What about this "Tongues" stuff?

If you look through the New Testament book of Acts, and also the book of 1st Corinthians, you will see that the early Christian church experienced a lot of miracles and supernatural occurrences. This came about through the power of God touching people directly through Christians God chose to use in this manner. Some of these miraculous manifestations (usually called spiritual gifts) are listed in 1st Corinthians Chapter 12. They include: (supernatural) wisdom and knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, the ability to perceive the presence of demonic spirits, and finally the ability to speak in, or interpret, what is called “Tongues”. There is a lot of controversy among Christian denominations regarding Tongues and these other gifts. Some denominations, like the Baptists, would say that these supernatural gifts were only for the early church and that when the Bible was fully organized and Christianity was established there was no further need for these gifts so they died out. Modern-day Pentecostals and Charismatics would say that these gifts were meant to be commonplace in the Christian experience, and that a “revival” of these gifts has been taking place over the last 100 years as evidence that we are close to the return of Christ. The most common of these gifts is that of Tongues. Before I get into it, let me say first that I do not speak in Tongues but belong to a church that accepts this, and I am persuaded Biblically that Tongues is for today, so I will approach the subject from a Pro-Tongues perspective. At the same time, salvation has no bearing on one’s position on these spiritual gifts. A person can believe or not believe that Tongues is for today and have Christ either way. Where I have a problem is with those who not only deny spiritual gifts are for today but then go on to preach against them, and in some cases even attribute modern-day Tongues to Satan! This is perilously close to blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and my encouragement to anyone who prefers to dismiss spiritual gifts in their life is to honestly hold to their views without going on to give Satan the credit.

There is a wide divergence of theology out there on spiritual gifts and how they function. Rather than give an in-depth perspective with lots of scripture that promotes one set of ideas over another, I will offer a few comments for thought and trust that the reader will gain a more complete perspective on the subject from his own church and study.

The different sorts of Tongues

There are actually several forms of Tongues the Bible alludes to:

Foreign languages. This sort of Tongues involves the Spirit of God miraculously aiding a Christian to speak in a human foreign language he doesn’t know in order to express the Gospel to unbelievers. This appears to be what happened in Acts 2, during the feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell upon the apostles and they began verbally glorifying God in a variety of human foreign languages that nearby listeners heard and understood. Stories exist of this miracle happening even in modern times, but this is a rarity.

Prophetic tongues (or the “Tongue of angels”). This is a gift of the Spirit that involves a Christian in a church service being moved to speak out an unintelligible language that communicates a message that God wishes to give to those assembled. Usually it involves some sort of encouragement to make a fuller commitment to Christ and to repent from sin. This sort of Tongues requires someone interpret what was said, another spiritual gift.

Personal prayer language. This is the “normal” sort of Tongues that those with this gift possess. Its purpose is to assist in praying for things that the person may not consciously know to say in English. It is not a definable language that could be translated by unsupernatural means. In fact this sort of language is gibberish. But it is gibberish with a purpose. It works in one of two ways: First, the Holy Spirit aids the speaker in articulating things he needs prayer for but may not realize. Since God the Father knows with the Holy Spirit what these needs are, He understands the communication that comes out of the person’s mouth as if that person were praying clearly in English. You might ask why this is necessary. Well, because the earth was created for mankind to have dominion over directly, God established the principle that He will most often intervene in people’s earthly lives through the process of being asked to by human beings, rather than just arbitrarily on His own. Tongues is a means of aiding Christians to effectively go through the formality of asking God to intervene in a situation they’re not consciously aware of. For instance, we might not know that a friend is soon going to be placed in a dangerous situation--a confrontation with a drunken driver on the road, for example--but the Holy Spirit, who does know of this, might empower us to express a prayer of protection for that person through using Tongues. Paul also suggests that those who do pray in Tongues like this ask God to help them understand what they just said. If you do this, every so often you will “know” the gist of what you just said which is sometimes very useful to you.

The last way in which personal Tongues works is for we, ourselves, to express a prayer to God out of our own inner spirit that we can’t really put into words otherwise. As an example, have you ever had a bad day when one bad thing after another happened and finally you just spat out a growl of some sort in sheer frustration? That’s as close as I can come to defining it, although this sort of experience doesn’t have to be expressing only frustration--it could as easily be expressing joy or praise to God. This sort of “Tongues” comes from our inner self.

Tongues is not something to be afraid of. It’s not being “possessed” to speak weird things. It’s a matter of assistance through the power of the Holy Spirit for us to pray more effectively. Is it for all believers? Some would say yes, others would say no. Certainly it is the most common spiritual gift among Christians.

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