So, my dear brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking in tongues. But be sure that everything is done properly and in order. (1 Corinthians 14:39-40)
Relate: Pretty much every major church father up through the fourth century did it. In the 5th century, St Patrick did it. Bede wrote about it in the 8th century. In the 10th and 11th centuries respectively, St Stephen and St Hildegarde were said to have done it. In the 12th century, the Albigensians did it as did Hildegard of Bingen. In the 13’th century we have St Dominic and in the 14th St Claire and Algelus Clarenus. Also in the 13th century, many early Franciscans were said to have done it. In the 16th century, it is said by some that both Martin Luther and Francis Xavier did it but I am not convinced in either case. What is without question is that many of the Moravians of this time, as well as many Anabaptists (early Mennonites), did it. The Polish Brethren, Camisards, Shakers, Quakers, and Ranters in the 17th century did it. In the 18th century, John Wesley said that he did not but that many of his contemporaries did it. The same can be said of Edward Irving who saw many in his church doing it. Charles Finney possibly did it, but many, many impacted by his preaching and teaching certainly did. From the mid 19th century onward instances of it seem to be more and more common and then from Azusa St to our modern day, it has been common around the world.
What is the “it” I am speaking of? Speaking in tongues. Many will say that it “ceased” in the church after the apostolic age or the closing of the canon of scripture, but even a cursory glance at history shows that it has been used (and misused) down through time. The reason we have more and more historical evidence for it as we get closer to our own time is simply that we have more historical evidence for pretty much everything the closer we get to the present day. Even in the portion of scripture where Paul is most critical of its misuse, he also says that speaking in tongues is of some value and that he speaks in tongues “more than all of you”. I won’t dare go so far as to say the same, but it is a vital part of my daily prayer time.
React: This has taken me a very long time to get to this point. There have probably been more starts, stops, and restarts on this next segment than anything I have written in a long, long time. I understand that this can be a sticky and divisive subject and I want to do my best to balance truth with love. I feel led to bring correction to two different extremes on this issue and if you reading this fall under either of those extremes, I apologize in advance for any perceived attack. Please understand that there is no attack, there is simply me doing my best to be obedient to the truth of scripture and the leading of the Spirit.
On the one side, there are those who would try to forbid any and all speaking in tongues. Based on a faulty cessationist doctrine and a genuine desire to avoid abuse from those who have claimed to speak in tongues while clearly not being of God (like some early anabaptist splinter groups, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormons), they have gone too far in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. While scripture very clearly says point blank, “do not forbid speaking in tongues” they have built doctrines and written works doing exactly that. They have sinned. This includes many people who clearly love God with all their heart and whom I have the deepest respect for like the three Johns. (John Calvin, Johnathan Edwards, John MacArthur) We all sin in many ways and this is one of theirs.
On the other side, there are those who claim to speak in tongues and yet are not doing the very thing it is for. Acts 1 makes it very clear that the baptism in the Spirit is so that we might receive power to be witnesses. If someone claims to speak in tongues but cannot remember the last time they have effectively shared their faith, then I would seriously question that claim. At best it is like someone who works out for an hour every morning but then spends all day sitting behind a desk and all night sitting on the couch eating pizza and watching TV. What is the point of building muscles you never put to use? They are all show and have no practical purpose. If someone claims to speak in tongues but is never actually sharing their faith, more likely they are not speaking in tongues but rather babbling vain repetitions that are condemned in prayer by Jesus. (Matthew 6:7)
Yes, speaking in tongues is of some value and like all the spiritual gifts it is something we should all seek to do for the edification of the church. It serves a purpose, but that purpose is not simply to build up some “spiritual muscles” so that we might look and feel good about ourselves. If His name isn’t being made holy, if His kingdom isn’t coming and if His will isn’t being done then it certainly isn’t of God.
I pray that when I pray in the Spirit, it would only be You praying through me with groans that words cannot express. My friends, my neighbors, and my coworkers are desperate for You and I do not have the words necessary to reach them where they have need. Without Your power, I am powerless. Even more, without Your love, I am only a clanging cymbal. Give me the power to be an effective witness. Give me the love that I will not sleep easy until they have truly come to know You. Let Your Kingdom come and Your will be done through my life here on earth as it is in heaven.