Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Has the gifts of tongues ceased?

First – an important note – there are no true cessasionists in the church. All believe that the Holy Spirit continues to work in the life of the church guiding, convicting, and bringing Biblical teaching to the mind of the believer. Equally, there are also no true continuationists either. All agree that not all of the abilities given to New Testament personalities are still given today. Things like being able to read people’s minds, knowing the condition of their hearts, and pronouncing judgement on them.

That being said, we must ask what continues now and what has ceased.

My position is that glossolalia; the speaking of tongues as ecstatic worship and as a personal prayer language has ceased in the church. I will support this position through a historical analysis of the phenomenon and a Biblical explanation of the purpose and use of glossolalia.

HISTORY

The use of tongues (a typically unknown or angelic language) may not have been prevalent in the early church, but was present. (Its purpose will be discussed later) 1 Corinthians provides us with ample evidence of the practice’s presence in the early church. It has been noted before that most scholars agree that the term tongues (glw,ssaij) did mean ecstatic speech.
However, after the apostolic period ended, there were no further credible accounts of the use of tongues in the church. In fact the only account of the use of tongues outside of the apostolic era came from a monk in the mid 6th century. He claimed to have spoken in tongues - but since he also claimed to have evangelized wild beasts, tamed dragons, and converted demons into angels, this account is less than credible.
For almost 1900 years of church history the issue of tongues was settled – it had ceased. No one ever claimed to have spoken in tongues. Not Popes, not heretics, not the reformers, not the "revolutionary" anabaptists, not even in the mystical Catholic sects led by Teresa of Avila or John of the Cross. Tongues was not an issue for 1900 years, they had stopped.
But, in 1900, the "gift of tongues" was rediscovered in Kansas, taken to Texas, before being made popular at Azusa Street in California. I think that most of us know the history from there.
From this we see that the question that charismatics must answer is not whether or not the gift of tongues has continued, but why did it cease for 1900 years before reemerging at Azusa St.?
The earliest Pentecostals had a somewhat reasonable answer to this question. They reasoned that the time had come when "young men have visions & old men dream dreams." They figured that the Spirit was now being poured out because Christ’s second coming was eminent. However, 106 years has passed since then & now few people will argue this reasoning. Now they suggest that the gift of tongues has always existed in the church. But this ignores the historical record & the question remains, why did tongues cease for 1900 years before reemerging at Azusa St.?

BIBLICAL

Typically a discussion on glossolalia centers on 1 Corinthians 14. Here Paul outlines the proper uses of tongues in the church.
In verses 1 – 27 he shows how they should be used in an orderly fashion. He then goes on to state in vs 28 – 33 to explain how the gift should be used when not in order (when no interpreter is present).
But one verse in this passage is usually dismissed by the charismatics I know, verse 6, in which Paul outlines the purpose of tongues. He states:
1 Corinthians 14:6 6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching? (Emphasis added)
Here Paul shows us that the purpose of tongues is providing direct revelation from God that is authoritative and binding upon the church. (For a full discussion on these terms, please refer to the Barclay Newman Greek English Dictionary, Friberg Analytical Greek Lexicon, Gingrich Greek NT Lexicon, Liddell Scott Abridged Lexicon, Louw Nida Greek English Lexicon of the NT, and the Thayer Greek English Lexicon of the NT, all agree that these terms were used to describe authoritative revelation from God).

Unlike the Corinthian church, we now have a complete revelation from God, the Bible. The need for direct authoritative communication from God to His church is no longer needed, thus the gift of tongues is no longer needed.
This principle can also be applied to other biblical precedents that have now ceased, such as the office of Apostle.
(note: I am aware that some denominations do confer the title Apostle upon some of their leaders. However, these denominations recognize that these people are Apostles in the general sense of the term (messengers), not Apostles in the technical sense of the term (as applied to the twelve and Paul).
The qualifications of being an Apostle are found in Acts 1:22, that they walked with Jesus in the flesh and witnessed his resurrection. Today, no one can meet the qualifications of the office, thus the office of Apostle has ceased.
Equally, the need for tongues has ceased, thus the gift has as well.

