Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Part Two: Tongues in the post Apostolic Church
I apologize to those of you reading for my last post. I realized that I had ended it without addressing a major point of speaking in tongues in the first 4 centuries of the Church. I doubt anyone lost sleep over it (if they in fact noticed to begin with), but I will remedy it now.
Section 2: Accounts of tongues ceasing by the 4th century
One major historical proof for cessationists is found in the writings of two major Christian authors, St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom. Each of these authors (both writing in the late 4th century) wrote in their work that speaking in tongues no longer occurs. So what are we to do with these writings? Let me begin to address this issue by making it very clear how important these two figures are. Most people are familiar with St. Augustine. He is a Doctor of the Church, the patron of the Augustinian religious order, and the one of the most influential Christian writers in history (perhaps second only to the Biblical authors themselves). Simply put, he is a founder of Western Christianity (and Western Civilization in general). St. John Chysostom was the arch-bishop of Constantinople and a contemporary of Augustine. He is a saint in both the Catholic and Orthodox churches and is a Doctor of the Church. He is one of the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Saints Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian. Neither of these men can simply be ignored nor can their writings be easily tossed aside as just the opinions of long dead men. It is important that we look at what these men had to say and seriously consider their relevance to the church today.
Looking first at Chrysostom, we find one of these pesky passages in his Homily on 1 Corinthians 12. He writes,
This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. And why do they not happen now? Why look now, the cause too of the obscurity hath produced us again another question: namely, why did they then happen, and now do so no more?[i]
These are the first sentences of his discussion of 1 Corinthians 12. He goes on,
For since on their coming over from idols, without any clear knowledge or training in the ancient Scriptures, they at once on their baptism received the Spirit, yet the Spirit they saw not, for It is invisible; therefore God’s grace bestowed some sensible proof of that energy. And one straightway spake in the Persian, another in the Roman, another in the Indian, another in some other such tongue: and this made manifest to them that were without that it is the Spirit in the very person speaking.
This section does not necessarily have to do with this particular subject, but I thought it was interesting that Chrysostom interprets speaking in tongues to be speaking existing languages. It is also significant that he teaches that the Holy Spirit was received “at once” upon being baptized. Chrysostom points this out to show that the focus of these gifts was not meant to be on the person being given the gift, but rather on the Holy Spirit. These miracles were not meant to be a test of an individual’s holiness or “proof’ that a person is really a Christian. These gifts were meant to be a manifestation of the Holy Spirit to all around them. The gifts are meant to bring the Holy Spirit to those who do not believe. The individual using the gift is the least important part of the equation. He expands on this point by saying,
But he calls miracles a “manifestation of the Spirit,” with evident reason. For to me who am a believer, he that hath the Spirit is manifest from his having been baptized: but to the unbeliever this will in no wise be manifest, except from the miracles: so that hence also again there is no small consolation. For though there be a difference of gifts, yet the evidence is one: since whether thou hast much or little, thou art equally manifest. So that if thou desirest to show this, that thou hast the Spirit, thou hast a sufficient demonstration.[ii]
But in continuing this point he has also shown something else. Chrysostom has clearly stated that the Holy Spirit empowers us to perform miracles so that we may have “a sufficient demonstration” of God’s power. It seems to me that these don’t seem like the teachings of a cessationist. But what about his earlier passages? All we can really say about them is that he reports that miracles no longer occur. He does not say why this is, how long they will cease to manifest, and he certainly does not say that they never will again. Chrysostom is making an observation in this Homily, he is not trying to develop a theology about gifts ceasing, he is just saying that, to his knowledge, they have. Reading over his entire Homily and seeing how he treats these gifts and instructs his church regarding them, it seems impossible to say that Chrysostom was a cessationist. He may very well be saying that they were not needed at that time, or that God has chosen to manifest himself in some other way. This is more evident in the writings of Augustine.
