Posts Tagged ‘confusion


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)


Tongues tied

Anyone who’s seen the movie Borat (and it’s a fine film indeed but not something for the faint-hearted or easily offendedevery sacred cow gets mocked, two guys wrestle around buck naked and the language and jokes are crude…and that’s just for starters) will probably recall the scene in which the title character goes into a very enthusiastic Christian congregation and at one point “speaks in tongues” in what to the movie viewer is an obvious mocking of the practice (though people in the church didn’t seem to pick up on that).

Now, one could be offended by this if one were a fan of speaking in tongues. I, for one, am not. That is, I’m not offended and I’m not a fan of people speaking in tongues. Or, more accurately, I am not in favor of the way that most people who I have seen speak in tongues do it…and the way in which pastors and churches I have seen encourage them. Because most of them I’ve seen seem to be spouting meaningless crap and frankly, it’s an embarrassment.

Getting back to the movie Borat, before he starts flailing around and spouting gibberish in his quest to make a comedic point, we are treated to a scene in which an actual member of the congregation starts speaking in tongues. That wasn’t a joke; that was a person who theoretically really is speaking in tongues if we were to give him a lot of benefit of the doubt. What comes out of the Christian’s mouth can, to the best of my recollection, be described as something like this:

Boooga lugga booga ooga a la la la la la booga.

Now, I know that isn’t strictly speaking even close to verbatim, but I don’t have a copy of the movie handy. Suffice to say, though, what the man was speaking was every bit as silly sounding as that just was. Now, for those not in the know about “tongues,” there are two ways that speaking in tongues in described in the Bible. The first and most openly miraculous is when the apostles received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, shortly after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. They began to speak in languages they didn’t know. Or rather, people in the crowd heard their own languages being spoken. Thus, the Holy Spirit was acting as a sort of universal translator (Star Trek made this concept as famous as William Shatner’s overacting) and showing people a miracle of God at work, as a way to help illustrate that a new day was dawning for humans and that Jesus’ followers were to be taken seriously.

The second way the speaking of tongues is described is when Christians speak a Heavenly tongue that, more likely than not, no one understands but the folks in Heaven. Generally, the speaker doesn’t even know what he or she is saying. This can best be described, I suppose, as the person’s soulor perhaps more accurately the Holy Spirit inside that believerexpressing itself to God. Now, going back to my “booga booga” example above, are we really to believe that the speech of Heaven sounds like something more immature than a baby’s babbling? That God or His angels would speak in some spastic gibberish?

Now, without going into much detail this time around (maybe I’ll talk about it some other time), I do speak in tongues myself. Probably on the order of at least a few times a week, usually for less than a minute. And while I don’t know what I am saying, many words are often very similar from session to session and do seem to follow some sort of syntax and structure. But here’s the important thing: It’s not like some seizure that comes on me. It’s not some uncontrollable thing. Also, I almost never do it in front of another person and I never, never, never do it in a group, not even in church.

Paul was really crystal-clear in his writings in the Bible (in a couple places in First Corinthians chapter 14) that no one is supposed to speak in tongues in church or any other gathering unless there is someone else in the group who has been given the gift to translate tongues. Because in the absence of translation, all you are doing is speaking words that will confuse everyone else. It might soothe your soul and bring some sort of internal, unconscious understanding between your mind and spirit, but it ain’t helping one damn person around you to learn a thing. Paul himself, and this was one devout damn Christian, said he would rather speak a few words of truth and teaching than to speak a thousand words in tongues and thus not edify anyone.

And that’s what is so screwed up about the way people generally speak in tongues. They don’t control themselves and simply do it in private, even though Paul makes it clear we canand shoulddo so unless we know someone can translate it for everyone else.

In my humble opinion, most people who speak publicly in tongues without one of those very-rare-someones to translate are (1) delusional, (2) they lack any sense of control or propriety in using a gift they have actually been given, or (3) they are trying to get attention or look more pious. When very specific rules are laid out (as they are in the Bible) for speaking in tongues, and you violate all of them, your credibility with me is suspect. Hell, I even wonder about myself in those brief moments in private when I speak in tongues.

What’s even more messed up is when a congregation encourages this nonsense. And what’s freakin’ unbelievable is how some congregations (and I was in one briefly) actually tell you that if you never speak in tongues, you aren’t really born again and don’t really have your salvation squared away. But you know, Paul said that Christians may get one of many gifts of the spirit but almost never get all of them, and tongues is just one of those gifts you may or may not get and one of the last…and one of the least important he lists (see First Corinthians chapter 12, verses 27-31)but tongue-crazy pastors and congregations like to ignore than inconvenient little fact.

Of course, they also ignore a lot of other facts and twist a lot of biblical passages to support their assertion that all believers should speak in tongues. Rather than go on any longer right now, I think I will reserve some of my specific objections for another post, either tomorrow or some other time this week. Because I found a page that lays out all the biblical passages supporting tongues, and so many of them are taken out of context that I need a whole post to address them.

But here’s my take-home message: Speaking in tongues is good. Doing so without some sense of purpose and even restraint is not.

God wants to speak to our souls and to hear us. He doesn’t want His children running around sounding like a bunch of morons. And He sure as hell doesn’t say “booga booga booga.”

(Photo from

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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June 2023

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