All Do Not Speak In Tongues

In 1 Cor. 12:30 Paul asks a rhetorical question, “Do all speak in tongues?” Remarkably, Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals agree that the answer to that question is “No, they do not”. In the context of Paul’s discussion in I Corinthians 12, where the context is spiritual gifts as they are used in a church setting, everyone agrees that not all speak in tongues. Regardless of your starting point, it’s universally agreed that if everyone speaks in tongues out loud at the same time we have one messy confusing church gathering.

Likewise, as to the context of I Corinthians 12-14, Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals agree: Paul is discussing the use of gifts of the Holy Spirit in a church setting. The areas where people do not agree focus on two major questions: “Did the gifts cease when the canon came into being?” and “Is speaking in tongues in a church setting, the same as speaking in tongues in one’s private prayer life?”

How Important Is This?

Being a planner, I struggled with the issue of tongues and gifts for a long time. Prior to becoming a Pentecostal minister, I struggled with “the initial physical evidence” for a long time. So if you struggle with this, you have company. You have questions that deserve answers and the scriptures have those answers.

Being honest, it takes a lot hermeneutic gymnastics to explain away the gifts of the Spirit. That is extremely inconvenient for those of us who like predictable things. While we love to sing that God is alive, we seem rather shocked that He has this plan to to actively participate in church gatherings. However, the Lord deemed the gifts so important that He devoted a great deal of scripture to instructing His people in the proper use of them. None of us want to lay claim to arrogance, but if the Lord God instructs us in the gifts so that His church might be healthy, who are we to say, “We have no need of them”? We cannot read Galatians 3, Romans 12, or these chapters in 1 Corinthians and escape the fact that a “normal church experience” as Christ intended church to be “normal” was meant to include the use of gifts of the Spirit. I can think of nowhere else in all of the New Testament where Christians are so eager to explain away three chapters of scripture.

Being stuck with the truth that “Gee, there’s a lot in there on gifts”, I had to work through the issues. People often enthusiastically point out that tongues are not that important because if we speak with tongues and have not love, we are like an annoying gong. This leads me to ask, “If we don’t speak in tongues and act like a loveless jerk, are we any less annoying?” Chapter 13 does not exist to belittle the gifts but to remind us they do not trump the fruit of the Spirit. By the time we get to I Cor. 13:10, we have to be grasping at straws to take the Greek word for “mature/perfect” and decide for this time and this time only in scripture, it really means “the authoritative canon of scripture”. It takes more faith to come up with that explanation and ignore three chapters of scripture than to simply read the text for what is says.

Unfortunately when I read the text I realize something that requires change on my part. We are living with far less than Jesus offers His church and we are so comfortable living with so little, we find it easier to justify our ease than to seek what we lack. We find church predictable and boring because we are by nature, predictable and boring. We’ve left so little room for God to move, and are terribly afraid of the consequences if He does. Yet we hold in our hands a very clear New Testament model of what a healthy church should look like.

Putting Tongues in Place

My first hurdle, personally, was to determine if Paul spoke about tongues as “a prayer language”  that was distinct from the gift of tongues used to edify the church. In I Cor. 14. Paul explains why speaking in tongues in church without interpretation is counterproductive. He also teaches us the following concerning tongues:

Speaking in tongues is a form of speaking to God, by the power of God and it is a mystery (vs.2) that strengthens the person who is praying (vs. 3)  Paul states his strong desires that everyone speak in tongues (vs. 5)* and boasts that he personally speaks in tongues more than everyone (vs.18). Tongues are a sign for “unbelievers” (vs. 22) and an expected part of church gatherings (vs. 26). The only limit he gives is that no more than two or three messages in tongues with interpretation should occur per meeting, so everyone in the church has a chance to contribute using his or her corporate gift. (vs. 27). Even as Paul reminds the Corinthians of the importance of orderly worship, he says clearly “don’t forbid speaking in tongues” (vs. 39).