St. Augustine writes on speaking in tongues in his 6th homily on the Epistle of John,
In the earliest times, "the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed: and they spoke with tongues," which they had not learned, "as the Spirit gave them utterance." Acts 2:4 These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues, to show that the Gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening, and it passed away. In the laying on of hands now, that persons may receive the Holy Ghost, do we look that they should speak with tongues? Or when we laid the hand on these infants, did each one of you look to see whether they would speak with tongues, and, when he saw that they did not speak with tongues, was any of you so wrong-minded as to say, These have not received the Holy Ghost; for, had they received, they would speak with tongues as was the case in those times? If then the witness of the presence of the Holy Ghost be not now given through these miracles, by what is it given, by what does one get to know that he has received the Holy Ghost? Let him question his own heart. If he love his brother the Spirit of God dwells in him. Let him see, let him prove himself before the eyes of God, let him see whether there be in him the love of peace and unity, the love of the Church that is spread over the whole earth.[iii]
Augustine is here dealing with an all too familiar issue, whether or not tongues should be seen as proof that an individual is filled with the Holy Spirit. His answer is “absolutely not.” Rather he points to love as a sign that someone has received the Holy Spirit but, even then, he states that it is not up to the church to judge such things. The believer should “question his own heart.” I feel that Augustine’s handling of this topic is especially Biblical and can’t help but think that this passages similarities to the structure of 1 Corinthians 12-13 is intentional. He begins with a question about the place of tongues in the church and draws the attention of the reader to the greater gift of love. Most importantly, what I observe from this passage (just as with Chrysostom) I see no doctrinal statement that tongues has stopped for good. I see an observation from the author that, in his experience, tongues have ceased. But notice that neither of the authors in question have used any scripture to explain the ceasing of tongues or to defend a belief that they have ceased for good. The writings of early Christian leaders of this caliber are so jam-packed with scripture that it would be almost uncontainable for them to put forth such a doctrine without adequate Biblical support. If that weren’t enough to dissuade a cessationist interpretation of these writing, a good look at their other writings should be.
In book XXII of Augustine’s City of God, chapter 8 is titled “Miracles, performed to make the world believe, have not ceased now that the world does believe.” This seems to be a pretty strange title for a supposed cessationist. In this chapter Augustine reports dozens of miracles that he himself has witnessed as well as some that he has heard about. After he has given several accounts of miracles that have occurred in his time, he apologized for not being able to write more,
What am I to do? I am so pressed by the promise of finishing this work, that I cannot record all the miracles I know; and doubtless several of our adherents, when they read what I have narrated, will regret that I have omitted so many which they, as well as I, certainly know. Even now I beg these persons to excuse me, and to consider how long it would take me to relate all those miracles, which the necessity of finishing the work I have undertaken forces me to omit. For were I to be silent of all others, and to record exclusively the miracles of healing which were wrought in the district of Calama and of Hippo by means of this martyr—I mean the most glorious Stephen—they would fill many volumes.[iv]
Augustine says here that, not only are there many more healings that he cannot fit into this work, but that there are many other miracles besides healing! He continues,
Even now, therefore, many miracles are wrought, the same God who wrought those we read of still performing them, by whom He will and as He will; but they are not as well known, nor are they beaten into the memory, like gravel, by frequent reading, so that they cannot fall out of mind. For even where, as is now done among ourselves, care is taken that the pamphlets of those who receive benefit be read publicly, yet those who are present hear the narrative but once, and many are absent; and so it comes to pass that even those who are present forget in a few days what they heard, and scarcely one of them can be found who will tell what he heard to one who he knows was not present.[v]
God performs miracles “by whom he wills and as he wills.” This passage seems to be a much more appropriate basis for Augustine’s views of miracles than his earlier homily. In his homily on the Epistle of John, he states that he is not aware of any current occurrences of speaking in tongues, but in City of God he states that many miracles in his day do not spread very far and are forgotten. It would seem from his statement that God performs miracles “as he wills” that Augustine is not willing to discount the possibility of any particular miracle.
In conclusion, I would like to make it clear that I am not denying that certain gifts may cease for a time. God has a specific purpose for the gifts that he has bestowed upon his church. We should not try to force his hand by emphasizing any particular gift or the manifestation of all of them at any time or place. Neither should deny the possibility that God may chose to bring back a gift that has remained dormant for a time or in a particular place.
Monday, March 19, 2007
Part Two: Tongues in the post Apostolic Church
Section 1- Speaking in Tongues in the first 4 centuries
In exploring the charismatic experience, our first step outside of Biblical narrative and into early church history is a step onto an overgrown path. I say this because, although there is a fair amount of information about “charismatic” gifts in early church history, little attention is given to this part of history (in regards to this particular topic) from either Pentecostals or their critics. This seems to be due to the fact that Pentecostal/Charismatic churches tend to be restorationist, believing that the church was led off course and needs to be “restored” to its original state, and do not like to extend the works of the Holy Spirit too far beyond the Apostolic era lest they be forced to accept the Catholic Church as Spirit led. Oddly enough many cessationist churches hold a similar disliking for the Catholic Church and will write off accounts of prophecy, tongues, and miraculous healings as the works of cults or mystics (a derogatory term in cessationist circles due to such writers as B.B. Warfield).
