SPEAKING IN TONGUES
At intervals through the history of the church, beginning with Pentecost, an amazing phenomenon attributed to the Spirit has been experienced within the professing church. The instances of speaking in tongues recorded in the New Testament can be received as genuine demonstrations of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2, 10, 19), and the discussion of Paul in 1 Cor. 12-14 witnesses to an experience that was genuine. But many other such instances within the professing church must be viewed with suspicion.
In recent years within certain areas of the professing church there has been a resurgence of speaking in tongues. Even more recently this phenomenon has appeared on college campuses across the Nation. The bold claims for genuineness and the high values placed upon this experience lead one to a closer scrutiny of the teaching of the Word of God on this point. Some are saying that these speaking’s are manifestations of the Holy Spirit, that they indicate a spiritual awakening, that people are experiencing an encounter with the living God.
Christian periodicals have given wide publicity to these events among Evangelical believers with intimation, if not clear approval, of the demonstration. It is asserted that these speaking’s are the work of the Holy Spirit. Some say such speaking is the evidence of die presence of the Spirit, and the speaking issues from the power of the Spirit. It is argued that speaking in tongues is the direct result of the filling of the Spirit, or the baptism of the Spirit, and is a gift of the Spirit. In one case, the editors, in referring to an article appearing in their magazine, state that "this is not an attempt at theological interpretation—but is presented as a personal witness."
In the light of these facts, it does seem that the movement has reached sufficient proportions to require a theological discussion. This article does not presume to examine each set of circumstances in which such speaking appears today, but rather to set forth what the Word of God has to say about measuring and controlling the genuine exhibition of this spiritual phenomenon. If the accounts of tongues in Acts and First Corinthians refer to the same kind of speaking, then the Book of Acts gives us the historical manifestation, while Corinthians gives us the theological interpretation. By clear statement the instruction of 1 Cor. 12, 13, 14 was not only for the local congregation in Corinth, but also for the entire church through all of its earthly sojourn (1 Cor. 1:2). The teaching of the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul therefore pertinent to the situation today.
Theological Instruction on Tongues Was Given To Provide a Correct Evaluation of Their Worth in the Church
Two kinds of speaking were prevalent in the Early Church, both of them gifts of the Spirit; namely, prophecy and speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 12:10). Like all spiritual gifts, they were bestowed for the welfare of the entire congregation (1 Cor. 12:7). But by virtue of intrinsic nature, some gifts were more valuable to the congregation than others, and therefore these people were exhorted to desire the best gifts (1 Cor. 12:31), and in any event, gifts were to be exercised in love so that they might accomplish their purpose (1 Cor. 12:31; 13:13).
By direct assertion the value of tongues and prophecy are thrown into contrast in relation to the public assembly. "In the church . . . five words with . . . understanding" are worth more "than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue" (1 Cor. 14:19). This is a categorical statement that has no exceptions attached to it, and it is almost equivalent to saying that speaking in tongues is practically worthless in the public gathering. It is no wonder that Paul insists that "greater is he that prophesies" (1 Cor. 14:5) because he "speaks unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort" (1 Cor. 14:3), whereas the man that "speaks in an unknown tongue, speaks not unto men, but unto God" (1 Cor. 14:2), and "he speaks mysteries" (1 Cor. 14:2), and "edifies himself” (1 Cor. 14:4). While interpretation may enhance the value of tongues for use in the public assembly, the value is still so small that it should be used only in private.
The rather dire associations in the exercise of this gift cast a dark shadow on its usefulness in the church. The Corinthian congregation was full of problems. It was rent asunder with divisions (1 Cor. 1:10). One of the lowest forms of fornication was present (1 Cor. 5:1). Litigation and carnal license were practiced (chap. 6). Problems of divorce and remarriage confronted them (1 Cor. 7). There was a cold indifference toward weak brethren (1 Cor. 8-10). Inappropriate dress of women serving as leaders and indecency at the Lord's Table were shocking (1 Cor. 11). The inability to recognize the best gifts and to exercise those gifts for the benefit of all demanded special instruction (chaps. 12-14). Even doctrinal defection striking at the very heart of the Christian faith was present in this church (1 Cor. 15:12).
