This article contains one of the more balanced views of tongues and spiritual gifts. Pastor Don Walton is the founder of Time For Truth Ministries and a spiritual father to me. Please read on...
I can cause charismatics considerable distress by simply reading a question from 1 Corinthians , “Do all speak with tongues?” The obvious answer to this question is “no.” Likewise, I can prove to be quite bothersome to Baptists by simply reading a portion of 1 Corinthians 14:39, “…forbid not to speak with tongues.” Interestingly, all I’ve done in either case to incite such angst is read the Bible. Why, one wonders, are simple verses of Scripture so stressful to today’s saints.
I’m afraid many of us approach the Bible with entrenched, preconceived ideas. Therefore, when a verse of Scripture contradicts what we’ve already made up our minds to believe, our stomachs knot up. Rather than attempting to relieve our spiritual tummy aches by changing our beliefs to fit into what the Bible says, we try to change what the Bible says to fit into our beliefs. In our efforts to turn the meaning of Scripture more to our liking we often employ the well-worn maxims: “A better translation would be…,” “What the Greek actually means is…,” or the ever popular, “According to Dr. So and So, what this verse is really saying…”
Our International Mission Board’s recent decision to bar from board appointment missionaries who profess, as the board’s own president does, to having a “private prayer language,” serves as a good example of the unmanageable entanglements and untenable positions we paint ourselves into when we lay aside God’s Word for our traditions (Mark 7:1-13). Although I’m a proud Southern Baptist who believes ours is the greatest missionary enterprise in the world, I can’t help but be embarrassed by an IMB that bars missionaries with a “private prayer language” from the mission field while being presided over by a man with a “private prayer language.” Such duplicity is both inexcusable and inexplicable, not to mention detrimental to our mission work. It forbids God-called men and women from serving as Southern Baptist missionaries, as well as fosters to a lost and dying world an image of our convention as incomprehensibly conflicted.
Like IMB president, Dr. Jerry Rankin, I am no cessationist. I do not adhere to B. B. Warfield’s contention that the sign or miracle gifts passed away with the Apostolic Age. In all honesty, I’ve always suspected that the reason for the popularity of Warfield’s contention within our convention is due to the fact that it provides us with an excuse for the absence of the miraculous from our midst. If Warfield was right, then we are justified in replacing God’s power with church programs and spiritual gifts with human ingenuity; after all, there’s nothing else we can do in this present dispensation.
Although many Southern Baptists believe that anyone refusing to walk in lockstep with Benjamin Warfield is walking in lockstep with Benny Hinn; the truth is: one can refuse to warm his feet at the cessationist fire and still remain outside the charismatic camp. I wish all Southern Baptists would learn not to let someone’s abuse of the truth cause them to refuse the truth. Normally, when a truth is abused everyone reacts by moving across town to the opposite extreme. For instance, when charismatics insist that speaking in tongues is the evidence of the baptism of the Holy Ghost, cessationists react by moving across town and insisting that there’s no such thing as tongues. In the end, both extremes are wrong and the devil has pulled the rug out from under everybody.
Truth is always found in the middle of the two extremes. From the middle, let’s pick apart the charismatic and cessationist’s extremes. First, the charismatic proof texts for their belief that glossolalia is proof of the baptism of the Holy Ghost are all found in the Book of Acts. The Book of Acts tells us about the birth and infancy of the church. It is a book of transitions: from shadows (types of Christ) to substance (Christ Himself), from an Old Covenant to a New Covenant, from the law to grace, from a Levitical priesthood to a spiritual (royal) priesthood, and from the old Israel (the physical seed of Abraham, the church in the wilderness, and the wife of Jehovah) to the new Israel (the spiritual seed of Abraham, the church of God, and the bride of Christ).
Each incident cited by charismatics in Acts as proof that believers receive the Holy Spirit subsequent to salvation is actually a unique and unparalleled historical event. For instance, the second chapter of Acts tells us about the Day of Pentecost. On this once and for all historical occasion, the foretold promise of the Father is given to the church. The church is born! The people of God transition from an Old Testament people to a New Testament people. Obviously, the 120 believers gathered in the upper room on this most eventful day could not have possibly received the promise of the Father prior to Pentecost, since the promise had not yet been given. Furthermore, the tongues spoken on this occasion are not unknown tongues, as the charismatics allege, but other known languages, as is proven by the fact that everyone heard “the wonderful works of God” in their own language (Acts 2:1-11). Far from being the norm for every believer, this passage of Scripture tells us about a unique event in the history of the world that is never to be repeated.
In Acts 8, the Gospel goes for the first time to someone other than Jews—the half-breed Samaritans. These “dogs,” as they were called by the Jews, were so hated and despised that no Jewish believer could have possibly imagined God’s inclusion of them in the
In Acts 10, Peter takes the Gospel to Cornelius’ house. For the first time the Gospel goes to Gentiles. These Gentiles receive the Gospel and the Holy Spirit simultaneously; there is no lapse of time between the two. As the gift of the Holy Spirit is poured out on these believing Gentiles, Peter and his Jewish companions hear them “speak with tongues, and magnify God” (Acts 10:44-48). This outward sign of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the Gentiles’ salvation was proof positive that God is “no respecter of persons” (Acts ). While Peter and his fellow-Jews may have attributed the salvation of Samaritans to the fact that they had some Jewish blood, the only explanation for the salvation of Gentiles was: “Whosoever will, may come!”