What both views lack in nuance they make up for in tenacity. In most Pentecostal churches, the only church history given jumps from the book of Acts to 1901 Kansas where students of Bethel Bible College began speaking in tongues. This can be observed simply by looking at the “history” section of the official Assemblies of God website. Without even blinking, they have ignored and invalidated (at least from their perspective) almost 2 millennia of church history. The cessationists are not without their own audacities and are quick to label saints of the Catholic and Orthodox churches as heretic (or at least associate them with heretics). In between these extreme rests many protestant churches that treat the charismatic experience as a taboo in a similar fashion as sexuality, acknowledging its necessity for the formation of the church but seeing it as distasteful to discuss in decent company (perhaps there is more to the similarities in how the many churches deals with the charismatic gifts and sex, but that is a topic for another time).
I feel that in order to understand this topic fully we must take a serious look at speaking in tongues, prophecy, and other such gifts in the first few centuries To begin, I would like to make a clear distinction between the various cults that displayed behaviors similar to the gifts in question and, what I believe to be genuine acts of the Holy Spirit. So let us begin with the cults.
Cults and Heretics within the Early Church
1) The Gnostics
I will assume that most of my readers will be at least somewhat knowledgeable of the Gnostics. This heretical offshoot of Christianity was known to perform a wide variety of strange ceremonies and spiritual exercises including ecstatic utterances.
Among Gnostic groups, glossolalia of the type requiring interpretation was common, and there exist several transcribed Gnostic Prayers in the Coptic Tongue in which are included several lines of ejaculated glossolalic syllables or single vowels and consonants. There are also instances of nearly unintelligible utterances in some Gnostic texts in which Aramaic words or other nomina barbara can be recognized in somewhat distorted form.[i]
Not only do we find an example of glossolalia in the Gnostic sect, but we also have one of the first (if not the first) examples of the sort of nomina barbara (to borrow a great word from the text) that we see in Pentecostal churches.
2) The Montanists
The Montanists were a heretical Christian sect that began in the second century under the leadership of Montanus and existed, in some form or another, until the seventh century according to some accounts. They were known mostly for their ecstatic prophecies in which the prophets believed themselves to be possessed by the Holy Spirit. The practices of the Montanists conflicted with Orthodoxy at the time in several areas. Most significantly, the Montanists felt that their prophecies superceded the doctrine of the church and the teachings of the Apostles. They were also known to have put aside the traditional language of Christian prophecy (i.e. “Thus saith the Lord”) and instead chose to speak in first person saying things such as “"I am the Father, the Word, and the Paraclete," The teachings of Montanus were heavily inspired by his belief that the end of the world was at hand and that Christ’s thousand year reign would soon begin. His followers, Priscilla and Maximilla, who took over the cult after Montanus’s death, gave prophecies supporting this idea including a universal war, none of which came to pass.[ii] One of the several major church figures to discuss the Montanists was the Christian historian, Eusebius. He writes in his masterwork, The History of the Church,
There is said to be a recent convert named Montanus, while Gratus was proconsul of Syria, in his unbridled ambition to reach the top laid himself open to the adversary, was filled with spiritual excitement and suddenly fell into a kind of trance and unnatural ecstasy. He raved, and began to chatter and talk nonsense, prophesying in a way that conflicted with the practice of the Church handed down generation by generation from the beginning.[iii]
Eusebius describes in this text a practice of ‘ecstatic chattering’ that, even though it was used as prophecy, was contrary to Christian teachings. The fact that such behavior cannot even be redeemed through its use as prophecy should give us a clue as to the dangers of this "chatter and nonsense talk." The author makes a clear point to say that the problem does not lie in the idea of prophecy led by the Holy Spirit, but in the method by which the prophecy is given which “conflicted with the practice of the Church.” Later in the text, the author (whom Eusebius is quoting from) lists several prophets in the Church that are held in high esteem for their gift. So clearly it is the divisive “chatter” that is at fault here.
Speaking in Tongues in Orthodox Christian Tradition
In the first four centuries of the church we find several references to speaking in tongues by the Church Fathers and other notable Christian leaders.