In addition to all this, the Apostle's appraisal of the spiritual condition of this congregation casts even darker shadows upon the spiritual value of tongues in its public meetings. Paul was unable to write to them as spiritual people (1 Cor. 3:1). For even though they may have known a great deal about spiritual things, they were not submitted to what they knew. Instead they were characterized by carnality, envy, strife, and factionalism (1 Cor. 3:3). It seems quite apparent that there was a woeful ignorance concerning the Scripture, as well as unconcern for what they knew (1 Cor. 4:6; 6:2, 9, 15, 19). Like immature children, they were self-centered, without understanding, and purposeless as attested by their fascination for the spectacular and emotional element in tongues (1 Cor. 3:1; 14:20). Edification of their fellow brethren in the public assembly was far from their thoughts (1 Cor. 14:5, 12), and evangelization of the lost was impossible because no clear message of truth was ever conveyed in the exercise of tongues (1 Cor. 14:21-23). In its public gatherings, when tongues broke out, there was nothing but disorder, confusion, and distraction, which called for a message correcting its abuses and reappraising of its values (1 Cor. 14:23, 33, 40).
The pastor of this church was not meeting the credentials that was needed to bring this church to the ministry that it was afforded by the Teacher and the Lord (John 13:13). He was not their doctrinal Leader (Matt. 23:10 NASB). They were not getting a blameless display by their pastor and therefore their display was not blameless (2 Pet. 3:14; Phil 2:15). The Lord through Paul was giving them a chance to perform their duty (1 Thess. 5:23).
Theological Instruction on Tongues Was Given To Prevent General Demoralization in the Public Gathering
Since people are intelligent beings, these qualities must characterize public gatherings. There must be purpose, order, and understanding. If these are absent, such meetings will degenerate into mere uproar with a demoralizing effect upon everyone. This was happening in the exercise of tongues in the Corinthian congregation.
The purpose of the public gathering should have been to edify every person who attended the meeting (1 Cor. 14:12, 26). But this was absent in the exercise of tongues. Those who spoke in tongues were speaking to God and not to men (1 Cor. 14:2). They were uttering mysteries; that is, secrets (1 Cor. 14:2), the effect of which was to edify themselves and no one else (1 Cor. 14:4). And without interpretation, not even the speaker received any value from the speaking (1 Cor. 14:13-14). Like children without any self-control, they were engaged in meaningless gyrations, uttering senseless noises, and giving vent to personal emotion (1 Cor. 14:20, 23, 32).
In the nature of the case, order in the public gathering was necessary to carry out the purpose of the meeting. But this too was absent in the Corinthian assembly. The qualities of indecency and confusion made it impossible for the unlearned to say "Amen" to the things that went on (1 Cor. 14:16). Visitors from the outside were filled with consternation as they watched all of them speaking in tongues and concluded that they were "mad," meaning crazy (1 Cor. 14:23). Lack of self-control added to the confusion and produced revulsion in people. It was this that led to admonition on these points (1 Cor. 14:27, 29, 32-33).
Basically, understanding was necessary if purpose and order were to be apparent in the public meeting. But this was woefully absent. Since the speaking in tongues was purely selfish in purpose, providing an opportunity to indulge in riots of emotion, they were perfectly happy to utter secrets without interpretation (1 Cor. 14:2, 5). Since no one understood what was being said, the message had no effect in the lives of the hearers (1 Cor. 14:6-10). The ultimate result was that one person was to another in this assembly as a "barbarian" uttering a sort of foreign, weird, gibberish (1 Cor. 14:11).
This was demoralizing for all. The confusion produced spiritual instability, which is the meaning of the word "confusion" in vs. 33. This was just the opposite of peace and quiet and rest of which God is the author, and which every public meeting of the church should contribute to its attendants. Instead people went from these gatherings in a condition of emotional agitation and spiritual tumult. This could only lead to spiritual decline and disintegration. The God of peace did not attend here. He was on the outside knocking through Paul.
Spiritual Edification in the Public Assembly
Beginning with the premise in 1 Corinthians that all spiritual gifts were bestowed for the purpose of communicating benefit to the entire church (1 Cor. 12:7), the Apostle Paul argues that there is just one reason for the saints to gather in public. That was for edification (1 Cor. 14:3-5, 12, 17, 26). To omit oneself from the gathering together is sin (Heb. 13:25). Therefore, nothing should be permitted that does not carry out this purpose (1 Cor. 14:26). This means that if tongues are to be employed in the public assembly, there are certain things that must characterize their exercise.
