades as Christian love keeps us from being effective in proclaiming Christ to our nation. So our lampstand is going out, because there are very few churches left that are brave enough to assert even the most basic truths of the Gospel.

What will happen when Christ removes the lampstand of the Church in America and Canada? Are we so arrogant to think this cannot happen and that national judgment will not descend? Many don’t think such a thing could ever happen to the Land of the Free, but by the same token, I haven’t run into too many Byzantines lately, and neither have you.

5. Christian leaders are obligated by God to warn the Church about sin and to call the wider society to repentance. Yes, we must do this in love, but the average American Christian’s 21st-century definition of love doesn’t square with God’s definition.

Paul said, “Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” But some do not want their teachers to do so. He also said, “Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” But this would get an American pastor sued. And Paul told Titus,  “…denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age…Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.”

If you are unwilling or afraid to speak out and so lose friends or face persecution, then please, at least recognize that there are some who are called to this. You ought not hinder them. You may not feel that you can bring a word of correction to your brother concerning his doctrine or behavior – but your elders have been called by God to do so:

“Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” (Colossians 1:28)

Let’s all think very carefully about where we go from here as we speak out for Christ and for His honor. As Christians have now lost the culture wars, all that we have left is the Gospel. Let’s not throw that away, too. Actually, it’s all we’ve really ever had.

May your lampstand not be put out, but may you burn brightly for Him.