Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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Speaking in Tongues Today

The phenomenon of “tongue speaking” is widespread among the various denominations in our time. Adherents can be found in just about every sect, including Catholicism, and one writer rightly observed, “Instead of glossolalia (tongue speaking) being interpreted as a sign from heaven, it could more appropriately be interpreted as a sign of the times.” (1) A common aspect of denominational religious experience is a rejection of an external standard of truth. Phrases such as “I know in my heart I am saved”; and “All that matters is sincerity”; and “I have had an experience better felt than told”; have replaced the sentiment “What does the Bible say?” The Charismatic practice of “tongue speaking” naturally dovetails with this experiential profession of faith.

However, the concept of Bible authority for our religious practice is a valid one. In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus clearly indicates that sincerity and inner conviction are not sufficient to guarantee for us His acceptance. Our practice must be within the law of Christ to be acceptable to Him.

Therefore, it is only proper that the present day practice of tongue speaking be examined in light of what is revealed in the Bible. When that is done, it becomes evident that the practice does not find its origin with the Holy Spirit.

A Contrast of the Ancient Practice with the Present Practice

No Bible believer denies the existence of tongue speaking in New Testament times. However, the modern day practice of tongue speaking differs in very important ways from the ancient, God-given gift. Jimmy Jividen, author of Glossolalia: from God or man?, states six of these differences (2), which I will quickly summarize:

  1. The New Testament gift was the gift of foreign language (Acts 2:8). The present phenomenon is nothing more than ecstatic utterances.
  2. The New Testament gift was to be used to edify the church (1 Corinthians 14:5). The present phenomenon is claimed for personal elation and private devotion.
  3. The New Testament gift was received either through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, or the laying on of the apostles’ hands. In the case of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, there are only two, very unique instances of this happening in scripture. First, the establishment of the Lord’s church, (Acts 2:1-4). Second, the acceptance of Gentiles into the church, (Acts 11:15). It is contrary to scripture to claim such a measure for every Christian. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is not a component of the individual redemption of each man. As for the laying on of the apostles’ hands, that is obviously not available for the believer today. In contrast, the present phenomenon is received by individuals who have an intense personal desire for the gift.
  4. The New Testament gift could be understood by men who know the language (Acts 2:8). In effect, the term tongue referred to an actual language. This is the meaning of the term in the original language. The present phenomenon is not understood by linguists.
  5. The purpose of the New Testament gift was to confirm new revelation (Acts 16-36; Hebrews 2:1-4). In contrast, the present phenomenon has no new revelation to confirm (Jude 3).
  6. The New Testament gift was temporary, and those who possessed it predicted its cessation (1 Corinthians 13:8). Those who practice it today claim that the experience is an abiding gift from God, and for Christians in all ages.

The above clearly show that whatever present day tongue speaking is, it is not even a distant relative to the gift possessed and practiced by Christians in the first century.

Paul’s Admonition of the Corinthians

There is, however, one parallel between modern day tongue speaking and the Bible gift. The modern day practice violates the principles Paul revealed in his admonition of the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 14. Some Corinthians had received the gift of tongues. Concerning the various gifts, Paul stated in chapter 12, verse 7, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.” However, some of these brethren were guilty of using this gift for personal aggrandizement, instead of the edification of all. As Paul stated in verses 4-5 of the 14th chapter, “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.” Further, Paul stated in verse 22, “Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.”

The modern day practice violates the principles laid down by Paul. Tongue speaking often is engaged in without benefit of interpretation. It is, therefore, for personal benefit instead of the edification of others. Regarding its use as a sign for unbelievers, you need only to request a command performance, with tape recorder in hand, to know that they are uninterested in using their “gift” as a witness to those without.

Conclusion

It is very difficult to convince a tongue speaker his gift is not of divine origin. He must first be convinced his personal experiences and emotional ecstasies are not from God unless they conform to scripture. My suggestion would be to engage in a thorough study of authority, and establish the Bible as the sole arbiter of truth, before approaching a tongue speaker about his practice. Only if he recognizes the limiting quality of revealed truth will the above material be effective in delivering him from that false practice.

  1. Glossolalia: from God or man? Jimmy Jividen, back cover.
  2. Ibid. pp. 57-58.

Article appeared initially in a special edition of Abundant Life magazine