There must be the interpretation of the tongues because God has decreed that spiritual edification be mediated through understanding (1 Cor. 14:5). Any person desiring to speak in tongues should be sure that he can interpret (1 Cor. 14:5), or he should pray that he may interpret (1 Cor. 14:13), or make sure that one is present who has the gift of interpretation (1 Cor. 14: 27-28). Otherwise he should "keep silence in the church" (1 Cor. 14:28). It is understanding of the spoken message made intelligible by distinction of sounds and certainty of meaning that provides the power to produce an effect in the hearers (1 Cor. 14:7-10). Without interpretation, tongues are an unintelligible gibberish that makes the hearer conclude that the speaker is a foreigner (1 Cor. 14:11), who is acting like a maniac (1 Cor. 14:23). The result so far as spiritual edification is concerned is nothing, for such a one is speaking into the air (1 Cor. 14:9). Faith, then it can be concluded that this is a genuine manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and therefore to be approved and promoted within the church.
Second, submission to the regulations laid down by the Apostle Paul is in reality submission to the commandments of God. "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:37). These commandments include the orderly procedure for exercising the gift of tongues within the public assembly in order that the purpose of spiritual edification may be realized for everyone in attendance. If there is anyone who is determined to resist these commandments, he gives fair evidence that he is not under the direction of the Spirit of God nor exercising the genuine gift of tongues. He that loves Me does My commandments (John 14:15).
Third, limitations are clearly placed upon the exercise of the genuine gift of tongues. This gift, like all the other spiritual gifts, is distributed according to the sovereign will of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 12:10-11). Not every believer is given every gift (1 Cor. 12:28-30). Though the Apostle Paul might wish that all might speak with tongues (1 Cor. 14:5), yet he knows perfectly well that this neither can, nor will, be the case. It is therefore important to understand that though this is the work of the Holy Spirit, it is His work in imparting gifts to the members of the church as He sees fit. Tongues are therefore not to be traced to the work of the Holy Spirit in spiritual awakening, nor to the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation, nor to the work of the Holy Spirit in indwelling, nor to the work of the Holy Spirit in baptism, nor to the work of the Holy Spirit in filling. These works of the Holy Spirit are for every believer (1 Pet. 1:2; Acts 2:38-39; 4:31; Titus 3:5; John 14:16-17; 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 5:18). Any movement, therefore, that promotes the speaking of tongues for everyone is not Biblical, and it is very likely not to be genuine.
Fourth, the cessation of this gift very probably took place when the canon of Scripture was finished, just as did the gift of prophecy. Paul declared both of these gifts would cease to be exercised (1 Cor. 13:8). The gift of prophecy was necessary in the Early Church, for this new society of believers had needs that were not met in Old Testament revelation. When the New Testament writing prophets had completed their work, and the New Testament was finished there was no longer need for prophets. And from the days of the Apostle John after completing the Book of the Revelation, there has never been any new revelation. By the same token, tongues, another type of speaking, likewise finished its purpose, and was therefore no longer needed (Mark 16:17; 1 Cor. 14:21-22). This could mean that any manifestations of this phenomenon from A.D. 100 to the present are not only simulated counterfeits of the genuine gift, but actually are of satanic origin.
Fifth, the positive prohibition of tongues was forbidden by the Apostle Paul for his day, but he did lend his counsel to the promotion of prophecy (1 Cor. 14:39). When the Book of the Revelation was completed the gift of prophecy ceased to be exercised, for it was no longer needed in the church. It is also very possible that the day of usefulness for the gift of tongues was completed simultaneous with that of prophecy (1 Cor. 13:8). But in case it was not, the comparative little value of tongues to the church as over against the proclamation of the revealed Word should lead any pastor to weigh carefully the wisdom of employing tongues. In the event that it is decided that tongues must be promoted in public, there is the clear admonition, "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40). This calls for an application of the entire body of theological instruction in the New Testament. It is very possible that rigid application would completely eliminate their employment.