Irenaeus (c. 130-202) Irenaeus was in bishop in Lyons and spent a great deal of his career defending Christian Orthodoxy from heretical teachings such as that of the Gnostics. Irenaeus was a student of Polycarp who was in turn a disciple of the Apostle John. He writes of tongues,
For this reason does the apostle declare, "We speak wisdom among them that are perfect," terming those persons "perfect" who have received the Spirit of God, and who through the Spirit of God do speak in all languages, as he used Himself also to speak. In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God,[iv]
In this quote lies two important points. First, we have an account of speaking in tongues occurring after the deaths of the Apostles. Second, tongues is clearly seen to be speaking “all kinds of languages,” not just a solitary angelic language. Irenaeus implies that we should seek to speak “all languages” so as to spread the Word of God to all nations.
Novatian (d. 258) Novatian was a controversial figure in his time. He was a Presbyter in Rome who opposed the offer made by Pope Cornelius to forgive the sins of Christians who had committed apostasy during the Decian persecution. He was consecrated as pope by three bishops (some believe against his will) and, needless to say, was excommunicated. But despite his disagreement with the pope, his doctrine remained orthodox and he is considered a father of the church. He writes in his treatise On the Trinity he writes,
This is He who places prophets in the Church, instructs teachers, directs tongues, gives powers and healings, does wonderful works, offers discrimination of spirits, affords powers of government, suggests counsels, and orders and arranges whatever other gifts there are of charismata; and thus make the Lord's Church everywhere, and in all, perfected and completed.[v]
Here again we have a post Apostolic writer supporting the gift of tongues in his own time. This passage does not specifically say that “tongues” is speaking in an existing language, but I feel that it can be assumed. Notice that tongues is listed after prophecy and teaching and that all gifts are said to be used to “make the Lord’s Church everywhere.” It seems a much more likely understanding of this text to see the gift as tongues as a tool by which to minister to those in foreign nations, not as some incoherent, private prayer language.
Hilary of Poitiers (c. 300-367) St. Hilary was a bishop and Doctor of the Church. He was known to some as the “Athanasius of the west” and did a great deal of work refuting the Arians. St. Hilary writes of speaking in tongues in his work On the Trintiy (popular title I guess).
After quoting the list of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, he commented: “here was have a statement of the purpose and results of the Gift, and I cannot conceive what doubt can remain, after so clear a definition of His origin, His action, and His powers.” In a subsequent chapter, he mentioned among other things the “gifts of either speaking or interpreting diverse kinds of tongues” and concluded: “Clearly these are the Church’s agents of ministry and work of whom the body of Christ consists; and God has ordained them.”[vi]
Pachomius (c. 292-348) St. Pachomius was the founder of cenobitic monasticism and had a first hand experience with speaking in tongues. Once, after praying for three hours he was able to speak in Latin ( a language he did not previously speak) with a visitor from the West.[vii]
[i] Michael P. Hamilton, The Charismatic Movement (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975) 64.
[ii] Chas S. Clifton, Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics (New York: Barnes & Noble Inc., 1992) 98-99.
[iii] Eusebius, The History of The Church From Christ to Constantine, V, xvi (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1989) 161.
[iv] Irenaeus, Against Heresies V, vi, 1
[v] Novatian, On the Trinity XXIX
Part One Review
Part Two will begin either tomorrow or Wednesday.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Part One: Biblical accounts of speaking in tongues and their application (cont.)
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:
"Now 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.
Labels: speaking in tongues
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Part One: Biblical accounts of speaking in tongues and their application
1) Speaking in tongues in all Biblical accounts should be assumed to be referring to existing languages.
This point was actually a difficult one for me to accept. While reading certain verses, I just did not see how the New Testament writers (Paul in particular) could be talking about existing languages exclusively. But I realized that my difficulty came from a post Charismatic point of view. I was so used to seeing this verses in relation to modern day speaking in tongues that I was slanting my whole understanding. To understand how I came to my conclusion, let's begin at the beginning.
The first account of speaking in tongues in the New Testament is recorded in Acts chapter 2. Verses 1 through 13 read:
"When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs�in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" 13 But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."
