Archive for April 20th, 2008


Tongues twisted, part 2

So, for those folks who are still with me after Tongues Tied and Tongues Twisted, Part 1, I’ll slip you a little tongues one more time and then leave the topic alone for a while. It should be clear now that I think anyone who is angling for more Christians to speak in tongues or who thinks we should be doing it wherever, whenever, whyever—well, they’re mostly nuts.

OK, that was uncharitable and judgmental of me. They are nuts or they are confused or they’ve let themselves be told what tongues is all about without really reading what the Bible has to say about it.

But like many fanatics of any religious or political stripe, I have to give the tongues-shovers credit for doing a great job of spinning things and taking stuff out of context. Hell, it worked great for FOX News to make Rev. Jeremiah Wright and any number of Democrats they’ve talked to over the years look bad. Just take comments out of context, or edit interviews to spin a person’s meaning away from the true intent, rinse and repeat.

I recently ran across a Web page that says Christians should speak in tongues, and most of the crap there is so played up and so out of context that it makes my blood boil. So let me do my best to shred the nonsense and inject some logic into this argument (Yes, Virginia, logic and faith sometimes do go together). Blockquotes are the passages the author of that page singled out along with his or her commentary.

Acts of the Apostles 2:4, which reads: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” — In the New Testament we have no record of any believer failing to receive the Holy Spirit and speak with tongues. No scripture says it should be different with us today. Every believer should speak in tongues.

Hello? The New Testament does not say that all believers spoke in tongues. There is, in fact, no record of all or even most believers speaking in tongues. The only specifically recorded instance was at Pentecost, and that was not the “spiritual language” form of tongues but the form in which people are enabled to speak earthly languages that they don’t know. In fact, Paul lists the speaking of tongues as the last and least important of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the Bible is clear that almost no one receives all of the gifts of the spirit and none of us should specifically seek after any one of them. They are gifts, given to us as God wishes. Not something we are supposed to chase after or ask for.

1 Corinthians 14:5, which reads “I wish you all spoke with tongues…” and 1 Corinthians 14:18, which reads “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all;” — I can understand why he did it so much. It is such a great help and benefit. Speaking in tongues will not make you better than someone else — but it will help you.

Well, I’m glad the author at least acknowledges that speaking in tongues doesn’t make you superior, but in promoting the speaking of tongues, he or she very conveniently snips off parts of the above two passages.

Let’s start with First Corinthians 14:5 and let me give you the whole verse: I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.

Kind of a big omission on the part of our tongues cheerleader, don’t you think? Paul is saying that it would be nice if everyone spoke in tongues, but that’s not the way God wants it. By way of analogy, it would be nice if everyone was rich, but the world doesn’t work that way, now does it?

And verse 18…well, the author didn’t cut that one off halfway though…oh, unless you take into account that little semicolon at the end of the line, which means the thought is continued into verse 19. And what does verse 19 say? Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.

So, put 18 and 19 together and what do you have? Paul saying he feels blessed to be able to speak in tongues, but it is so very much more important to be understood. Tongues, when used without wisdom or restraint, can cause much more confusion than anything else. And that’s why verses 20 through 33 in that chapter spell out very specific rules for speaking in tongues that it seems, sadly, most churches that encourage tongues today don’t follow at all. (If you click on my link to verse 19 above, you’ll see a little scrolling window with the whole chapter, should you want to read up on those rules.)

Oh, and how about this nifty one:

Gospel of Mark 16:17, which reads: “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues;” (and the author using this as an example of this being Jesus telling us that we as believers will all speak in tongues)

Oh, hey, another semicolon. Gee, what does verse 18 say to finish off that thought? they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.

Hey, any believers want to join me in whipping some angry rattlesnakes around, drinking some bleach with an antifreeze chaser, and going to the cancer wards telling the patients that we can cure them because we know Jesus?

Didn’t think so.

I’m not saying these things aren’t possible through the grace of God and strong enough faith, but the Bible (and Jesus) didn’t say these signs will follow each and every single believer. They are general signs; not signs that you use for each believer to test whether they are the real thing in terms of being born again. They also mostly were signs for a time when overt, obvious miracles were necessary as a way to get the ball rolling on spreading the gospel. Miracles can and do occur in the modern day, but they tend to be way more subtle and the focus is on us to show God’s grace and love and bring people to Jesus by letting the light of Heaven shine through us and our actions.

No one is going to be illuminated by rampant speaking in tongues. A bunch of people spouting what sounds like (and often is) mere gibberish is only going to drive people away from the gospel. Letting the light of Jesus shine through us is good. Shining an obnoxious floodlamp directly into people’s eyes to make them squirm is bad.

Man, I’ve got to stop. There is more on that page I could refute, but I’m probably boring you already. And there’s a feeble FAQ page linked to from the bottom of that Web page that tries to defend rampant speaking of tongues against various attacks like mine. I think I’ve made enough of my point already though.

Believers and non-believers already have enough of a gulf between them. Bridging that gap and encouraging non-believers to at least consider and explore surrendering themselves to God is not going to happen if we shout “shamma lamma ding dong ooogie boogie wah wah rumba doo” across the chasm.

Tongues is these days a thing to be done in private. Between you and God. For the most part (the vast majority of the time) keep your tongues out of other people’s ears.

(Image is from a painting by Emilio Mogilner)


Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

Jeff Bouley


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April 2008

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