Can this happy cessasionist become a happy continuationist when it comes to glossolalia? Absolutely, but I’ll need some help on the way. Three questions must be answered.

First, why did tongues cease for 1900 years before reemerging at Azusa St.?

Second, does the modern use the tongues fit the purposes outlined in 1 Corinthians 14:6? Are they providing direct revelation from God that is authoritative and binding upon the church?

Third (from #2), if the Bible is sufficient for holiness, then why do we need a gift that is providing direct revelation from God that is authoritative and binding upon the church?

I’ve asked these questions to every continuationist I’ve met for the past I don’t know how many years. Usually I just get blown off. If someone could provide an answer I am willing to listen.

6 Comments:

Blogger Winning Truth w/Tim Guthrie said...

I look forward to seeing what kind of answers you get. I like your approach!

Hang in there! I do not think you will be changing your affiliation!

7:47 PM  
Blogger Grosey's Messages said...

You are doing well to think through these issues with such a godly mind set.
You asked the question whether there are first hand examples of the abuses mentioned on Wade's post. Wade knows there is .. I have told him of my first hand experiences. So has a missionary in the Philippines. These abuses are rampant. You can see our testimony to these abuses on David Roger's blog in the comment sections for his last four posts.
http://loveeachstone.blogspot.com/
And also in the comments section of Dr. Bart's blog for a few weeks.
http://praisegodbarebones.blogspot.com/

I pray you experience the Lord's richest blessings in your ministry and with your new bub.
Ministry can be hard, but it is worth serving the Lord, because of His great Love towards us in the Saviour.
Steve

10:24 PM  
Blogger Jerry Corbaley said...

Brother John,

First, let me say I appreciate the tone and reason of your blogging. As will be apparent, while we disagree on the details of “why”, we do agree that the SBC should not advocate the current practice called “tongues”.

I posted your comment on my blog, and I recommend that readers visit your blog to follow this particular string of conversation. The “whole picture” of our conversation is incomplete without viewing your initial post.

While I am not a cessationist, I am skeptical of modern assertions of the practice of the gift of glossolalia and the interpretation of glossolalia. A fuller explanation of my point of reference can be found on my blog; sbcglossolalia.blogspot.com

I find one major problem with cessationism. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul speaks of the passing away of gifts and asserts several analogies in regards to that time. He speaks of “his present time” as being infantile, seeing through a glass darkly, and knowing in part and compares “his time” with the “time of the passing of the gifts” as a time when Christians will be mature, see face to face, and know fully. I have met thousands of Christians from scores of denominations and cultures: None of them are Paul’s equal. Indeed, to assert that they (we) are more mature than Paul, see clearer than Paul, and know more fully than Paul seems absurd.

You ask why glossolalia ceased for 1900 years before emerging at Azusa Street. But you elsewhere state that “most scholars agree” that “tongues” was ecstatic speech. Here is where confusion is generated. I do not have a working definition for what you mean by “ecstatic speech”. If you mean “babble” as the dictionary defines it, then I disagree that the Bible teaches that glossolalia was babble. The language miracles known as glossolalia and the interpretation of glossolalia involved utterances that were specific phonetic sounds that were associated with specific rational meaning by some group of people (yes, angels are people too) somewhere in creation. Whether Old or New Testaments, when the person speaking by language miracle uttered his sounds they were recognized as coherent language containing a rational and consistent message. In the New Testament, the gift of interpretation of glossolalia enabled people to cross language barriers with the gospel, and to unite born-again people with the assurance that God was manifesting his presence and approval.

