Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. -- Romans 8:26 (ESV)
For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. -- 1Corinthians 14:2 (ESV)
This is the second in a two-part series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I am often asked if I am a cessationist because I speak against the abuses of the gifts within the charismatic church today. My answer is no. Cessationism is simply not supported by the canon of scripture, which I explained in the first part of this series. In that devotional I also went through the first seven gifts listed in 1Corinthians 12. I tried to explain what I see the bible says about these gifts versus how the church today is abusing the gifts. Some are easy to spot such as the fake faith healers and miracle pimps who rely on cheating and untruths to dupe you into following them. Another abused area that is easy to spot is prophecy, which has devolved into clairvoyance and parlor tricks in these end times. Other gifts such as faith and words of knowledge and wisdom may not be as obvious, but we addressed every one of them except the final two -- tongues and interpreting tongues. I saved these two because they would be more controversial than the others and part one had already ran long. So where do we begin? How about at the start?
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. -- Acts 2:5-6 (ESV)
These verses are of course from Pentecost, where Pentecostals get their name. While Charismatics love to focus on the tongues of fire portion, this context reveals what tongues were actually meant to be. There were devout men from every nation under heaven that day and all of them heard the apostles speak to them in their native language. No one was saying, "Shaka Baba!" There is simply no question that tongues originally were foreign languages. Up through the turn of the 20th century there were always reports of missionaries being able to speak to the indigenous people through the gift of foreign language tongues. As a spiritual gift, foreign languages makes sense.
Somewhere around the turn of the 20th century however, tongues started morphing into what we see today. An unintelligible utterance that brings no glory to God and is part of the Charismatic "look at me" spirit. This gives me no pleasure to say beloved as I was saved in a radical charismatic church. I learned the new tongues and was trained that this was a heavenly language of prayer. The more I read the bible however, the more I could not find any biblical justification for that stance. What is usually used to defend the gibberish tongue is the first key verse for today. The problem with that is this verse is not dealing with corporate worship. It is clearly dealing with prayer. When we travail in prayer we can find ourselves at the end of who we are, with nothing left to say before our infinite creator and that is when He will intercede for us through the Holy Spirit. I know this has happened to me. When you really stop to consider God. and not this dime store knock-off we see throughout Christianity, you can begin to understand. I do not want a buddy Jesus. I do not need a wing man. I need a Savior. Someone who can stand next to me on the day of judgment and extend me the mercy I do not deserve. If you really stop to consider that, do not be surprised if you rapidly approach the end of you. At that end, you find Him. Private prayer language is just that -- private. Some in their zeal to throw out the false tongues of today are quick to dismiss the private prayer language as well and that does not square with this key verse.
I want to be clear though. I am not advocating for the present public practice of tongues to merely be shifted into the privacy of our prayer life. The Holy Spirit interceding with groanings too deep for words indicates there should not be any words! Intelligible or otherwise. When Heidi Baker screams "Shaka Baba" we must admit that she is trying to say words but that the words she is saying do not exist. The lack of language eliminates them as the gift of tongues and the attempt to form words eliminates it as a prayer language. So, what is it? Let me tell you a story that might help us understand. Since I was saved in a Charismatic church, being slain in the spirit was simply an accepted doctrine. I always resisted it until one night, after the death of someone close to me, I went down in a heap at a local prayer service and I felt God minister to me. Fast forward several years and my bible reading led me to the conclusion that being slain in the spirit is not biblically supported. Hmm"now there's a conundrum. I have my own personal experience on the one hand and the surety of scripture on the other. What to do? I decided I must discard my personal experience in favor of the immutable word of God. I recognized that I was very emotional that night and I still believe God ministered to me but I was not slain by the Holy Spirit. I couldn't have been because the bible does not support such an encounter. Now apply this same rationale to tongues. I understand we all have had the experience of modern tongue speaking if we spent any time in the Charismatic Church but the bible demands we let go of our false beliefs and experiences beloved. The Charismatic Church is very good at passing off emotional experiences as spiritual ones. Think of a typical service! It is all designed to gin up emotions and demands an emotional response! The countdown nonsense to start service. The smoke machines and disco lighting. The unsubstantiated testimonies used as sermon illustrations. The manipulative piano playing during any altar call. A true move of the spirit however cannot violate God's word!
In my old church there were a small handful of people who understood this. They knew that if they had a word of prophecy from God that they did not need to babble before it. This word was always biblically consistent and not new revelation on top of scripture. Remember the bible is the final revealed will of God. He did not forget something that He now is imparting to us through some random itinerant self-proclaimed prophet. Prophecy, as all of the gifts, draw attention to God. He gets all of the glory. Walk into your average Charismatic Church however and what do you get? Worship songs that are about self instead of God. I am a friend of God? Better make sure of that. During this self-worship there is inevitably a dance team in fluorescent clothing screaming look at me! Then the flaggers come out screaming no! Look at me! Then the person saying the opening prayer lapses between English and babble because he wants everyone to look at him and see how deeply spiritual he is. Without an interpreter I might add which completely violates scripture. The offering is not about Calvary and what Christ has done for us. No, it is about a quid pro-quo. Give me your money and I will bless your socks off -- again about you. The purpose driven church teaches pastors to preach to the carnal needs of the congregation so the sermon is about us as well. Maybe in the middle of this someone will start shouting gibberish because it is time to look at him or her. Once again, no interpreter forcing the speaker to interpret her own word if at all. It is always very generic and benevolent. Something that generates amens, which are akin to Facebook likes for a Pentecostal. So, the modern version of tongues is a perfect fit for the showy spirit that permeates the church services we create. This brings us to another common defense for unintelligible tongues, which is our second key verse listed above. Surely uttering mysteries infers that the tongue is unknown! Ehh, not quite when you consider the entire context: