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Tongues

Tongues

In the Bible, the gift of tongues was a supernatural ability to speak in a language that had not been learned by the one speaking it. As we look at tongues, two issues really seem to stand out.

First, if tongues are to be practiced today, how are they to be done in a way that is Biblical and honoring to God? The Bible outlines a few details for us. First, Biblical tongues were not gibberish but were real languages as the Greek word makes clear. The miracle of tongues was not that someone would be able to babble, but that one could speak a language that they didn't know - to someone else who could then hear God's truth when they couldn't have without this supernatural gift. There was a language barrier, and tongues broke that language barrier so God's truth could be proclaimed. See, people in cults around the world get caught up in emotion and babble (I've seen it on TV numerous times) - but Biblical tongues is undeniably a miracle from God. Think about it - people who didn't speak the language would be able to hear the Gospel truth because of this miracle. The Bible tells us that Biblical tongues were a sign to non-believers so they could hear God's truth when they couldn't otherwise hear it. In the early church tongues were done in an orderly way; they were interpreted by someone with the gift of interpretation so the rest of the body could be blessed with the message, and they were to speak one at a time with only two or three speaking in a given service (1 Cor. 14:27).

As we look at this, if tongues are for today then these things must be adhered to. These are the guidelines. Frankly, I've never seen tongues done in this Biblical manner. I've been around and have heard people babble before, I've seen things done with a lot of disorder and without an interpreter, and I've seen what people call tongues done numerous times, but never Biblically. That creates a big problem for me. On top of that, all spiritual gifts are to edify the church body, not any individual person. Biblically speaking, tongues did not serve as a private prayer language, but were a means by which one might serve and edify the body of Christ.

The second issue is this: are tongues even for today? It's my belief, and the belief of our church, that they are not for today - that they ceased when the Apostles died off and when God's Word was completed. I believe, along with many others throughout history, that the gift of tongues was a miraculous, revelatory gift, and that the age of miracles and revelation ended with the Apostles. Now please understand that I'm not saying that God doesn't heal people today especially through the prayers of His people - but I am saying that it's different than it was during the time of the Apostles.

Phil Johnson says it like this, "...contemporary tongues-speakers do not speak in understandable or translatable dialects, the way the apostles and their followers did at Pentecost. Not one single tongues speaker has ever gone to a foreign mission-field and miraculously been able to preach the gospel in the tongue of his hearers. They must go to language school like everyone else. No modern worker of signs and wonders can really duplicate apostolic power. Even the most vocal advocates of the gift of prophecy admit that no modern prophet can legitimately claim to have infallible authority. No modern faith healer can actually produce instant, visible healings that are like the healings we see in the New Testament. No modern faith healer is opening the eyes of people born blind, and no one is able to make a truly lame person walk much less raise the dead. That's why the healing lines at their healing meetings are screened."

The truth is that the "sign" gifts such as tongues, interpretation of tongues, and miracles are not practiced the way they were during the time of the Apostles because they were for that specific time period as the church began and as the Apostle's ministry and authority was confirmed. What we see today is not the same thing. I say all this because it's easy to get caught up in emotion that is man made and think that it is from God. We need to be careful that we don't get impressed by these things and begin to base our faith on emotions and experiences instead of on God's truth. I've seen this happen numerous times, and it rarely ends well. Tongues is exciting for people (which is not the purpose of any spiritual gift to the church), but the excitement fades away and it's missing the point of what we should be about as Christians - namely living for God's glory. So here's the plea: be on guard...be discerning...don't be easily impressed by hype...and remember that emotions wear off but God's truth is what sustains us.

My advice is to be sober minded and very loving to your friends who might be caught up in this. I personally have friends who are "charismatic" who speak in tongues, and while we disagree, that's OK. I can hold to my convictions and still show the love of Christ to them. My real issues come when the tongues leads to other things that are indeed quite dangerous (which it usually does lead to). For example, when people in these circles speak for God (it's called a word of knowledge). Someone once did this to me where they spoke a word from God to me that wasn't from the Bible. I have real issues with this because how do I know it's from God? How do I know it's not just your opinion, or if it's not from Satan? I don't. The only thing that I know is from God is His holy written Word that is fully complete and sufficient, and anything other than that I have to throw out. Speaking for God in this manner is very dangerous and it can be abused by the evil one in numerous ways, and it's one area that I have serious issues with - and I hope you do as well.

May God give you wisdom and discernment if you are struggling with this issue. I have many resources available and would be happy to talk to anyone who wishes to about these things. May it be our goal to live fully in the Spirit - whose goal is to help us live our lives for the glory of God. May that be our focus and our aim.