Tongue-tied

“The Spirit without the Word and you blow up. The Word without the Spirit and you dry up. But, the Spirit and the Word together and you grow up.” – Adrian Rogers (long-time pastor of First Baptist Church of Memphis, TN)

(by contributing writer Thomas H. Duke [with a few additions by Rachel B. Duke])

In our time, tongues are an extremely (if disproportionately) divisive issue.  I say “disproportionately” because speaking in tongues is really not an important matter at all when considered in relation to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.  I will share with you my primary objections to tongues, as they occur to me.  These objections are inspired by discussions with a godly man in my life, and what many theologians, pastors, and Spirit-filled men over the ages have to say.

But, keep in mind that my treatment here is a summary treatment.  Many capable men have devoted a great deal of time and effort to this issue and written extensively on it.  Overall, I am thoroughly convinced that the issue has been decisively decided against the position of those who advocate speaking in tongues.  Thus, while I am convinced I am right on this, I am not willing to divide with a brother or sister over this issue.  For your part, I encourage you to search the Scripture (especially, 1 Cor. 12 – 14) so that your conviction on this (and every doctrinal issue) is grounded in your considered understanding of God’s Word and not in the opinion of any man.

Here are ten summary objections (not in any particular order of importance) I have to speaking in tongues.  Some are doctrinal/theological. Some are practical.  They do not make an iron-clad case for the cessation of miraculous gifts (I am not going to make that argument here). Rather, they show that the modern practice of speaking in tongues is unscriptural, deeply flawed and erroneous.

1.  Love, not tongues, is the greatest manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s presence and work in the life of a person. (1 Cor. 13:1 – 8 )

2.  Speaking in tongues (and the manifestation of any other “miraculous” gift) may or may not be a sign of a person’s salvation.  In other words, a person may speak in tongues and not be saved.  (Matthew 7:21-23)

[These first two points are very significant to me, because proponents of tongue-speaking present speaking in tongues as (i) the greatest manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s presence in a person’s life and as a sure-fire sign of salvation.  They are wrong on both counts].

3.  Speaking in tongues is not the mark of a “second blessing,” the additional “baptism of the Spirit” or entrance into a higher form of Christianity.  All true Christians are baptized in the Holy Spirit.  (1 Cor. 12:13)

4.  Not all Christians did or will in this age speak in tongues.

5.  Based on church history alone and the testimony of many, many godly men, speaking in tongues has largely, if not completely, ceased. Most godly men and theologians concur that speaking in tongues died with the apostles. And there is evidence to this end….as in 2,000 years of it. Look at St. Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, etc. They never spoke in tongues and yet they were more Spirit-filled and godlier than you and I can ever expect to be in this lifetime.

6.  Those who practice speaking in tongues do not abide by Scriptural directions.  (1 Cor. 14:22)  For example, tongues are allegedly spoken in public worship without the presence of an interpreter, which Scripture calls for (1 Cor. 14:27).  Also, women, according to the Apostle Paul, are NOT permitted to speak in tongues in the public worship.  (1 Cor. 14:26, 34)

7.  It appears that those who advocate speaking in tongues ignore or downplay practical godliness.  This is often associated with a disregard of biblical doctrine and a de-emphasis of the word of God.

8.  Speaking in tongues often displaces the word of God and, thus, the main emphasis and teaching of the word of God, as primary in the lives and worship of those who claim to practice it.

9.  Speaking in tongues, I would argue, is similar to other forms of public worship that become customary in a congregation or denomination.  People “speak in tongues” because it is expected, encouraged, cultivated, like the raising of hands or rhythmic swaying to music.  In other words, if you are told that the “sign” of your salvation is speaking in tongues and everyone around you is speaking in tongues, you are going to make unintelligible noises along with everyone else in order to fit in and be accepted by them.  Thus, it appears that many instances of “speaking in tongues” has nothing at all to do with the Holy Spirit, but with human production.  I say this, not based on speculation, but on the report of many people who have come out of this practice.

