Friday, May 17, 2013

Should every Christian Speak in Tongues?

There are always those groups within Christianity who claim that every Christian should speak in tongues (GLOSSOLALIA is the transliteration from the Greek). It seems to have been a problem during the apostolic church, and history has a tendency to repeat itself, often (because humans continue to have the same nature, giving rise to the same problems...) The precedent of course are the instances in Acts 2, Acts 8, Acts 10, Acts 19, and perhaps 1 Corinthians 14:5. However, there is always increased difficulty (although not complete invalidity) in proving your case from the implications of narrative accounts as in Acts (compare for example the question of precedent regarding multiple wives from Old Testament narrative accounts), as compared to more direct teaching of say the Epistles (although these are not without their complexities either, and context etc must always be taken into account). Without at this point touching on the question of "What is tongues" and when and how it should be exercised etc, we must surely say that the clearest teaching regarding the spiritual gift must come from 1 Corinthians 12 (assuming, as seems to make the most sense, that the teaching on tongues in 1 Corinthians is also relevant to the manifestations of the Spirit evidenced in Acts), where certainly not everyone is expected to have that gift...
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.   
[1 Corinthians 12:4-31; ESV]
Without doubt Paul is making a strong point that there is unity in one Spirit, through whom the spiritual gifts are given, but there is variety and not uniformity regarding who has what gift, as to "each one" the Spirit gives "individually as he wills". To "one" is given "various kinds of tongues", not to all. And the answer to the question "Do all speak with tongues" is clearly intended to be "no". And with tongues and interpretation at the end of the lists in verses 8-10 and 28-30, Paul is also intending that these are not the "higher gifts" that we should most "earnestly desire".

And so even when we come to 1 Corinthians 14:5, where Paul says "Now I want you all to speak in tongues", we must allow him at least to complete his sentence, "but even more to prophesy". Do tongues advocates equally, or rather more so (according to Paul), advocate that all should prophecy? Perhaps some do (and perhaps some others don't because it is easier for someone to appear to speak in tongues than to speak prophetically...). But I strongly doubt Paul is contradicting his emphatic point already established earlier, in chapter 12. I think it is more likely that he is simply saying in other words "I am happy for anyone to speak in tongues, and receive that gift, and don't want anyone to forbid or discourage a genuine gift of the Spirit". And further, "But if you want my opinion as to whether tongues or prophecy is better, go for prophecy" (and that may have been one of the issues from the Corinthians to which Paul was responding, 1 Corinthians 12:1, "Now concerning...", cf 1 Corinthians 7:1, "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote"). Again, not that Paul really though all would become prophets (chapter 12), but if you are going to emphasise wanting something, at least aim high (and asking for more prophets is about as high as you can go, I don't think it is realistic for everyone to ask to become an apostle...).

May the Scriptures always be our guide.

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