It seems pretty clear to me that, at least in this instance, that the apostles were speaking in actual existing languages. But it would be naive to think that all agree with me. In fact, there are some people who do not. A decent number of individuals in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements believe that the apostles were speaking in an angelic language, the "prayer language" that is common in their congregations today. They believe that this is a twofold miracle, the first being the gift of tongues and the second being the gift of understanding by the witnesses. The problem with this logic is that it ignores the fact that Luke explicitly says that the Holy Spirit gave them the ability to speak in other languages or tongues. The author makes it clear that it is not a single angelic language that is being spoken, but many languages. Unless someone is willing to argue that there are many angelic languages, I think the theory that the apostles spoke an angelic language is out of the question. He drives the point home by listing the many places from which the witnesses came from thus the many diverse languages the apostles were miraculously able to speak! This event is a direct fulfillment of Christ departing words in Matthew:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
The events of Pentecost were a divine confirmation that Christ was still with them and sent his Spirit to guide them on the task they had been commanded to complete. Here, in the upper room, representatives from numerous nations heard the gospel and were made disciples that very day! Some may continue to argue for an angelic language because there were people who thought that they were drunk. They would argue that their unbelief made them unable to accept the Spirit and understand the apostles. I think a less far fetched understanding who be that these men were local Jews who did not speak any of these languages and therefore did not understand. This would be consistent with God's previous ways of dealing with His people as was seen in Isaiah
"Truly, with stammering lip and with alien tongue he will speak to this people, to whom he has said, "This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose"; yet they would not hear."
This verse may seem familiar. It is the same verse that Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians 14, a chapter devoted almost exclusively to the subject of speaking in tongues, but we'll get into that more later. As a bit of a side note, I think it is strange that some Pentecostals will teach that some Christians are not filled with the Holy Spirit and therefore do not speak in tongues, yet in the same breathe they argue that these foreigners that were present at Pentecost were given the gift of interpretation before even converting to Christianity. In other words confessed Christians may not necessarily be filled with the Holy Spirit, but individuals who had not repented or received Christ could. Maybe it's just me, but that seems inconsistent.
Some of you may be thinking, "OK, so at Pentecost they were speaking existing languages, how does that disprove that other occurrences of speaking in tongues were an angelic language. " my answer is that it doesn't, at least not entirely. What it does do is puts us in a position where speaking an existing language is the default understanding of the term "speaking in tongues." That is not to say that other interpretations may not be correct, but it does mean that we would have to find specific evidence that such occurrences warrant such an interpretation. In my readings of verses dealing with speaking in tongues there are only two which support the possibility of some sort of angelic language. One would be Christ's words in Mark 16:17
"And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues."
Some see this verse as saying that the Holy Spirit would bring an altogether new language to the church. This is not a preposterous interpretation, but it is a hasty one that ignores several things. First of all, just as the with the verses in Acts, we need to be careful about singular and plural nouns. In the modern church we have gotten so used to people saying "speaking in tongues" when referring to a single "language" that we have overlooked an obvious blunder in our understanding of scripture. The verse says new tongues. So we can rule out the idea that Christ is promising a single Holy language unheard by human ears. It makes much more sense to see this as a promise that, just as the Spirit blessed the apostles with the gift of speaking in foreign tongues at Pentecost, so would the Spirit continue to bless saints with such a gift in the future, giving them the ability to speak languages unheard of at the time. For example, I doubt any during Christ's life had spoken or even heard Maori and it would be centuries before anyone from the West encounter anyone who spoke it. Christ's declaration here is that His grace would continue so that people who spoke such languages could be ministered to.
The other verse that may possibly defend the idea of an angelic language, and by far the most compelling, is 1 Corinthians 13:1.
"If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."
Well, there it is plain as day. Paul says we can speak in the tongue of angels. Case closed. Right? Not necessarily. What we must remember about Paul is that he is a talented and educated writer. His works are full of rhetoric, poetics, allusions, humor, and even sarcasm. So before we start developing a theology based on this verse, let us understand what his point is here. This verse is not focused on speaking in tongues. In fact he is trying to shift focus away from tongues and place it on love. So how does this statement about tongues help further his point? Through the time honored tradition of hyperbole, that's how. All of us have had some sort of experience with our parents where we were talking on the phone or doing some other similar teenage activity and our parents want us to do our chores. We argue and say "But I'm talking to Susy!" and what wise retort did our parents come up with? "I don't care if you're talking to the President of the United States! Get off the phone!" This is exactly what Paul is doing here. chapters 12-14 are all devoted to Paul dealing with an un-Christlike focus on speaking in tongues. The congregation has put such a big focus on it, that they have neglected to love one another and have allowed divisions to occur because of it. In this verse, just as our parents might have done, Paul is saying "I don't care if you're speaking in the language of angels! That doesn't mean you can stop loving each other." This interpretation is furthered by the poetic nature of the rest of the chapter. The very next verse says:"And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing."
