The Way It Should Be
Isn’t it wonderful to have a platform where we can openly discuss the Bible? Isn’t it wonderful to be able to express our thoughts over the web without fear of retribution or imprisonment? Unfortunately, we often misuse the wonderful gifts we’ve been given, the gifts of the internet and our blogs, to bellow out our opinions as we blast our opponents, rarely taking advantage of the freedom we have to show grace, mercy, and love to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
A few days ago we started this discussion of glossolalia (speaking in tongues) and its modern relevance to the Church. What I have seen so far, both by way of posts and comments, has truly been encouraging. The series is still young, but I’ve yet to see a single critical, ungracious comment! Everyone who has written has been cordial, even in disagreement. That is the way it should be!
Therefore, before I go any further or get any deeper into the discussion at hand, I feel it best to clarify some things about my personal beliefs. The reason for doing so is to lay the groundwork for any further posts or comments I may write while addressing this particular subject of contention and misunderstanding within the Body of Christ.
Clarifying My Position
First of all, I am happy to say that I have many dear friends who differ with me on the issue of glossolalia (speaking in tongues). Those friends are not only in the Charismatic/Pentecostal branches of Christendom, but even within my own Baptist circles. Therefore, it is not my intention to belittle or demean what they believe, nor is it my wish to harm our relationships by openly disagreeing with certain doctrines they hold dear – they are family, and I love them. No, my sole intention is simply to state what I believe and why I believe it.
To be very honest, there are times when I wonder if it would be best just to leave things as they are and never discuss our differences. For example, some of the most godly and faithful people I know have a different understanding of the passages on which I will expound in a future post: they truly believe that the 4th and 14th verses of 1 Corinthians both affirm and give evidence for the faith to which they hold. Therefore, when they enter into their prayer closets and humbly bow before God in intercession, should their view of secondary or tertiary doctrines be a concern of mine? So what if their persistent, fervent, private prayer leads to ecstatic speech? If they are encouraged in the Faith, and it only leads them to stand stronger in it, why should I care? Honestly, at least they are praying! Lest we forget, right theology does not a prayer warrior make.
Nevertheless, as a minister I am tasked with the responsibility to read the Book distinctly, give the sense, and cause the listener to understand what’s being read (Nehemiah 8:8). As a preacher I am supposed to be “instant in season [and] out of season,” speaking the truth in love, despite the consequence or mood (2 Timothy 4:2). And should I choose to remain silent, never offering a proper treatment of a particular passage, even if doing so would seemingly cause no harm, then my shame would be justified (2 Timothy 2:15). Scripture is not up to “private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20), so it is always appropriate and ultimately edifying to get closer to the interpretation that’s correct.
The second thing I would like to make clear is that I cannot, in good conscience, label myself a total cessationist (i.e., one who believes the spiritual gift of tongues ceased with the apostolic age); there is still room in my understanding of glossolalia for God to work outside my denominational box. However, it is of my opinion that the overwhelming majority of modern-day examples of glossolalia are nothing more than “ecstatic speech” (emotionally-induced language-like sounds). Even without referring back to the directives issued by Paul in1 Corinthians 14:27-33, the average example of glossolalia fails the most simple of linguistic tests, therefore demonstrating that whatever is being spoken may sound like a language, but it isn’t. Then, when one does insert 1 Corinthians 14:27-33 back into the equation, the average Charismatic or Pentecostal worship service becomes incredulous (i.e., ten people running around the sanctuary and speaking in tongues at the same time, all without an interpretation). Simply put, if glossolalia is a gift still being given, the actual practice of it in public worship is probably extremely rare.
In my next post on this subject I am only going to address one particular verse of Scripture, 1 Corinthians 14:4. There are obviously several other passages which could be discussed, but for the sake of brevity (as if this post was short), this one verse, viewed in context, will be enough for me – at least for a while.
For the time being, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity” (Rupertus Meldenius, circa 1627).