Christian Assembly of God
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The Tongues Controversy
The gift of tongues is probably one of the most divisive, yet least understood gifts in the Body of Christ in the United States. I think it must deeply sadden our Lord Jesus Christ that so many people who use His name would separate, argue, and tear down other Christians because of the use or non-use of what God intended to be a gift for the edification of the church.
Many people will not read anything that could possibly challenge what they ‘already know to be true’. I find this odd, because Jesus never told us to bury our heads in the sand and let someone else fill our minds! He said that the Holy Spirit would come, and lead us into all truth (John 16:13). To be a seeker of truth is to be a seeker of God (John 14:6). I admonish you to consider the following thoughts concerning the gift of tongues!
* This pamphlet is written for Christians who regard the Bible as God’s Word and final authority on all matters relating to Christendom.
QUESTIONS CONCERNING THE GIFT OF TONGUES
Since the gift of tongues in Acts chapter 2 was spoken in known languages, isn’t the gift of tongues that we see in operation today nothing more than incoherent babbling?
This is a commonly used argument against the valid use of the gift of tongues. Many people say that the incoherent ‘babbling’ that goes on today, in many charismatic churches, is psychotic at best and fraudulent at worst.
First, it is wrong to assume that all expressions of the gift of tongues that we see today are unintelligible ramblings and not in known languages. I personally have seen people who have received this gift who were speaking a foreign language previously unknown to them. I have also spoken with a missionary who said that when he was speaking to believers in another country, they pulled the interpreter out because all understood what he was saying!
Second, we have to understand that the Bible teaches that there are many different manifestations of the gift of tongues. In I Corinthians 13:1, Paul speaks of the ‘tongues of men and of angels’. The tongues of men would obviously be in known languages, but the tongues of angels most likely would not. Paul further clarifies this in I Corinthians 14:2
“For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit, he speaks mysteries.”
Now, if you were to base your entire doctrine on this scripture, you would probably believe that all manifestations of the gift of tongues are in unknown languages! That is why we must consider the whole counsel of God when formulating our beliefs. In Acts 2 we see tongues being manifested in known languages, and in Corinth, unknown languages. Both are a legitimate expression of the gift of tongues.
Wasn’t the gift of tongues done away with when the canon of Scripture was completed?
“Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” I Cor. 13:8-11
Some would argue that I Corinthians 13:8-11 speaks of the cessation of the gift of tongues (and prophecy). They believe that the ‘perfect’ refers to the completion of the Bible. They also point to verse 11 as showing that the gifts of tongues and prophecy, if legitimate at all are for the immature.
One of the difficult things about taking this stance on Scripture is that one is put into the uncomfortable position of defending the belief that knowledge too, will decrease or be done away with. This is especially disheartening if you believe that the interpretation of the ‘perfect’ refers to the completion of Scripture. This would imply that as a result of this completion, knowledge (spiritual and/or natural) was done away with! I think we can all agree that the Word of God adds (not subtracts) to our spiritual knowledge!
Consider the prophecy in the book of Daniel, chapter 12, verse 4:
“But as for you Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth and knowledge will increase.”
Daniel makes it clear, that knowledge will continue to increase among mankind until the end times.
Now concerning the argument that tongues is for the childish, consider the apostle Paul. Paul wrote 1/3 of the New Testament and was confident enough in his walk to say ‘be imitators of me’. Yet concerning the gift of tongues, he said the following things:
“I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all.” I Corinthians 14:18
“Do not forbid to speak in tongues” I Corinthians 14:39
“Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues.” I Corinthians 14:5
It is obvious from the above passages that Paul had a dynamic life of praying in the Spirit. If tongues is only for the immature than why did he say his desire was for all to be using this gift?
Personally, I would never feel comfortable trying to prove that Paul was an immature Christian.
What then is the interpretation? If the ‘perfect’ did indeed refer to the completion of Scripture, then perhaps this argument would stand. Unfortunately for those who adhere to this interpretation, verse 12 gets in the way. Paul explains;
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall fully just as I also have been fully known.”
The perfect refers to that moment when we will see Jesus face to face! Then we will no longer need knowledge, prophecy, or tongues because we will be in the presence of the one who is perfect!
Didn’t Paul say that the use of tongues in church was prohibited because people would think that they were crazy?
I Corinthians 14:23 “If therefore the whole church should assemble together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbeliever’s enter, will they not say that you are mad?”
Many people who acknowledge that tongues is a legitimate gift believe that the gift is abused in charismatic churches because they use it in a public meeting without an interpreter. Because of this, some Christians become offended whenever they enter a meeting place where people are speaking in tongues.
First, we must understand that if Paul thought that public use of the gift of tongues would make people think Christians were crazy, then he would also have prohibited speaking in tongues with an interpreter, and singing in tongues! (verses 14-15)
Second, we must consider the fact that the reason for prohibitions against using this gift was because of the unbeliever’s and ungifted men, not Spirit led Christians! I have been in many charismatic style meetings where there are unbelievers, yet I have never seen a non-believer leave offended from these meetings, only Christians!
We must remember that Paul also said in verse 22;
“So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers;”
How can they be a sign for non-believers if they never hear them?
Now, how do we reconcile verses 22 & 23?
I Corinthians 14:2 “For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God.”
Paul starts off this passage by making a differentiation between private tongues spoken to God, and public tongues spoken to man (V. 27-28). Private tongues spoken to God is not prohibited in a corporate worship service. It is the public speaking of tongues addressed to man that is not permitted. If someone were to walk up to you and rather than say hello, or give a word of encouragement, they started speaking in tongues - you would probably think that they were crazy! But if you were to overhear someone praying or interceding in tongues, perhaps you would think of it as a sign from God, as Paul suggested!
I Corinthians 14:27-28 “If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each one in turn, and let one interpret; but if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.”
We see at the end of verse 28 that Paul is saying, ‘if you are addressing the congregation in tongues, you must have an interpreter. But if you want to continue speaking in tongues, do so to yourself (for self edification, verse 4), or unto God (verse 2).’
Why isn’t speaking to self and to God forbidden? Again, because it is a sign to unbeliever’s (verse 22).
Consider the closing words of Paul concerning corporate worship:
I Corinthians 14:39-40 “Therefore my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. But let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner.”
Understand that the entire context of I Corinthians 14 is that of having a divine order within the public meetings of the local New Testament church. Therefore we can see that tongues is not to be ’forbidden’ in a corporate worship service.
Since this issue divides the entire Body of Christ, shouldn’t that be reason enough to prohibit its use within all of the churches?
There are many who would argue that since the ‘fruit’ of this gift is that it divides Christians, it must be demonic.
In response let me say that tongues is not a divisive issue in the entire Body of Christ. Sometimes we in the West, are so egocentric; we think that our issues are everybody’s issues. THIS SIMPLY IS NOT TRUE! I have been on the mission field several times and have seen entire countries where 95% of Christian denominations acknowledge and operate in the gift of tongues!
Consider that although tongues is only one of many gifts of the Spirit, it is still an extra ordinary gift! Scripture teaches us that it is valuable for self edification (I Cor. 14:1), building our faith (Jude 1:20), revealing mysteries (I Cor, 14:2, Romans 8:26-27), spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:18), prophecy (I Cor. 14:23-29) and thanksgiving (I Cor. 14:16-17).
Let me end by saying that the purpose of this paper is not to promote or focus only on the gift of tongues. My desire as a pastor is that we would have the freedom in our worship services to manifest any gift at any time that the Spirit is leading us to use, whether it be tongues, interpretations, prophecy, or singing.
“What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” I Corinthians 14:26
In God’s love,
Pastor John Salcido