The Big “But”

My original question was why anyone would think of tongues as “private prayer language” that was not one and the same as the gift listed in Chapter 12.   (If Paul could have made paragraph breaks, used HTML and inserted emoticons, a lot of things would be easier to understand. Just saying….)  The truth that praying in tongues privately, should not be confused with the gift of tongues spoken in a corporate setting as prompted by the Holy Spirit, is the very reason Paul had to write chapter 14.  He spends so much time explaining the difference, that  I nearly missed the glaringly obvious “but“. Paul’s boasts how much he spoke in tongues, privately,  and the very next phrase is “But in church …”

Right there in front of me Paul made a distinction between speaking in tongues privately and speaking in tongues in church. Oops. In fact, he spent much of the chapter parsing the two that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. So there I was, willing to consider that “mature/perfect” (I Cor. 13:10) might somehow be contorted to mean “the authoritative canon of scripture” yet I was overlooking a conjunction of contrast with an unmistakable meaning: “but”.  Why?  Because like most people I am tempted to harmonize my experience with scripture so I am comfortable with my lack.  The real problem most of us have with scripture surrounding the gifts is they point out our church experience lacks what scripture says should be normative.  That should not cause us to reinterpret scripture. It should cause us to earnestly seek that which we lack.

I had studied myself into a corner:  Paul did indeed distinguish between praying in tongues privately and the gift of tongues as a sign to unbelievers. Like it or not, I had to dig deeper and so this series will continue….

Next Time: I Skinned My Shin on a Honda
*(The words “wish” or “could” are not in Greek, so adding them to English sounds like it would really great if people could speak in tongues but it is not actually possible. If Paul wanted to express wishful thinking,  he would have used the subjunctive. Instead, Paul used the indicative form.  Paul is expressing a strong desire that everyone speak in tongues, not to frustrate people who have not done so, or make them feel bad,  but to encourage them to keep seeking.)

A Deposit is Not a Dollop

I am writing this on the assumption that most of the readers of this blog believe the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, although it may occur at the time of salvation is, in fact, a distinct experience from being born again. As this is a blog, not a book, to those readers who do not believe that may I recommend the book by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones book, Joy Unspeakable. He does an excellent job of addressing the scriptural foundation for a distinct experience. His work is endorsed by the likes of J.I. Packer and other main stream evangelical theologians.

As a Pentecostal it is very important to me that young people trained at Pentecostal institutions do not adhere to any teaching which is inconsistent with scripture. “Intelligent Pentecostal” should not an oxymoron. Whatever we believe we should be able to address and demonstrate from scripture. This blog will be brief but vitally important.

Be Ye Baptist, Presbyterian, E-Free or AG

Everyone who confesses Christ is Lord and believes in his or her heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, is saved. 1 Corinthians 12:13 is clear that the Holy Spirit baptizes us into the Body of Christ. Every Christian on the face of the earth has the Holy Spirit residing in him or her in equal measure. If the Spirit of God does not live in you, then you are not saved. (Rom 8:9) The Spirit of God is given to each and every one of us as an “earnest” of our inheritance (2 Cor. 1:22, 5:5, Eph. 1:14). This “deposit”, this “earnest” is God’s pledge, His absolute assurance that we shall inherit all that God has promised us. We are eternal beings and as surely as the Spirit of God indwells us, everything God has promised in His Word, all that we shall eternally enjoy in His presence shall be ours. How do we know? We know because He’s given us the Holy Spirit whereby we call God, “Abba, Father”. The word “earnest” is used three times in the New Testament. The indwelling of the Spirit of God assures us of our incorruptible inheritance and long after debates about tongues and other gifts shall cease, we will, by God’s grace, forever bask in His presence with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Bad Foundations Make Bad Theology