Elimination of Improper Demonstrations in the Church
Since the advocates of tongues for the public assembly so vigorously insist on the blessing this experience brings to believers, it seems only right to examine more carefully what the Bible says on this point. Almost immediately it will be noticed that the Bible points to the spiritual effects on men, while present-day advocates are laying stress on the ecstatic experience in men. This seems strange if the present-day manifestations are actually genuine fulfillments of the Biblical teaching.
Upon examining the accounts of speaking in tongues set forth in the Book of Acts, several things are apparent. This phenomenon as then experienced was produced by the Spirit of God working in believers (Acts 2:4). The subject of their speech was the wonderful works of God (Acts 2:11). The purpose of this speaking was to magnify the Lord (Acts 10:46). There was understanding of the language on the part of the hearers, which could mean that there was interpretation (Acts 2:7-11; 10:46). The effect was twofold. Among the unsaved there was amazement, doubt, and mocking as to the meaning of this unusual demonstration (Acts 2:12-13). Among the saved there was the conviction that the tongues were a confirmation of God's Word (Acts 2:14-18; 10:46-47; 19:6). Peter's explanation from the Book of Joel (Acts 2:17-18), and Luke's explanation in the Book of Acts 19:6, both give strong reason to believe that this speaking had more to do with prophecy than the gift of tongues discussed in First Corinthians.
Unusual attention should therefore be given to the contrast drawn between the purpose of tongues and prophecy as declared by Paul (1 Cor. 14:21-22). Since he was himself a prophet (Acts 13:1), and spoke in tongues more than the Corinthian believers (1 Cor. 14:18), and is now writing under the direction of the Holy Spirit, his explanation should be heeded.
According to the law and Old Testament prophecy, God had to speak in other tongues as a judgment upon Israel because the people refused to obey the plain words of His prophets (Deut. 28:45-51; Isa. 28:11- 12). "In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:21). Foreign nations came and destroyed their land and carried the people away into captivity. But even this did not turn Israel to God. Israel's response merely proved that the nation was confirmed in its apostasy and that God was just in His dealings.
The Apostle Paul now makes the application to tongues. "Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serves not for them that believe not, but for them which believe" (1 Cor. 14:22). This means that when a group of people set aside prophecy in preference for tongues, they exhibit the fact that they do not want to hear God's Word plainly given to them. They prefer rather ignorance of His Word and an experience of emotion. This means that they are in rebellion against God and are rejecting His Word. By rejecting prophecy and choosing tongues, they close the door of God's approach, and all opportunity to reach God is withdrawn. Tongues then become a sign of confirmed unbelief and as a result the judgment of God is now resting upon them.
The illustration of contrast between prophecy and tongues in the instance that follows is impelling. If one, who is unacquainted with Christianity or is in opposition to it, attends the public gathering, and he witnesses everyone in the assembly speaking in tongues, his conclusion is that these people are crazy (1 Cor. 14:23). The speaking was unintelligible and God has no clear message through them to his heart. Thus the judgment of God fell upon him. But on the other hand, if all prophesy, the situation is altogether different (1 Cor. 14:24-25). Prophecy brings a revelation of God, the effect of which is to produce conviction in that man because it carries on an examination of his life that results in the manifestation of the hidden things of his own heart. The outcome is amazing. As a result of conversion, this man falls upon his face in adoration of God and makes a confession of the reality of God in them. Thus, by prophecy, the way to God was opened up for this man. The message of life and hope spoken by the prophet has won a man to Christ.
Interpretation of tongues may provide sufficient virtue to justify their use in the public assembly. But it must never be forgotten that at best their value is greatly limited. Nor should the perils that lurk in the very intrinsic nature of tongues be overlooked. Rigid regulation is necessary to safeguard their use, lest emotion get out of hand. And absolute discrimination against women must be insisted upon. If God's people are really desirous of realizing the largest good in the public meetings, then they would be wise to seek the best gifts (1 Cor. 12:31; 14:12). This would counsel the employment of prophecy instead of tongues (1 Cor. 14:19, 39). Inasmuch as there is strong reason to believe that tongues as a gift has ceased (1 Cor. 13:8), and any attempt at simulation could be false and Satanic, the church is left with one kind of speaking for the public assembly. That is prophecy. But even this kind of speaking has ceased in the technical sense (1 Cor. 13:8) because the body of revelation is finished. Since the Apostle John completed the Book of the Revelation, there has been just one valid type of speaking in the church; namely, that of preaching and teaching the written revelation, the Bible.