Let me address the “scholars” issue. While I appreciate their ability to cause us to think; I believe it is a disaster when a scholar is quoted as an “authority”. Frankly, that is a practice that led the Pharisees astray. I thank God for scholars. I know many scholars. Scholars provide substance to the body of Christ that is important. However, they are no more like Jesus in this world than is the Sunday School disciple.

I do not think glossolalia is ever ecstatic speech (whatever that is? Tell me?) or babble.

I do not know why God would wait 1900 years to re-assert language miracles. Why has he waited 2000 years to reassert his presence on earth? Just because he “has” and “could” does not mean he “must”. I strongly suspect that we will receive the benefit of a language miracle when we enter the here-after; there are people to talk to. However, I am often quite shallow and could be wrong.

As a North American Mission Board missionary (serving as a Director of Missions) and as an International Mission Board Trustee I can testify that there is a desperate need to cross language barriers with the gospel; both in North America and around the world. Language miracles would come in quite handy, don’t you think? The harvest of souls into the Kingdom of God through faith in Jesus Christ is about 500 times greater (per year) than what occurred on the Day of Pentecost. That involves something new, a harvest greater than at any time in the history of the world. That is something that is happening through many organized Christian movements across many language groups. That is the finger of God. It would not surprise me if he reasserted the language gifts. But babble is no advantage at all.

Regarding your second question, I do not think current assertions of glossolalia fit the divine instruction of 1 Corinthians 14 at all.

I agree with the spirit of your third question, but I do not think it is well-phrased. The Bible is not sufficient for my holiness without the blood of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I can think of myriad reasons why having direct, mature, clear and full-knowledge of the will of God would be advantageous. He gives me more freedom to choose (from the human perspective) than I want. I look forward to absolute clarity. I do not have it yet. But I do not think current assertions of glossolalia and the interpretation of glossolalia provide any rational advantage.

I hope I have not taken up too many of your electrons. God bless you, brother. Perhaps we will meet before Jesus comes (or we go).

4:38 PM  
Blogger Pastor John said...

Jerry,
Let me apologize for my tardiness in getting back with you, between the holiday and a stomach bug it has been and rough week. (And now we think our baby is teething)

Let me see if I can accurately address your comments

You said:
I find one major problem with cessationism. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul speaks of the passing away of gifts and asserts several analogies in regards to that time. He speaks of “his present time” as being infantile, seeing through a glass darkly, and knowing in part and compares “his time” with the “time of the passing of the gifts” as a time when Christians will be mature, see face to face, and know fully. I have met thousands of Christians from scores of denominations and cultures: None of them are Paul’s equal. Indeed, to assert that they (we) are more mature than Paul, see clearer than Paul, and know more fully than Paul seems absurd.

True – I would agree that individually it would be hard for any of us to match Paul’s spiritual maturity. However, believers as a whole cans see more clearly and can be “more sure” than Paul in many respects because the canon of scripture is complete – something that the church of Paul’s generation could not say. Thus the need for ecstatic speech (definition following) as per 1 Corinthians. They had no Bible, thus the need for direct revelation.

You said:
I do not think glossolalia is ever ecstatic speech (whatever that is? Tell me?) or babble.

My definition of ecstatic speech is mostly derived from charismatics, so there is room for improvement here. Ecstatic speech is the divine language, or the angelic language – thus it is a distinct language, but it is unintelligible to humans, thus the need for an interpreter. This language was at the center of the 1 Corinthians debate over gifts. However, it does not necessarily apply to all language miracles – the events surrounding Pentecost and Balaam’s ass would not be considered ecstatic speech, as they did not require interpreters.

You said:
Let me address the “scholars” issue. While I appreciate their ability to cause us to think; I believe it is a disaster when a scholar is quoted as an “authority”. Frankly, that is a practice that led the Pharisees astray. I thank God for scholars. I know many scholars. Scholars provide substance to the body of Christ that is important. However, they are no more like Jesus in this world than is the Sunday School disciple.

Indeed, scholars do not sit on the Moses seat, nor are they the end all be all. However, it is wise to humbly acknowledge that there are brothers who are more discerning and possess more knowledge on a given subject than I – and look to them for guidance.
You can find a scholar to back up any crazy idea, but when they start to agree on something it is worth looking into. In my case I found 6 who all agreed on a very controversial topic – that in itself is worth noting.

Concerning the questions I asked in my blog, you said:
I do not know why God would wait 1900 years to re-assert language miracles. Why has he waited 2000 years to reassert his presence on earth? Just because he “has” and “could” does not mean he “must”.

God can do what He wants, when He wants that’s a part of being God – but the Bible shows us the circumstances in which ecstatic speech will reemerge. According to Acts 2 (quoting from Joel) it will come about during the final days. That is why the early Pentecostals thought that the end was near when they began speaking in tongues at Azusa. Indeed God can bring back ecstatic speech whenever He wants (which is why we should not forbid tongues), but when He does bring it back there will be significant upheavals in the created order that will come along with it.

You said:
Regarding your second question, I do not think current assertions of glossolalia fit the divine instruction of 1 Corinthians 14 at all.

Agreed

You said:
I agree with the spirit of your third question, but I do not think it is well-phrased. The Bible is not sufficient for my holiness without the blood of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

I very much agree with this statement. I rewrote my third question about a dozen times & still wasn’t happy with it when I posted it. I am glad that my point got through, I wish that I could have expressed it better.


There is also one part of your comment to me that I would like to address, as I think it would provide clarity to our discussion.
You said:
As a North American Mission Board missionary (serving as a Director of Missions) and as an International Mission Board Trustee I can testify that there is a desperate need to cross language barriers with the gospel; both in North America and around the world. Language miracles would come in quite handy, don’t you think?

During the discussion of tongues, I think a lot of people miss the fact that the Bible shows us that there are two different types of language miracles.
First, there are miracles where people (or animals) can miraculously speak in another human language and be understood without the aide of a third party who interprets. Balaam’s ass and Pentecost would be an example of this miracle.
Second, there are miracles where people miraculously speak an unknown divine language that requires the use of a third party interpreter. The situation in 1 Corinthians would be an example of this miracle.

I would say that the first type of language miracle would still be possible (though not probable) today, as it is not revelatory in nature.
While this would be helpful in spreading the gospel, I do not think that this is something we should seek after or expect for missions work. We should not seek after it because there is no Biblical process for attaining it – those struck by the miracle were used by God without their knowledge (until after the fact I suppose). We should not expect it either because it is a work of God and as such, cannot be accurately predicted. Some of the early Pentecostals also thought that tongues would be helpful in missions work, so some of them got together & went to China without studying the language or really doing much preparation at all. They thought that God would empower them to speak Chinese, and that this miracle would bring many people to Christ. Needless to say, that did not happen, and they barely made it back to the states.

I hope that this is helpful – I realize that my last statements may be as clear as mud so please push back if I’m not making sense.

I also apologize for the length.

Thank you again for the chance to discuss this over the blogosphere. As this is a very controversial topic I have found it difficult to converse with people on this subject calmly.

On a side note, what part of California are you in? I have friends from seminary that are ministering in Bakersfield and Clovis. I’m not really up on California’s geography, are you anywhere near there?

Blessings,
John

8:35 AM  
Blogger Jerry Corbaley said...

Hi John,

Thanks for the thoughtful and reasonable discussion. I share your concern that many find it difficult to discuss this topic without becoming angry. It reminds me of a modern proverb that is gaining widespread recognition: “ I am an inerrantist; I’m just not angry about it.” While that is fine as far as it goes, one should add: “I’m not apathetic about it either”.

You have given me food for thought. Thanks.

I live in McKinleyville, just north of Eureka, California. I know a lot of people in the Bakersfield area; I served as a pastor in that part of California for about 8 years.

Merry Christmas, and have a Holy New Year.

6:55 PM  
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2:46 AM  

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