Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Part One: Biblical accounts of speaking in tongues and their application (cont.)

2) Speaking in tongues was never meant to be used as universal confirmation of an individual being filled with the Holy Spirit.

The idea of tongues as a universal confirmation of being filled with the Holy Spirit is more common in denominations the closer they are to the Pentecostal church proper. The idea is exactly what it sounds like, we know that an individual is filled with the Holy Spirit when they speak in tongues. This is also referred to at times as "initial evidence." This idea is based primarily on 3 sections of scripture, all found in the book of Acts: Pentecost- Acts 2 (which was quoted in the past post), the conversion of Cornelius- Acts 10, and the baptism of John the Baptist's followers- Acts 19. In each of these instances, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is accompanied by speaking in tongues. First of all, I am in no way attempting to negate that these individuals did in fact speak in tongues or deny that being graced with such a gift was a confirmation of sorts for those particular cases. I do feel however that it is ridiculous to place speaking in tongues as the initial evidence of someone receiving the Holy Spirit. This is for four major reasons.

1) Out of the numerous conversion accounts in the book of Acts, these three are the only ones that link receiving the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues. Most compelling to me is that in the story of Paul's receiving the Holy Spirit there is no mention of tongues even though, by his own declaration, he speaks in tongues more than anyone in Corinth!

2) Interpreting these three events in such a manner would hold a little more ground if they happened in roughly the same time frame. But the conversion of Cornelius took place 10 years after Pentecost and the baptism of John's followers took place about 25 years after Pentecost. These are fairly isolated occurrences.

3) Nowhere in the Bible is it explicitly or even ambiguously stated that tongues should be viewed as the universal evidence of an individual being filled with the Holy Spirit.

4) It does state in the Bible that not everyone will speak in tongues in 1 Corinthians 12:

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way."

Clearly Paul is saying that God gives us all a variety of gifts and that we do not all receive the same gifts.

So what does Paul mean when he says to strive for the greater gifts? That brings me to my next point.

3) If Spiritual Gift must be put in a hierarchy, speaking in tongues is a lesser gift.

This matter always confused me. I mean, it's one thing to say that everyone filled with the Holy Spirit must speak in tongues, but then to be so bold as to say that tongues is a superior gift makes no sense what-so-ever. The reasons for this teaching that I have run across usually stem from a bad reading of 1 Corinthians 12-14. The first evidence for this doctrine that is gleaned from these chapters is simply that they were written at all. Pentecostals will teach that the fact that such a large section of this Epistle are dedicated almost exclusively to speaking in tongues shows that it is an important gift. This reasoning ignores the whole reason that Paul was writing about tongues in the first place. He was writing to Corinth because they were abusing tongues and divisions were developing in the church because of it. Notice that he begins chapter 12 warning the church about worshiping idols and then teaches the church to have unity in light of the spiritual gifts. In fact if we look at chapter 12 it seems like Paul is trying to downplay speaking in tongues. At the end of the chapter (which I quoted above) he gives a list of spiritual gifts and speaking in tongues is the last item on the list. Some people will try to say that this list is not meant to order the gifts from greatest to least, but i say you can't have your cake and eat it to. Either Paul is setting up a hierarchy of gifts or he is not. If you are going to say that these chapters show that Paul views tongues as a greater gift then why does he not use a perfect chance to say so explicitly in this list? And why does he number the items if this list is supposed to be just random? It does not add up.
Moving on we look at 1 Corinthians chapter 14. here the Pentecostal proof texts are verse 5:

ow I would like all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up."

and verse 18:

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you;"

I think that
anyone being honest can already see that the exegesis of these verses is a stretch to say the least. In verse 5 we don't even have to look outside of the verse to see that it is a qualified statement. Look at it this way, he just spent a good amount of time correcting the mistakes of the church regarding speaking in tongues. just look in the previous chapter when he compares it to a clanging cymbal. So what is Paul going to do after he has torn down? He is going to build back up. He is saying here "Don't get me wrong, I would like for all of you to speak in tongues I'm not saying it's a bad thing," and then he throws a "but" in to the mix. This conjunction shows us that his point in this sentence is not a command for everyone to speak in tongues. He is saying "Go ahead and speak in tongues BUT there are better gifts for you to be seeking."
In verse 18 I just don't see any reason for putting speaking in tongues on a pedestal above other gifts. In fact the verse does the opposite when you look at it with the next verse.

nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue."

He is saying "I'm glad I speak in tongues, but i'd rather be able to preach or prophecy." These imply that tongues are OK, but there are better gifts out there.
Now before I move on to the next section I would like to make clear that I do not endorse any sort of hierarchy of spiritual gifts. I feel that the scriptures are intentionally vague on this subject and any attempt to make a list of gifts from greatest to least (or even to limit spiritual gifts to those mentioned in the Bible) is to miss the point of these gifts completely. My reasons for discussing gifts in such a manner was to show that, if you insist on making a hierarchy, then tongues cannot logically be placed anywhere near the top based upon the pertinent scriptures.

4) There is no biblical evidence that tongues were to cease after the Apostolic age.

On this point I happen to agree with the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement. I have never found the arguments of the cessationists all that convincing. There are three reasons for this.

1) Cessationists cannot even agree when tongues ceased. Some place it after the last apostle died, others after the destruction of the temple, and still others after the canon was completed. In all truth some of these theories are interesting, but most are based on poor exegesis and even poorer knowledge of history.

2) The Bible verses used as proof texts are completely misunderstood. One of the sections in question is 1 Corinthians 13:8-13:

But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."

The cessationist would claim, based upon these verses, that the time when tongues and prophecy would cease has come to be. As noted in my first point, there is disagreement over when this period actually began, but they feel it has come nonetheless. But let us look closely at what it would mean if we the time had come when tongues and prophecy would cease. It says in verse 12 that, when tongues cease, we will no longer know in part but will know fully "just as I have been fully known." This seems to speak of us knowing God as fully as he knows us. Are the cessationists willing to say that we, in this era know God fully just as he knows us? I feel that this is an era that cannot be reached in this life, but rather is a poetic description of the life to come.
The next verses cited by cessationists are Ephesians 2:19-22.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit."

The cessationists glean from these verses that the offices of apostle and prophet were foundational only and that they no longer exist since the church foundation is complete. The problem with such a reading is that is fairly deductive in its approach. This verse does not directly say or imply that prophets were only foundational and that they have no other part in the church. It certainly says that there were prophets that made the foundation of the church, but it certainly does not say that they no longer serve a function or exist. A cessationist interpretation also neglects to consider the possibility that the gift of prophecy and the office of Prophet can be separate things, (i.e. someone can prophesy without necessarily being a Prophet) just like I can replace the O2 sensor in my car, but that doesn't mean I am a mechanic. This goes into the definition of prophecy which is a bit larger of a topic than I care to get into right now (maybe that will be my next series).

3) Cessationists ignore the rich history of speaking in tongues, prophecy, and other miraculous gifts throughout church history. This is mostly due to the fact that, for the most part, Cessationist theology is a modern Protestant creation that tends to be selective in what they see as part of church history. Church leaders in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions especially mystics and monastics can be dismiss pretty on a whim when an individual happens to not be a part of either denomination.

This brings me to my next post: Speaking in Tongues and the Charismata throughout Church History.


Dan, 10:04 PM


Keem 'em coming, this is interesting!
Blogger Mrs. Sara, at 6:17 AM  

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