Again Paul is exaggerating to make his point. There is no way for us to understand all mysteries and all knowledge (at least in this life). Paul makes this clear a few verses later when he says:
"For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end."
He is using the same device for both verses. Why would we interpret the first verse one way and the second verse another? Clearly to believe that we can speak in the tongue of angels is to completely misunderstand what Paul is trying to tell us. The very fact that people have taken a verse, that was intended to show how a poor understanding of speaking in tongues destroys the church and Christian love, and used it to puff up their "gifts" is ironic and a bit disturbing.
Finally, some people reading this may be wondering, "If speaking in tongues is only speaking in existing languages then how does it help as a prayer language? Wouldn't an angelic language bring us closer to God and build us up more?" What we need to understand about speaking in tongues is that it's use as a prayer language is not a Biblical one. Paul makes it very clear through 1 Corinthians that, without interpretation, speaking in tongues is a lesser gift to say the least. It is not beneficial to the church at large (v. 4-10), neither is it beneficial to the individual (comparatively speaking). My latter point may rub some people the wrong way, so let us look at the verse I am specifically referring to.
"14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unproductive.15 What should I do then? I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also."
Many people mistakenly assume that this chapter is only talking about speaking tongues in public, but these verses show an important application for tongues used in private as well. Paul is showing that, without interpretation, not only are tongues meaningless to others, they are meaningless to us! Also, let us not fall into the trap of thinking that when Paul says that tongues builds up the individual that he means it in a good way. If a Christian is built up in a good and holy way, wouldn't it follow that it would also build up the church? Yet Paul says that tongues (without interpretation) builds up the self but, unlike those who prophesy, do not build up the church. Nothing we do should build up ourselves at the expense of building up the church. Such an act is prideful and self serving, not self sacrificing as the church is meant to be.
Some individuals in the Pentecostal movement claim that tongues are a superior Prayer language because they are directly from the Spirit. They say that, when praying in tongues, it is our Spirit that prays and that makes it more powerful. To this I would respond, "how is that different from any prayer?" Nowhere in the Bible is tongues given a more Spiritual nature than any other prayer. This is the exact same mentality that Paul is trying to correct in Corinth. He writes in 12:3
"Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit."
All prayer is inspired and led by the Holy Spirit and therefor tongues has no higher place as a prayer language. The only real difference between regular prayer and praying in tongues is that the mind is not involved when praying in tongues, which some people see as a good thing, but Paul says is absolutely not (as seen in the verses mentioned previously).
Even if we assume that speaking in tongues was meant to be a prayer language, how is it any less powerful if it is an existing language? Is it any less impressive if you started praying in Gaelic rather than the "tongue of angels?" Looking back at 1 Cor. 13, I would say that it does not matter if you are speaking in English, Mandarin, or the language of Gabriel himself, if the Spirit is moving in you and you are filled with the love of Christ then that is all that should matter.
This concludes my first post on the topic of speaking in tongues. I apologize for its length. I usually try to keep my posts on the short side, but with this sort of subject matter I don't want brevity to be mistaken for being flippant. Please continue to comment and share your opinions on this matter. I by no means consider myself to be an expert in this field and would appreciate feedback from any and all perspectives.
Labels: speaking in tongues
Speaking in Tongues (not the Talking Heads album)
- Speaking in tongues in scripture and throughout the majority of church history was speaking in an existing languages unknown to the speaker, not the gibberish found in many churches today.
- There is no evidence that modern day glossolalia as seen in the pentecostal/charismatic churches is the same as that referred to in the Bible.
- The origins of Pentecostal glossolalia in rooted in several heretical movements including the Shakers and the Spiritualists who each had incidents of incoherent babbling that they referred to as speaking in tongues that took place almost a century before the Azusa Street Revival.
- Pentecostal glossolalia was born out of a perceived need for Christianity to compete with the spectacles of the the increasingly popular eastern religions, Spiritualism, and heretical groups such as Church of Christ, Scientists.
- The refutation of Pentecostal glossolalia does not negate the authenticity of its adherents beliefs or experiences.
- What Pentecostals term as "speaking in tongues" may still be a scripturally supported act BUT removes itself from that possibility when it is confused with true speaking in tongues (this may seem like a contradiction, but I will clarify later).
There are a number of other points I want to hit on in the next few days, but this gives a pretty good overview. Basically what i am hypothesizing at this point is an acceptance of speaking in tongues in the church today but a rejection of its Pentecostal counterfeit. I would love to hear insight from both sides of the fence and appreciate any and all constructive commentary.