10.  I doubt speaking in tongues was as universal in the first century church as proponents of speaking in tongues claim.  Paul expressly deals only with the Corinthian church on this issue.  That means either that the other churches under his care were not (routinely) speaking in tongues or that it was not a problem for them.  I tend to think the first explanation is the correct one, i.e., the other churches were not (routinely) speaking in tongues.

Now while these matters are interesting, never, never, never, lose sight of the “main thing.”  The main thing the word of God emphasizes is the glory of God in the salvation of sinners through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Perhaps, then, an 11th objection to tongues is that is stokes people’s pride and is so blasted self-centered and self-exalting.

And that’s a wrap, folks. Have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke

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3 thoughts on “Tongue-tied

  1. Opening disclosures: I grew up in a non-denominational church, switched to an FBC church when I was 20, and now I’m at The Village. And one of my best friends is a pastor at an Assemblies of God church. So, I can sympathize with many of the concerns mentioned above, but a few things do concern me.

    In effort to keep this brief (which Rachel knows isn’t my thing), I’ll only address a few main concerns:

    1) I don’t see how these points negate the existence and/or use of tongues, but rather combats the IMPROPER use of tongues.

    2) I’m confused as to the interpretation of Matthew 7:21-23 in your second point. The examples mentioned in this text are of things done in Christ’s name, where the results were accomplished because of the power of the name of Jesus, not because of the person’s salvation status. If we’re going to say that speaking in tongues is indeed a gift of the Spirit, how would one who is not saved, not baptized in the Spirit upon salvation (I don’t get the 2nd baptism thing either), come to use this gift of a Spirit they don’t have dwelling inside them?

    3) On your sixth point, again I’m confused on the interpretation of the text of 1 Cor. 14:34. Paul doesn’t say anything about speaking in tongues, but says they should be silent in general. We see this because of the context of verse 35:

    “If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

    The context is addressing women asking questions and desiring to learn and that they are to ask their husbands at home for the answers, which makes it plain that Paul is speaking of women speaking out in church in general, not related to tongues specifically. And most scholars I’ve come across attribute that to cultural norms and beliefs which were based on the Law.

    So, the question that leaves me with, and not sarcastically, is how literal should we take this portion of the text in application to our lives? Should women still not be allowed to speak at church? Should they only be allowed to ask their husbands or fathers questions about Scripture and Biblical teaching?

    Or, does the grace we find in the gospel free us from those Law-based cultural norms? And if there is that freedom, why would there not also be the freedom to speak in tongues if the Spirit does indeed decide to move in that direction?

    The sad part is, this is me keeping it brief…

    • 1. The point of the article is to state objections to the modern day use of speaking in tongues in the church. I state explicitly that my arguments, either considered singly or together, “do not make an iron-clad case for cessartion of miraculous gifts.” Indeed, I say parenthetically “I am not going to make that argument here.” So, the first comment is a redundancy, i.e., “I do not see how these points negate the existence and/or use of tongues….” I was not trying to do so. Had you read the article even cursorily, you would have realized that no attempt was being made to disprove the existence of speaking in tongues in our day. Ergo, your first comment then is a pedantic “straw man.”

      2. I do not know what you mean by miraculous things done in the “power of Jesus Name.” The miraculous acts performed in Jesus’ Name, as referenced in Mt. 7:22, were either done by the Holy Spirit’s power or by demonic power. In this age, Jesus is with us by His Spirit or not at all. Thus, for someone to do something in the “power of Jesus Name,” is to actually do something in the power of the Holy Spirit or to represent that it is done in the power of the Holy Spirit. I think you wrongly assume that speaking in tongues is “proof” of salvation (the way the “confusion” is expressed implies this assumption), which is certainly one issue the article seeks to refute. Regarding the performance of miracles here, including, but not limited to, tongue-speaking, I conclude that these folks actually performed verifiable miracles as opposed to being charlatans who fabricated apparently miraculous events (though, it may be possible to understand it that way). If they performed them in the Holy Spirit’s power, the further question arises whether the person was saved or not. Here, Jesus answers the question definitively: these people are not saved, though they possessed miraculous powers. Can a person perform miracles (e.g., speak in tongues) by the Holy Spirit’s power and not be saved? I think the answer is clearly yes. It appears that Balaam prophesied by the power of the Holy Spirit, yet he was not saved. Judas Iscariot likely performed miracles of healing, raising the dead, etc. along with the other disciples, yet he was not saved. The writer to the Hebrews says, “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tased of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance….” Heb. 6:4 – 6. The people about whom the writer speaks have been the subject of a less-than-saving work of the Holy Spirit, because they fail to persevere in faith and are lost, though they they “have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit” (and, no, I do not read these verses as stating a hypothetical, but not real, possibility). In addition, there is no question that Satan and his demons can mimic the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including tongue-speaking. So, Mt. 7:21ff supports the point made – speaking in tongues is no certain sign of a person’s salvation. A person who is saved may speak in tongues by the Holy Spirit. A person who is not saved may speak in tongues by the Holy Spirit or by a demon (e.g., the false prophets who prophesied to King Ahab).

