Saturday, July 27, 2013

On Speaking in Unknown Tongues

This will be a “first” for this blog, venturing beyond perhaps what could be called my “comfort zone” in topics that I feel prepared to discuss. However, the issue of speaking in unknown languages (or tongues as the Authorized Version would say) is somewhat of an issue in my personal sphere of interaction. We know that speaking in tongues is Scriptural for it is mentioned in many places (for a brief example: Mark xvi, 17; Acts xix, 6; x, 44-46), however, there are many issues in determining what that means and if it is still to be practiced today. I intend to do two things with this piece. First, I would like to offer my opinion on the matter of speaking in tongues, what I understand that to mean, and the nature of its practice today. Secondly, I wish to critique the manner in which I have seen what is often termed “glossolalia” practiced today. The issue of understanding the language of prayer is a crucial one for us as Anglicans. I will presume many things to be true, which I personally do not believe to be the case.

I don’t intend to discuss the issue of glossolalia versus xenoglossia in this post, although, I will offer my opinion briefly. I think the issue of the precise nature of “speaking in tongues” as contained in Scripture is defined in Acts ii, 4-11. I will post the text for ease of discussion:

Acts ii, 4-11
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?
And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,
10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,
11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
The portion that I have underlined is the central idea of the text. In it, we see the multitudes of nations, represented by the Jews assembled in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. The disciples were speaking either Aramaic or Greek (whichever was more natural to them, obviously) and the crowd heard the Gospel presented each in his own language. For some reason, modern proponents of glossolalia do not see this as more extraordinary than babbling strange syllables. I think xenoglossia is more miraculous an occurrence than glossolalia. However, this is really besides the point and only a brief description of my point of view on the matter.

While on the matter, I would fall probably within the “moderate cessationist” category on the subject. The extraordinary gifts were given to the apostles to proclaim the Gospel before the Scriptures were completed. This is how I would interpret this part of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians:
I Corinthians xiii, 8-108 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
These gifts were to help spread the Gospel by demonstrating the work of the Spirit in the early Church. I think that the Spirit demonstrates these gifts in places today where the Gospel has not been heard before in the same manner (perhaps before the Scriptures can be translated into the native language of those people). I personally think glossolalia distracts people from the Word of God and I’m not truly convinced that it is even an acceptable interpretation of what “speaking in tongues” is. The Book of Homilies offers an interesting perspective on the matter:
“For, if prayer be that devotion of the mind which enforceth the heart to lift up itself to God, how should it be said that that person prayeth that understandeth not the words that his tongue speaketh in prayer? Yea, how can it be said that he speaketh?” (“Of Common Prayer and Sacraments”).
It must be stated that the immediate context for that period would have been the issue of praying in Latin instead of a language understood by the pray-er. However, I think the underlying principles are equally applicable. Prayer is the lifting up of our minds unto God. If we do not understand the words which we utter, how can we truly be said to be praying?

I found that Irenaeus tends to agree with xenoglossia:
In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God. (Irenaeus, c. 180)
And that glossolalia was condemned by Eusebius:
He became possessed of a spirit, and suddenly began to rave in a kind of ecstatic trance, and to babble in a jargon, prophesying in a manner contrary to the custom of the Church which had been handed down by tradition from the earliest times. (Eusebius, d.c. 339)
Augustine also agrees with xenoglossia:
In the earliest times, "the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed: and they spake with tongues", which they had not learned, "as the Spirit gave them utterance". These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues, to shew that the Gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening, and it passed away. In the laying on of hands now, that persons may receive the Holy Ghost, do we look that they should speak with tongues? Or when he laid the hand on infants, did each one of you look to see whether they would speak with tongues, and, when he saw that they did not speak with tongues, was any of you so strong-minded as to say, These have not received the Holy Ghost; for, had they received, they would speak with tongues as was the case in those times? If then the witness of the presence of the Holy Ghost be not given through these miracles, by what is it given, by what does one get to know that he has received the Holy Ghost? Let him question his own heart. If he love his brother, the Spirit of God dwelleth in him. (Augustine of Hippo, 354–430)
I did not research thoroughly the interpretation of tongues in the early Church, perhaps a reader can point to more sources.

Whatever the exact meaning of speaking in tongues is and if that is even a possibility today is beyond the question for this post. I am going to presume that cessationism is not true (although I do not actually believe this as stated above). The second issue that I intend to discuss in this piece is the practice of glossolalia, which I believe to be abused frequently at the sake of Common Prayer and against the teachings of Scripture.

Firstly, the Articles of Religion must be consulted, for Article XXIV has some important remarks on this subject:
 XXIV. Of Speaking in the Congregation in such a Tongue as the people understandeth.
It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church to have public Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments, in a tongue not understanded of the people.
This can be proved from God’s Word. Firstly, speaking in tongues is mentioned in conjunction with the interpretation of tongues in Scripture, for example:
I Corinthians xii, 3-4, 10-11
Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.
The only portion of Scripture that could be used to support glossolalia (in my opinion) is Paul’s treatment of tongues and prophecy in I Corinthians xiv. The context of this passage is immediately after Paul’s famous “love chapter” that has been referenced earlier in this piece. In fact, the first verse of the chapter exhorts readers to “Follow after charity” in addition to desiring the spiritual gifts. Paul seems to value prophecy of more importance than tongues because those who prophesy build up the entire body of the church, while the one who speaks in tongues only exhorts himself and speaks only to God, unless there is an interpretation of his tongues. Paul relates this to the principle of Common Prayer by referencing a battle trumpet, if it plays sounds that no one recognizes, what purpose is it? In our public life together, the language of prayer must be one that everyone can understand. It must be an exhortation to all to turn to God in Christ alone for salvation. “Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me” (v.11). The purpose of Common Prayer is that we all give a common assent, “Amen”, but, how can we do this if we do not understand that which is said? As Paul says, “Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?” (v. 16).

Luckily, Paul gives us some suggestions on how to proceed forward with the speaking of tongues in public worship. First, the person who speaks in tongues should pray for interpretation (v. 13). However, if there is no interpretation given, then the person should only speak in tongues privately and silently. This falls back on the purpose of the giving of the gifts, as Paul states:
22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.
23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?
This brings us back to the main point that we were given gifts, that is to proclaim the Gospel. The gift of tongues was not given as some sort of private ecstasy for Christian believers but as a means of preaching the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. To misuse the gift is to be a bad steward of God’s good blessings. I doubt anyone would want to misuse God’s blessings given to his Bride.

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