9.7.08

The Truth About Speaking In Tongues- Don Walton

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 12:30, “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 church of Christ. Thus, it was imperative that apostles from Jerusalem be present when the Spirit first fell in Samaria; otherwise, the Jews would have never accepted the Samaritans as their brothers and sisters in Christ. Interestingly, and much to the charismatics’ dismay, glossolalia is not mentioned at all in this entire passage.

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 10:34). 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 Ephesus. Upon learning of their total unfamiliarity with the Holy Spirit and their baptism by John the Baptist, the apostle ascertains that these Old Testament saints needed to transition into the New Testament. Paul leads them to do so by leading them to Christ and into the waters of believer’s baptism. Afterward, the Holy Spirit came upon them and they “spoke with tongues, and prophesied” (Acts 19:1-7). I find it interesting that charismatics pull tongues from this passage as the lone proof of the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Why is prophecy not equally acclaimed by them as proof positive of Spirit baptism? Why elevate the least of the gifts at the expense of the most important? It is, after all, “by the foolishness of preaching [prophecy],” that God is pleased “to save them that believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21).

The Bible plainly teaches that all believers have been baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). 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 12:10, 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 Jerusalem by Titus the Roman in A.D. 70. Whereas it is easy to shoot holes in the charismatics’ proof texts, it is extremely difficult for cessationists to come up with any proof texts. They simply don’t have a single Scriptural peg to hang their hats on.

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 8:26). Although they do not know what the Spirit has prayed (1 Corinthians 14:14), 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 14:28). 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 14:29-31). 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)

12 comments:

Rev. said...

As a biblicist, I affirm both 1 Cor. 12:30 and 14:39. I would add that if anyone claims to be speaking in tongues, they should do so biblically, with it being interpreted and with no more than three people doing it during a worship service.

Thanks for the post by Don Walton, brother.

WatchingHISstory said...

Rev
I am also 'biblicist' (high-Calvinist, supralapsarian). I speak in tongues, biblically and it is not always interpreted. If I speak in Church and it is not intrepreted then I keep silent speaking only to myself and to God.

There is a public gift of tongues for the benefit of the body and . private glossolalia, PPL. My spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.

Charles

pregador27 said...

Rev, I think more Scripture should be looked at, there are verses about it being between GOd and the person exercising such a gift. It does not always require an interpretation- only is it is audible to others.

Charles, thank you for your addition. I appreciate your perspective.

In any case, tongues is (or should be) a minor issue Biblically. Unfortunately it becomes a bigger issue than it should be- very divisive. We should continue to pray for unity and integrity in the Church.

WatchingHISstory said...

"Tongues" is between the Lord's Supper and the famous Resurrection chapter. That don't hardly qualify it as "minor issue".

The celebration of the Lord's Supper and Resurrection are very divisive. we lack a great deal of unity in the body of Christ about those subjects. Does that mean we should relegate them to minor status for the sake of unity.

In fact there are three chapters devoted to "tongues" (spiritual gifts) with the Love chapter sandwiched in between, hardly minor issues to Paul. Paul is not saying, as so many preachers today, that you don't HAVE to speak in tongues but you CAN speak in tongues. Just do it decently and orderly. He says don't forbid anyone to speak in tongues. It is a prayer language unto God in a wonderful way of speaking pure worship of God.

Naturally the physical man cannot understand that. What is the problem with that? The physical man cannot understand the Bible unless the Holy Spirit assist him!

pregador27 said...

Charles, I would have to disagree. Tongues is not an issue upon which our salvation hinges. It is not about the deity of Christ. It is not about the nature of God in regard to His ability or exclusivity when it comes to salvation.

I agree that the Lord's Supper and Revelation are divisive, but so is the color of the carpet in the new sanctuary in most churches. That does not make it a major issue. I believe tongues is over-emphasized by many today, and for sure, done unbiblically by most. Most Charismatic/Pentecostal churches I have been to do not follow the pattern or guidelines laid out by Paul in I Corinthians when it comes to tongues. (I am not, not have I ever been a Pentecostal- that much is true. However, though I am a Baptist,I graduated from a Pentecostal university and fellowshiped with Pentecostals most of the time. I know how Charismatic/Pentecostal churches normally work.)

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away...So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (I Corinthians 13.8,13 ESV)

WatchingHISstory said...

Great! Can you imagine what a church would be like if it followed the pattern and guidelines laid out by Paul in I Corinthians when it comes to tongues? The Churches probaly failed to follow those guidelines.

Most Baptist Churches I have attended failed to follow the guideline for declaring the gospel of grace laid out by Paul.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all followed the guidelines laid out by Paul?

Charles

pregador27 said...

Yes, Charles, it would. However, excusing the abuse of the Gifts of the Spirit is not justified by saying most Baptists neglect teaching on the doctrines of grace.

It is also unfortunate that many churches that do preach the doctrines of grace act as if they are exclusive and that other Christians are lower life forms. Case in point- when I was on a more Presbyterian weblog comment area, they chastised me because I am a Reformed Baptist. They separate me because they are in error concerning baptism.

We all err, but tongues is not where our focus should be all the time. We should be opposing frauds alike Hinn, Copeland, Jakes, Warren, Schueller, Benedict, Bentley, Howard-Browne, the Whites, etc. Standing for truth in preaching and ministry.

WatchingHISstory said...

1 Corinthians 14:39-40 (ESV)
"So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order."

Our focus should be following the guidelines set forth by Holy Scripture, not focusing on the frauds to the extent we ignore complying with the truth ourselves.

True, tongues is not our focus rather it is the Holy Spirit producing the compliance to the Word of God. Without Him we will not nor cannot comply. The same Holy Spirit at work in I Cor 12-14 is the same Spirit who produces Regeneration in the elect's hearts. There is no exclusiveness, it does not matter if we are Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal or Charismatic it is the Spirit who gives and maintains life. We are in as much need of the spiritual gifts today as the first century. Spirit and Word produces lively hearts.

I do understand what you said about Presbyterian exclusiveness. I went to a very prestigious conservative Presby Church and the treatment I received when I slipped and said I had been a Pentecostal was insulting. With uplifted eyes they replied "well, that explains that" My inquiries were just too elementary! I seriously wanted to learn about their perspective but I just received a condescending reply.

We all err in our lack of love and that, my brother, indicates our need of the Holy Spirit! Love is a supernatural endowment.

Charles

Anonymous said...

What does Ravi Zacharias say about speakng in tongues?

pregador27 said...

I am not sure. If you really want to know, check out the link to his ministry and do a search there. If you cannot find it let me know and I will try to find something for you.

Unknown said...

Great article!

KJC said...

Thank you for this article. My biggest frustration with tongues is that those I have met who use tongues try to tell you that you don't have the Holy Spirit if you don't have tongues, and that your prayers have no power. I have never had tongues, but I know the Holy Spirit lives in me. I also know that God hears my prayers. I agree with you that this topic is devisive. But it has also sent me to search the scriptures to find out who God really is, and for that I am thankful. God can bring good out of those things that are destructive.