      3. My question is, IF, as you seem to concede, this verse forbids women from “speaking out in church in general,” does that not also – and necessarily – include a prohibition against speaking in tongues in particular? I reject a “cultural hermeneutic” in interpreting this text, especially when there appear to be no “clues” in the context that suggest that Paul was tying this prohibition to a particular “cultural” practice. I will not read modern day notions of egalitarianism and feminism into the text of Scripture. Also, I must reject the unqualified statement that grace “frees us” from “Law-based cultural norms” (whatever those are?), lest someone interpret such an unguarded statement as a license for lawlessness or the wholesale revision of the text of Scripture. I understand that 1 Cor. 14:34 is controversial, especially for “enlightened” Americans. You are definitely well-enough acquainted with the commentators and the range of their opinions. On this matter I would say, let every man be convinced in his own mind. The point of the article was to argue that the “modern practice of speaking in tongues is unscriptural, deeply flawed and erroneous.” It was not to take up the male/female role relationship in and out of the church, which is a topic so massive, sensitive and important that it cannot be handled well in this medium. In any event, if we throw out the example of women speaking in tongues in the church as an instance of abuse, the point still stands, i.e., Scriptural directions regarding speaking in tongues are often ignored in the modern church. My position on tongues does not address or predict my position on male/female role relationships. In short, I am a complementarian, not an egalitarian, when it comes this matter. For simplicity sake, I will say my view coincides with the view of John Piper and Wayne Grudem in their bood, “Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood.” For now, that will have to suffice.

  2. Regarding the first point, you also said:

    I will share with you my primary objections to tongues, as they occur to me.

    Here are ten summary objections (not in any particular order of importance) I have to speaking in tongues.

    And then:

    Rather, they show that the modern practice of speaking in tongues is unscriptural, deeply flawed and erroneous.

    The combination of these sentences led me to believe that the “practice of” in the third sentence did not indicate a “proper use” but it’s existence in general.

    I’m sorry if I misunderstood what you meant there.

    As far as the others, I’ll have to take more time to consider those points when I’m not brain-dead from work (and using every spare minute at work to write stuff).

    For now, though, I will say that if you mean tongues as “proof” of salvation as “Someone must be saved before they can exhibit this gift,” then, yes, I believe that. If you mean it has “They have to have it as evidence of salvation,” then, no, I do not. I do believe there is power in Jesus’ name in and of itself. True, the Holy Spirit may be moving to perform miracles in the name of Jesus, but I do not believe these are the same as gifts of the Spirit, which are given to a believer once they have been baptized into the Father, Son, and Spirit upon salvation.

    On the third point, I am not an egalitarian at all. I do, however, believe that women have the freedom to go up to our pastors and ask them questions directly, without having to go through their husbands or fathers. Granted, if it’s an issue that is marriage related (such as conflict or how to proceed in a given circumstance), then the husband needs to be involved at some level, even if it’s only knowing that the question is being asked of the pastor.

    Hopefully I’ll have time to address the remaining points you’ve mentioned, if I feel that it will result in healthy conversation and not seem like an unloving debate.

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