Do Charismatics Abuse the Gift of Tongues?
Thanks for your recent review of John MacArthur's book, Strange Fire. Just checking in with you to see what some of your theological thoughts are about related scriptures in debate on this issue. 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 (which focuses on order in worship) is a great scripture to look at. I really don't see the church today acting out verses 26-33 at all really. This is especially true in regard to the gift of tongues. Along with the rest of the text, it makes for an interesting conversation amongst Charismatics, especially with Paul the apostle laying down an intense amount of his authority at the end of the letter. If you don't mind, what are some of your thoughts on these portions of scripture? Interested to know. Thanks and God bless.
Thank you for your question!
This is, in some ways, one of the more troubling passages of scripture to interpret, not just for evangelicals, but for Continuationist's as well (those who believe in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our time).
Specifically, the exact issue here hinges on how one reads the mention of the use of the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 12. What exactly is the writer referring to?
Well, Charismatics typically claim that Paul was speaking about a variation on the Acts 2 gift. Hence, these were "unknown" tongues and therefore needed to be "interpreted" rather than translated. Others, coming from a Cessationist persuasion see this gift as mirroring Acts chapter 2. In other words, these were well-known tongues or "known human languages".
Unfortunately, the debate continues to rage on how to read the passage rightly. How things settle (or not) will ultimately be the determinative factor when it comes to interpreting Paul's instructions to Corinth. If NT scholars conclusively demonstrate that Paul was speaking of known human languages, then there would have been no need for people to speak in turn, one at a time. For in that case, the languages would be understood by the specific persons for whom the "tongue" was given as a confirmatory sign. Why stop for interpretation in that case? This is why the apostles did not seem to observe Paul's unique instructions to Corinth on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2). If on the other hand, however, these were unknown tongues, then the instructions will need to be considered much more seriously. They would have to be more strictly carried out by Charismatic churches. And that would be a difficult thing to adhere to for some.
But the most interesting point in the debate is that the very people who thrust this passage into the laps of Charismatic leaders as a biblical reason for why "tongues-speakers" should speak one at a time, also happen to believe that 1 Corinthians 12 is identifying "known human languages." That, to me, seems to invalidate the objection. Since we already know that these instructions did not pertain to the day of Pentecost, that alone would seem to be a strong indication that the passage is addressing a different usage of the gift. So it seems to me that what Cessationists need to do in order to win the debate is to agree with the Charismatics that these were unknown tongues. Doing so, however, would virtually affirm the Charismatic use of the gift. So it's highly unlikely that we will see the discussion move in that direction (regardless of the fact that the Charismatics in that case would have to consider dramatically altering their worship practices).
So in short, to answer your question, I believe that the Charismatic Church should, when speaking in tongues, consider stopping to hear interpretation. That would ensure that the church be edified. We need to give place to one another in the interest of esteeming others as better than ourselves. On the other hands, we can't go to the other extreme of "benching the gift" completely either. Rather we need to be willing to let God lead so that the church can be edified and built up.
So that's how I read the text. And that's also how I see the main issues in the debate. Hope all of that helps! Thanks for the question! And feel free to visit back anytime Chris. God's peace!
Ben Fischer <><