Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Tongues and being filled with the Spirit

Some people thing that speaking in tongues is an essential part of being filled with the Spirit.  I disagree!

Now I do believe that the gift of tongues is for today.  But I do not believe that tongues is necessary evidence of being filled with the Spirit.  I believe that you can be filled with the Spirit and not speak in tongues and I believe that you can speak in tongues and remain a very carnal believer.

The Evidence from Acts
There are a couple of things that need to be borne in mind when reading the book of Acts.  Firstly, we need to think about what in the story is descriptive (what actually happened) and what is proscriptive (what we are being told to do).  Secondly, we need to be aware that certain events recorded there are a part of the unique unfolding redemptive-historical plan.  Thirdly, we need to realise that Pentecost introduces a new age of which we are a part.

On the day of Pentecost we read of believers who are filled with the Spirit and speak in tongues.  Does this mean that every time someone is filled with the Spirit they will speak in tongues?  The text does not say so.  What we have is primarily description of a unique moment in God's unfolding redemptive-historical plan (like the events at Calvary are a unique moment).  The day of Pentecost was part of bringing in the new age in which we live.  From this time forward every believer has the indwelling Holy Spirit and now we live in an age that should experience prophecy.

One fatal objection to those who say that Pentecost teaches that being filled with the Spirit is always accompanied by tongues is the nature of tongues that were spoken on that day.  These were not the angelic utterances that so many claim to speak today but actual languages that people gathered in Jerusalem from other parts could recognise.  Another objection is the fact that Luke records many instances where people or said to be filled with the Spirit or full of the Spirit and there is no mention of speaking in tongues (Acts 4:8, 31; 6:3, 5; 7:55; 9:17; 11:24; 13:9, 52).

The Evidence from 1 Corinthians 12-14
In 1 Corinthians 12-14 the apostle Paul addresses the issue of spiritual gifts.  It appears that some Christians were creating divisions over these.  There were those who thought that their gifts made them superior and others who wanted an end the use of certain gifts.  It may be argued that the use is tongues in Corinth was both xenoglossia (the speaking of known languages) and glossalalia (verbal pattern that cannot be recognised as human languages).

Tongues is listed among the gifts mentioned in chapter 12.  The apostle Paul explains that the Holy Spirit gives gifts to each one individually as he wills.  This does not give the impression that tongues is meant for all, in fact the opposite might be inferred.  'Paul's aim is ... to prevent them from making any one gift the sine qua non, the sign without which one might legitimately call in question whether the Holy Spirit was present and active' (Carson).  When Paul asks the rhetorical question 'do all speak with tongues?' the implication is that tongues is not for all. 

What about Paul's desire that all would speak in tongues (14:5)?  Firstly, this is not teaching that tongues is a necessary sign of being filled in the Spirit - nothing in these chapters makes such a connection.  Secondly, it simply means that he sees tongues as a good thing (in 7:7 he speaks of his desire for all to be celibate, because he sees it as a good thing, but concedes it is not for all).

Pastoral reflections
I am not opposed to tongue-speaking.  I do object to tongues being used in the public assembly when there is no one with an interpretation (1 Cor. 14:27); I do not see tongues as a gift that every believer can expect (1 Cor. 12:11); and I believe that tongues can be practiced by those who are loveless in faith (1 Cor. 13:1).  Therefore I see no good reason to think that tongues is a sign of being filled with the Spirit.

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