The Tongues Thing

Dear Reader,

So here is my take on the whole tongues/prophesying thing. As with my posts on psalm-singing and singing a capella, this is not meant to be the definitive theological statement. There are a lot of arguments on both sides out there and a lot of people more knowledgeable than I who can make them. And I should add, there are good, sincere Christians on both sides.  This is more of my take and why I prefer what I do.

The verse I think of when I consider this issue may not be what you expect. It is Matthew 9:5. In this passage Jesus has just been presented with a paralyzed man and responds by telling him his sins are forgiven. Those around are naturally surprised by this response. Jesus, reading their minds, responds in v.5: “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’?”

What, you may be wondering, does this have to do with whether we should speak in tongues in our worship? I think too often we are looking for the dazzling signs. We want miraculous healings. We want flashy signs. And we forget that the biggest miracles are often the quietest ones. We cannot see sins being forgiven, but surely this is the greatest thing God has done for us. Jesus’ audience asked for signs frequently. They wanted drama. And so do we. But Jesus’ ministry wasn’t about the drama. The signs and healings were there to point to something else. Jesus shows this in what follows in Matt.9. He does heal the man. We are told in verse 6: “‘But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’–then He said to the paralytic, ‘Get up, pick up your bed and go home.'” Do you see what is happening? The physical healing is done to show Jesus’ power so that they will believe the spiritual healing. Which is more important the physcial or the spiritual? Of course it is the spiritual. Which is easier to see? The physical. What we can see, the dramatic sign, points to a far superior spiritual reality.

So it is with tongues and prophesies. They are signs. They show the power of the one doing them in Jesus’ name. They are not an end in and of themselves but point to the Truth.

Now the denomination I am in holds (or at least I have always been taught) that tongues and the like were for the apostolic age. They were signs that pointed to the truth of the message at a time before the church had the whole New Testament. And that with the passing of the apostles, these things too passed and are not only no longer necessary but no longer even to be believed. I think I would take a somewhat more moderate position. I think this is true of a lot of the signs and healings we see in the New Testament and early church. I think they were for that age when the gospel was new and were to point to the truth of it and give it authority. Basically, to show it was from God. I do not think that means that any signs and tongues and prophesying now is false. I think they are tools God can still use. But I also think that He tends to use them more at times and in places where He needs to establish His authority. I would expect to see them more among unreached populations that are just receiving the gospel. I hope I am not limiting God here. I am not trying to tell Him what to do or how to do it. I am making an observation about how it seems to me He works.

And getting back to Matthew 9, I don’t think we should be yearning to see more of the tongues, etc. The fact that we don’t have them should not be seen as a sign of God’s absence. Rather it is because we don’t need them. We have the truth. We have greater miracles. We have the gospel being preached in clear everyday language. This is a greater thing than tongues and prophesying. We have souls being saved and sins being forgiven. This is greater than physical healings.

And how are those around us to know the truth of our message? John tells us that it is by our love for one another that they will know. Paul also says, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:1-2). So perhaps if we want to provide authority for our message to the world around us, instead of striving to speak in tongues, we should strive to love one another more perfectly.

So instead of seeking the dramatic signs, I prefer a church and a worship service which focus on the greater more powerful things–the Word of God, the salvation of souls, and the love of God’s people for one another.

Nebby

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