Saturday, May 16, 2009

Pastors, Are Tongues for Today?

By: Rev. Dr. Brian Wells

The New Testament record and the witness of the earliest Christians who were the immediate generations that flowed the Apostolic Era are unanimous in asserting that tongues and the other sign gifts would and did cease. So since the biblical gift of tongues ceased somewhere in the first century, what is this that is going on in so many churches?

What is the source of this phenomenon that is created such a fuss? Let us say that our critique is not as harsh as those who arrive at the conclusion that it is satanic or demonic.

Can Satan counterfeit that which comes truly comes from God? I think you have to say yes in light of passages like 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing.” The evil one certainly has counterfeiting power, and divisive things can surely serve his purpose, but it is our understanding that we are dealing with a different source.

There is a psychological phenomenon known as glossalalia. In moments of intense emotional environments and situations, people can experience speaking in an ecstatic speech which makes no logical or linguistic sense. The experience is well documented in all, but not limited to, religious traditions. Certainly religious worship can generate the full spectrum of emotional intensities. In such situations people can experience the common human psychological phenomena known as glossalalia.

Like dreaming, glossalalia comes from a very human source. It’s not the Holy Spirit, it’s the human mind or spirit in its non-rational expression. Those who have this experience all affirm how good it felt and how their stress was greatly relieved. Psychologists have done much study on the experience and they find it be another way in which the human body works to maintain its own emotional well being. So then, modern glossalalia is natural, not supernatural much like the natural human phenomenon of dreaming. No one is denying that tongue-speakers are having a real experience. What we deny is the significance that they grant to this experience. When someone has this experience, do they feel good? Yes! When someone has this experience, is their stress lessened? Yes! When someone has this experience, is God speaking through them? No! When someone has this experience, are they speaking to God is type of divine or angel language? No!

It’s important to understand why people feel so motivated to have an experience like this. It’s a reminder to us about the stresses we live under from day-to-day; those we take upon ourselves; and those that are put on us by others. In this case, we’re talking about the pressure to have a religious experience identical to someone else’s. People have a need to be accepted and validated by God and the community that claims to believe in God. But beyond validation is the selfish desire to have something that some people to have; a type of one-upmanship. We have seen an arrogance in these circles that reflects this rather unwholesome attitude. This is not to say that you cannot find sincere Christians in the same circle doing the best they can to do God’s will. And, neither is it to say that everyone in our Baptist circles is exemplary in their Christianity.

It is to say that this article will not change what goes on in churches that believe the speaking in tongues is for today. Neither is it offered to suggest that such churches are not Christian because they are! We can and should build partnerships with other churches to make in difference within our respective communities on issues of common value. We all reserve the right to disagree agreeably about matters of faith and practice on which we differ. Our motivation is found in presenting what we as Baptists believe historically on this issue and to declare what the Bible teaches on this subject. We have great respect for the heritage of Pentecostalism, Full-Gospel Churches, Holiness Churches, and recently Non-denominational Churches. Our goal is basically to speak the truth about a subject that is generating many questions in Christian existence, and to answer such questions.

As we seek to both know and do the truth by way of summary let’s affirm several things: First, the gift of tongues was an authenticating sign that verified the authority and message of the Christ’s 12 apostles; Second, in the Early Church tongues continued as such a sign and seems to have had both revelatory and devotional qualities; Third, the biblical gift of tongues ceased after the God gave his complete Word in the Holy Scriptures; Fourth, the cessation of tongues is verified by the generation of Church leaders that immediately followed the apostles in the first-century; Fifth, modern glossalalia is a psychological phenomena that has no greater significance than dreaming; Sixth, modern Christians should not seek the experience because it is not the biblical gift; Seventh, modern Christians should strive to pray in understandable language and to use their giftedness to build other Christians up.

Rev. Dr. Brian Wells is Senior Pastor, Westwood Presybeterian Church, Louisville, Kentucky; Dean of Academic Affairs, Simmons College of Kentucky; Former Dean of the Mark Brashers School of Advanced Theological Studies, St. Stephen Church, Louisville.


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