One of the things many non-Pentecostals believe is that we believe they have less of the Spirit of God dwelling with in them than we do. That’s unscriptural and blatantly false. I always presumed it was a misunderstanding of what we believe but was caught off guard recently when a very reliable young man explained that he was being taught that the Spirit is a deposit for the believer who will get the full measure of the Spirit of God when he or she is baptized in the Holy Spirit. (This discussion occurred when our Calvinist-Baptist friends were visiting, making for lively discussion.). I reread the current AG position paper today and I am baffled how something could be remotely misconstrued to sound like we believe we have more of the Spirit of God living inside us than anyone else. It dawned on me that we just live in a day and age when so many people are in debt that they associate the word “deposit” with purchasing a new vehicle, or getting a stereo system and buying on the installment plan that the word “deposit” sounds like installment payments are sure to follow. While in the world of finance, that is what “deposit” may mean that does not transfer over to scripture. The Holy Spirit baptizes us into the Body of Christ. He indwells us in equal measure. Period. That is what the scriptures teach and that is what we believe.

And all this matters because the Baptism of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, praying in the Spirit, is so important we must lay a strong scriptural foundation.  Sound doctrine can only be founded on sound doctrine, not conjecture. I have no desire to believe what is not in scripture. However, scripture is clear, so let us intelligently, and with the Spirit’s guidance, rightly divide the Word of God.

Next: All Do Not Speak in Tongues
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The Great “Who Is”

Sundays come and go. We sing to the Nameless “You”. We sing of being ravished by love, wanting to shout it out, jump, freedom (x7), and other nice things that happen to us. We don’t sing using the Name of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor of the Son of God who shed His blood to ransom us back, nor the Holy Spirit who indwells us. We do not sing of the sin from which we are blood-washed, the joy of salvation by the grace of God Incarnate. Often I think we should just rename it “we-ship” since we focus on our feelings, thoughts, reactions and how well it is going for us. Today, a pastor friend expressed her feelings after a morning of service saying, “I was singing like Jesus is my boyfriend”.

I laughed but with a heavy heart. Neither of us were raised with any Bible knowledge but as the Bible says, through the “foolishness of preaching” and the proclamation of Christ in song, we were changed. I’m a 10 years + older than my friend and hymns were not our chosen genre (think Crosby, Stills and Nash for me and she’s so young I don’t know) but as much as we joked about tunes in 9/8 time, we sensed God’s Spirit’s present when the church sang about Jesus, the Lord Almighty, the Maker of the Universe, the Son of God Incarnate who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire. Yes, music has modernized and we are glad for it. But we did not need to stop singing truth. Our God has a Name and His Name still makes my heart soar. We actually can sing “This I Believe” and we should.

NEWSFLASH: WE ARE NOT UNITARIANS

Unitarians have no name for God. They are lovely people who believe that it is possible but not mandatory that there exists a Nameless Great Gender Neutral Someone/thing/force who can’t really be known except as we/you/me/they/he/she/ze/e* perceives said Being. Unitarian optimists hope, in the wishful sense, that when someone dies they go to a better place. Unitarian pessimists just let people live on forever in their hearts. There is no assurance of anything since nothing can be known. They normally meet in very nice landmark churches with rainbow flags out front. They are not more welcoming than we are, but the one thing they firmly believe is that should A Great Who-Is exist then He/She/It welcomes you to that house of faith (or doubt) depending on your faith or faithless orientation.

Their music is as pallid as their belief: God has no name.

Our God Has a Name

Our God has a Name. We should sing it. We should proclaim it. We should shout it from the roof tops. We live in a post-Christian era when people simply cannot be expected to guess their way into the gospel. They don’t need to guess if we spend our services proclaiming Jesus Christ the Son of God. We are called to ascribe worth to Him. It is not a 45 minute sing-a-long led by a coach who tells us how to act like we are blessed. We don’t need to pretend if God is really there. We need to sing the truth and proclaim it clearly and with the joy that truth still resonates within my heart 40 years after I first heard it.

