Friday, August 28, 2009

On Speaking in Tongues: A Response

This post is a response to a blog by a well-known author whom I greatly respect, and whose blog I very much like to follow. The post I am responding to does not change that. Karen Hancock is, in my opinion, a very insightful blogger and a tremendously talented Christian fiction author. The post to which I am responding can be found at this link: http://karenhancock.wordpress.com/2009/08/24/opposition/. In this posting, Ms. Hancock opposes the idea that speaking in tongues is a gift of the Spirit for the Church today.

First off, it seems from her description that (hopefully) well-meaning individuals attempted to "force" Ms. Hancock to accept speaking in tongues as legitimate and to seek this gift for herself. The Holy Spirit is a Gentleman; therefore, if tongues are of God, then they should not and cannot be forced on anyone. I believe these people's efforts were out of line and did not represent a rational view of those who believe speaking in tongues to be valid. I would like to attempt to do so here, without trying to persuade Ms. Hancock that she is wrong - I simply wish to demonstrate that 1) not all who believe in speaking in tongues are snake-handlers and/or irrational and uneducated lunatics, and 2) those who believe in speaking in tongues today do have a biblical basis for their belief. It all depends on one's interpretation of certain Scriptures.

If I had to guess which Scriptures Ms. Hancock referred to when she spoke of "extensive scriptural evidence" that tongues are not for today, I would say the key verse would be found in 1 Corinthians 13:8, which says, "Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away" (NASB). According to this verse, if tongues have ceased, then so has knowledge.

We should also note that this chapter is located between two chapters (1 Corinthians 12 and 14) that give instruction on operating in spiritual gifts, and chapter 12 closes with "...earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way." Then the author, Paul, goes into an exhortation on love, and how everything is vain and meaningless without it. One might argue that Paul was saying the gifts of chapter 12 are not really necessary if one has love; but I would ask why he picked back up with his spiritual gifts instruction in chapter 14? Also, in chapter 14 verse 18 he said, "I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all." He obviously believed the gifts to be effectual and needed. He also believed they should be exercised in an orderly manner so that they could be effectual.

Ms. Hancock also made a comment about the orderly manner in which tongues and interpretation were to be exercised. She said one lady "offered to give the interpretation [of a message that same lady had just given in tongues] (in violation of protocol set up in the NT - it was supposed to be someone else who did that...." However, this is a mistaken understanding of the protocol. Paul in fact said, "Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret" (1 Corinthians 14:13). Not everyone who gives a message in tongues interprets that message - sometimes it is done by someone else; but it can be done (scripturally) by the person who gave the message in tongues.

One more thing in Ms. Hancock's post that I would like to respond to is that another lady told her that what tongues "did for her" was make her certain that she was saved. This is not the purpose of tongues. Neither should a person seek what Pentecostals and charismatics refer to as "the baptism in the Holy Spirit" just so they can speak in tongues. Tongues is the initial physical evidence that one has received that baptism. It is, of course, also more than that; and there are at least two different types of speaking in tongues (public and private), which both serve other purposes. I may post a separate blog on these purposes. But the purpose of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is not to speak in other tongues; that is just a gift. The purpose of the baptism (which is comparable to an "overflowing" baptism in water) is power and boldness for witness, as declared in Acts 1:8 and demonstrated throughout the Book of Acts whenever anyone received the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

[I would recommend a book to anyone who wants to know more, from an academic view about why Pentecostals believe speaking in tongues to always be the initial physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. It is an examination of the five instances in Acts where the Spirit is poured out on people, and - bonus - it is only 65 pages long! It is Baptism in the Holy Spirit by Anthony D. Palma, and published by Gospel Publishing House.]

1 Corinthians 14:33 says, "for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints." Oftentimes confusion comes in when people do not understand the workings of the Holy Spirit - by this I mean those who operate in the gifts of the Spirit (which is why they should always seek to grow in understanding, and why others should afford them grace while they learn); and also by those who are not familiar with the working of these gifts. But any true working of the Holy Spirit should be welcome by Christians who wish to receive all He wishes to give. My final statement is that a person is no less a Christian because he or she does or does not speak in tongues.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pain and Suffering and God

On July 24th I found out my 17-year-old sister, Sarah, has cancer. Shocking, horrible news. But I did not lose faith. My God is Healer; He is Faithful and Good. He remains these things whether or not He heals my sister. (However, we did get a little bit of good news after that - the kind of cancer she has is treatable with chemo even at this stage, and there is a good chance that the chemo will take care of everything.)

No, I did not lose my faith and confidence in God. But I did let myself get a somewhat grim outlook on life.

I began to think back on some things from earlier in my life. I have already lost a sibling to death, 11 years ago. A year before that, another little brother got his foot run over with a lawnmower while I was babysitting. Two years before that, the same brother burned our house down while I was babysitting.

Destruction. Divorce. Disease. Death.

I too often contemplate the meaning (or seeming lack thereof) of life; so all this dwelling on the hard things caused me to be even more negative - I couldn't understand why everyone wants to bring children into such a horrible world where they will suffer and hurt and then, eventually, die.

Last week I got to attend family camp in Ohio. Our morning speaker, Rev. Pat Wilson of Madisonville, Kentucky, spoke the first morning on how God created the universe, and how Jesus was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8)...he spoke on a lot of very profound things, but those things were a reminder to me and helped me to redirect my thoughts to a more balanced viewpoint.

God IS Good. God created everything and every human. He has good plans for and goodwill toward us (Jeremiah 29:11). Pain is not what God wants for us.

But He knew we would experience it. He knew we would fall from grace and choose our own way over His. He prepared for it and planned for Jesus to shed His blood for our redemption. He knew that sin and evil bring pain and suffering, and that we all would be afflicted because of the collective bad choices of humankind.

And He created us anyway.

Romans 8:28 tells us that God works all things together for good for those who love and obey Him. Pain and suffering are definitely present, and everyone experiences it. God blesses both the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45); likewise, both "good" and "bad" people experience heartache and trouble, too. But pain and suffering do not change the fact that God's plans for us are good; and they do not affect His ability to work all things for our good.

God knew we would suffer. But He put us here anyway. And God is good, and so is His plan for us. This tells me that, even though I will hurt and I will suffer...it's going to be okay. God will redeem my pain and sorrow and use them for my good - somehow - and, whether things go the way I expect or not, everything is going to be okay. My good God is still in control.