A few days ago, Marc (@_MarcCortez), Julie (@InciteFaith) and myself got into a little discussion about speaking in tongues. I quickly decided that 140 characters was a bit too limited for my thoughts, so here’s a blog post about it. Strange how that works.
Julie’s original question (which I admit I kind of busted in on… but hey, twitter’s great for over hearing conversations you really want to jump in on) was simple enough,
” Speaking in Tongues. For or against? Why? or Why Not?”
This question however opens a big ol’ can of worms for us theological types. Smart men have discussed, debated, decried, demonstrated and other “d” words the gift of tongues for many years now. To put it mildly, the spiritual gift of tongues is one of those crazy parts of the bible that is really hard to wrap our understanding around. People lots smarter than me have said much more than I will about the topic, but I did want to share my experiences and understanding about this in hopes for some good, open conversation about such a weird topic.
Before we go any further, I think that it is highly germane to this discussion to briefly discuss what the heck a spiritual gift is? I mean, are we talking like super powers that we get for believing in Jesus? Are these things everyone experiences? Are they just for the super spiritual/ultra crazy charismatic Christians? This in its self is a large topic worth many words in its own right. In order to not follow the rabbit trail too deep, lets say this for now: Spiritual gifts are a short hand way of talking about various ways that the Holy Spirit empowers all believers to manifest and display the grace of God for the common good of the community and the world. The Spirit of God does something in the person/heart/mind of a believer to creates a perfect storm of personality, abilities, and passion. The Spirit of God then supernaturally empowers and uses all of that to manifest his person and mission to the believer and the people in the believer’s life.
No matter how uncomfortable it makes us or how weird it seems, according to scripture, one of the ways the Spirit manifests the grace of God through some believers is the gift of “various tongues”… but what is the gift of tongues? Right from the get go, we encounter part of the controversy. the gift of tongues is either a) the supernatural ability to speak in an existing language that is currently unknown to the speaker (like if I suddenly busted out some Russian Jesus talk to some Russian dudes) or b) a language that has been divinely granted to the speaker for the sake of prayer, self edification, and possibly (if there is interpretation) teaching/exhortation.
Tongues… weird man.
Like I said, this is a weird topic. I mean, if we have such a hard time defining what this gift is, how can I even say if I think it is still an active gifts in the Church these days? How can I decide if we can’t even nail down what we are talking about?
The primary text for our discussion is 1 Corinthians 12-14. I do want to dive into this text in (relative) depth and find some biblical answers to help shape our thinking… but first, there is a nagging question I have. I really hope no one takes this the wrong way, but why does this even matter? I mean it’s not like we are talking about the nature of Christ or the trust worthiness of the Bible. This passage is relevantly small and obscure, and many churches don’t ever talk about it. Why should we spend time thinking about something that seems to only cause arguments and division, not to mention confusion.
To wrap up my first entry on this topic, I would like to say a few things to address this last question:
This topic, as weird as it is, matters because it involves who we are as the Church of God. If spiritual gifts are (as I mentioned above) given so that the community of believers is built up, and if tongues are a valid spiritual gift, we have to look at the implications for our Churches today. There are also many believers (myself included) who have had personal experiences with this gift. While we never want to build an understanding solely off experience, experiences do shape how we understand things. Maybe there is a reason people still have these kind of experiences.
On the other hand, it may not matter. Truly, this could be nothing more than a theological exercise in thinking about weird, things from the Bible… but it is in the Bible. That leads me to believe that there is a reason God has seen fit to record these words and pass them down to us. I think it is also important to remember that these words about tongues and spiritual gifts were not given to us apart from the larger context of God’s self-revelation and his story of redemption. These words are in the Bible. They are part of the Bible, which means they have a proper place in pointing us to Jesus and helping us to become like him and be a part of the Missio Dei.
I hope this conversation ultimately points us to Jesus. If it doesn’t, I have a feeling we are probably doing it wrong.