As my friend shared, she spoke of a teen, for whom time on earth would seem quite limited. He came to church for hope. When she asked him the subject of the songs, he replied that he presumed the songs were about God but had no clear idea they were about Jesus. Forty-five minutes of what might have been joyous song-filled proclamation of Christ, gave way to “singing like it was to a boyfriend” and this young man still had no clear hope.

Young People Change This

Each of us is called to reach our generation and train the next. I can’t sing or write like I am 20-something. Someone 20-something can and must create music that sings the unashamed, unabashed truth that Jesus Christ came to save sinners and if He is lifted up He will draw all men to Himself. If He is not lifted up we and all who hear us will be bored to numbness. Don’t blame your pastor or worship leader. Fix it. Write songs worthy of the Son of God. Stop rolling the dice with visitors. Stop rolling the dice outside the church with other people’s souls. We are saved by One who deserves that we sing with beauty and power and promise. When a lost person meets you he or she should not leave without hope. May we always be ready to share the only name given among men by which we might be saved: The Name of Jesus.

*ze/e are new alternatives that a famous university is providing so students can choose their own pronouns

(Yes, I will pick up on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit tomorrow. I just had to get this out of my system).

When Azusa Street Makes Bad Theology

I chose that title to grab your attention. Before anyone panics: I am an ordained AG minister who whole-hardheartedly adheres to the fundamentals of our faith. I do not question the validity of the Azusa Street revival, nor do I question the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. But I chose this title after a number of young people told me that the foundation for their understanding of the doctrine of the Baptism of the Spirit was based on the events at Azusa Street. That misunderstanding deeply concerns me. Our beliefs are not based on any extra-biblical historical experience but on the only authoritative source for faith and conduct: the Bible. The moment we use experience as the basis for our beliefs, we open the door to deception. All our experiences should be evaluated in light of the Word of God. The Baptism of the Spirit is not something that was born out of a revival in 1906. It can and must be evidenced in scripture. If you hold firmly to that which is not found in scripture, lose it ASAP.

We are Christians, Not Existentialists

Azusa Street was a great revival prompted by the Spirit of God. I know this because that which was experienced was in accordance with the teachings of the scripture. As Christians we evaluate all experience in light of the Word of God. When John Wesley was so overcome by God’s presence in prayer that he slipped into “ecstatic utterances” we do not wonder if John somehow forgot how to speak his mother tongue or briefly lost his mind. He “prayed with the Spirit and not with (his) understanding”. (I Cor. 14:15)  Scripture interprets his experience for us. The world does not use the scripture to discern what is genuine and what is not. The world determines what is true and what is not based on experience and the end result is a subjective mess. Those who judge truth by experience are “existentialist”. Christians can determine personal preferences by experience (hazelnut, or caramel latte?) but we are never, never to determine truth by our experience.

Why is this Crucial?

I chose Azusa Street because it touches on a “distinctive” of our faith: our belief in the Baptism of the Spirit. It is vital. It is true. It is biblical and we should be able to demonstrate that from the Word of God. In the next several posts I will do my best to answer the questions I am most frequently asked regarding the Baptism of the Spirit.  At the same time, my prayer is that everyone reading this will remember that is is crucial that we evaluate everything through the lens of the Word of God. The fact that something “can occur” does not mean that it is from God. The magicians of Egypt were able to replicate some of the miracles that Moses performed. Scripture repeatedly reminds us that power is not the same as truth. Truth is powerful but not all demonstrations of power are truth.

False prophets will come. Deceivers will work signs and wonders that seem so powerful that were it possible they would deceive even the elect. (Matt 24:24)  People will cast out demons, prophesy and do mighty works in Jesus Name but they will still not be people sent by the Lord (Matthew 7:7). How will we discern what is true from what is false? Only by an excellent knowledge of the Word of God and discernment by His Spirit.

Next: A Deposit is not a Dollop

www.vanaria.org