Continuing my discussion from my last post (months ago).
Tongues as supernatural fluency in an unknown language.
This is not clearly evident anywhere in the the Bible, and so far as I know, no one claims it today. I don’t think it bears further discussion.
Speaking in a language not directly intelligible to men but given by the Holy Spirit.
The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were astounded that the gift of the holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles also, for they could hear them speaking in tongues and glorifying God. Then Peter responded, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the holy Spirit even as we have?” Acts 10:45-47 New American Bible (Revised Edition)
When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid [his] hands on them, the holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. Acts 19:5-6
These are crucial passages for one reason: it was a direct sign from God that the Gospel was for the Gentiles as well as the Jews. The sign was the reception of the Holy Spirit, the outward evidence of which was speaking in tongues. So much of Acts and of Paul’s writings deal with Jesus’ role as Redeemer of all mankind, not solely the Jewish messiah.
A great deal of importance is placed on these verses in Pentecostal churches. Being filled with the Spirit is crucial, but it is assumed that there must be some evidence of having received the Holy Spirit. So a spirit-filled believer is expected to speak in tongues. The verses don’t imply one way or the other if speaking in tongues is to become persistent evidence or only initial evidence.
The problem for me is that nothing in Scripture supports the idea that speaking in tongues is normative. Quite the opposite.
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? – 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 NIV
This is Paul’s discourse on the gifts (charisms) of the Spirit. It’s pretty evident to me that there are a variety of gifts given to a variety of believers, and that no one gift is shared by all. It’s a rhetorical way of stating the opposite. For instance, if I say “Does everyone own a Ford?” I am really saying that not everyone does. When this was written, it appears that those who spoke in tongues did so for the edification of the Church since their utterances needed to be interpreted. 1 Corinthians 14 (I will not quote it all here) makes it very clear that prophecy is more greatly valued than tongues, and they only insofar as they are interpreted. The superiority of teaching over tongues is driven home repeatedly in this chapter.
What then? Are tongues useless? Certainly not, especially if a believer feels that God has graced them with that gift. But I am convinced that they are in no way normative. This brings me to my real criticism.
Pentecostal churches generally use the term “full Gospel” or “Spirit-filled” to differentiate themselves from non-Pentecostal churches. It is a not-so-subtle way of saying that those who do not embrace speaking in tongues have less than a full Gospel. How is that possible? Consider that Jesus never once spoke on the subject. Nowhere is He described as speaking in tongues. He did not even promise the disciples that they would speak in tongues, only that the Spirit would be given to them and that they would be witnesses throughout the world. I am of the firm conviction that Pentecostalism can in fact be a roadblock to salvation for someone put off by this insistence on one and only one “proof” of being Spirit-filled. If you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God made flesh, that He suffered and died to procure your salvation, and that the gifts of the Spirit are the birthright of all believers, then you are filled with his Spirit and you need not prove that to anyone.