In Acts 19, Paul runs across some disciples of John the Baptist in
The Bible plainly teaches that all believers have been baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians ). John the Baptist preached that all men would be baptized by Christ, either with the fire of the Holy Spirit or the “unquenchable” fire of judgment (Matthew 3:10-12; Luke 3:16-17) And the Apostle Paul proclaims in no uncertain terms, “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9). When coupled with the charismatics’ attempt to turn unique, historical events in the Book of Acts into everyday, common occurrences in the lives of modern-day believers, these clear teachings of Scripture leave charismatics without a Scriptural leg to stand on in their argument for the baptism of the Holy Ghost as evidenced by speaking in tongues.
Now, let’s move across town and explore the problems with the cessationist’s reaction to charismatic error. First, many cessationists insist that there never was a gift of unknown tongues. According to them, the only gift of tongues spoken of in the New Testament was a miraculous ability to speak in other known languages previously unknown to the speaker. They cite the Day of Pentecost as a case in point. Although the tongues spoken on Pentecost were undoubtedly other known languages, there was also a spiritual gift of unknown tongues, as is plainly taught by the Apostle Paul in the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians.
In 1 Corinthians 14:2, the Apostle Paul writes, “For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.” Paul cannot possibly be speaking in this verse of the kind of tongues spoken on the Day of Pentecost, since they were spoken in prophesy (“unto men”) and not in prayer (“unto God”). Furthermore, the tongues spoken on Pentecost were not “mysteries” spoken “in the spirit” that no man could understand, but clearly understood by men who heard “the wonderful works of God” in their own languages.
What’s more, there was no need of interpreters on the Day of Pentecost. Each man heard the Gospel in his own language. Yet, the Apostle Paul speaks of the spiritual gift of “interpretation of tongues” (1 Corinthians , 30; 14:5, 13, 26-28). Obviously, this gift is not the natural ability of someone to understand their own language or other learned languages. For example, one would not say that a Brazilian had the spiritual gift of interpretation because of their ability to understand Portuguese, their native tongue. This leads us, much to the cessationist’s chagrin, to an inevitable conclusion. The only explanation for the spiritual gift of interpretation of tongues is the existence of a spiritual gift of unknown tongues, since it is the gift of unknown tongues alone that necessitates interpretation.
The good cessationist will argue at this point that whether or not there was a gift of unknown tongues is irrelevant, since tongues, along with all the other sign or miracle gifts, ceased long ago with the Apostolic Age. Although the cessationist’s argument that the miracle gifts were temporarily given to confirm the message of the Gospel until the canon of Scripture was completed is easily found in today’s Southern Baptist’s circles, it is impossible to find in God’s Word. Oh, I know about the transitive and intransitive Greek verbs in 1 Corinthians 13:8, as well as Paul’s teaching that tongues was a sign to unbelieving Jews of God’s impending judgment (see: 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 and Isaiah 28:11-12). Still, neither of these justifies the cessationists’ swipe at all things miraculous in today’s church or their assertion that the gift of tongues ceased with the destruction of
To be true to the Scripture, we must acknowledge that all the spiritual gifts still exist today. Moreover, we must come to realize the importance of discovering, developing and deploying our spiritual gifts in the body of Christ. The church will never be all that it can be for Christ in this world until each believer is ministering in and through the church according to his or her spiritual gifting. While spiritual gifts are given and operated in accordance with the Spirit’s will (1 Corinthians 12:7-11), not ours, each Spirit-given gift is vital to the church’s ministry and none should be forbidden as long as they are being operated under the Spirit’s anointing. This includes the gifts of unknown tongues and the interpretation of tongues.
Perhaps, the best way to explain the gift of unknown tongues is to call it the bypass ministry of the Holy Spirit. Have you ever been burdened to pray for someone or about something but didn’t know how or what to pray? If you have, you know how frustrating this can be. Those who possess the gift of unknown tongues often find the Holy Spirit bypassing them when they come to such a standstill in their intercessory prayers. When they don’t “know” how to “pray as [they] ought,” the Spirit kicks in and prays a perfect prayer of intercession “with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans ). Although they do not know what the Spirit has prayed (1 Corinthians ), they know He has prayed a perfect prayer of intercession through them.While this gift is edifying to all who possess it (1 Corinthians 14:4), it is not edifying to others unless used in conjunction with the gift of interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:5, 13). Thus, the Bible teaches that the gift of unknown tongues is to be confined to one’s own private prayer life (1 Corinthians ). It is never to be used in a public worship service unless someone with the spiritual gift of interpretation is present; and even then, only one at a time may speak and never more than three in a service (1 Corinthians 14:27-28). Of course, the church is to always discern and judge whether or not what it hears is of God (1 Corinthians -31). If it is not done in accordance with the Spirit’s will and under the Spirit’s anointing, then the prophets are to quickly bring all untoward spirits into subjection (1 Corinthians 14:32), for our God “is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33). (Written by Don Walton, 2006 Timefortruth.org)