Last week, I made a defense for speaking in tongues as valid evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Today, I will address one or two issues that bother me about the charismatic church culture of Glossolalia and hopefully get some of us to think through them again.
My spiritual heritage included a strong emphasis on speaking in tongues by my pastor. We met every Friday night for all-night prayer meetings(10 pm to 6 am) only interjected by 30 minutes of singing as a break between 3-3.30 am. We prayed non-stop, and for some of us who were too burdened to take a break, we prayed through the 30 minutes break also. However, we were taught to articulate prayer points and ensure they were bible based. We were supposed to speak in tongues after articulating our prayer in the English language. It bothers me today when I notice most Pentecostal prayer meetings do not give regard to the proper articulation of prayer in the everyday language before speaking in tongues.
According to Paul the Apostle, the person speaking in tongues does not understand what he is himself saying (1 Corinthians 14.14). His conclusion, therefore, is to pray both in the spirit (tongues) and in the understanding (English or other known languages). Tongues allow me to pray beyond the limits of my understanding of what to pray for and how to pray (Romans 8.26). However, it is beyond the realm of my control and does guarantee that I pray for what I know to pray for. In many public prayer meetings, therefore, I have observed that as soon as a prayer point is raised, everyone starts praying in tongues. Unhelpful at this point is the prayer ‘backups’ holding microphones to support the service leader who starts speaking in tongues immediately after a prayer point. What is the guarantee that we are praying for the points raised? For a productive, result-oriented prayer life, we must pray in the spirit and pray in the understanding also (1 Corinthians 14.15). I think of outstanding men of prayer like Charles G Finney, EM Bounds, William Brainerd, and others who never spoke in tongues but accomplished remarkable exploits. They convince me that praying in understanding is also endowed with enormous possibilities that should not be discarded because of the miracles of Glossolalia.
The second concern I have is the inability to decipher between the use of tongues in a ‘believers meeting’ and an evangelistic or weekend service that unbelievers are likely to attend. Large churches have scores and at times hundreds of people who cannot speak in tongues and yet some churches do not understand that the service leader ought to lead mostly in a known language according to the Word.
“It’s the same for you. If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space.” 1 Corinthians 14:9 NLT
The entire chapter is devoted to the regulation of the exercise of spiritual gifts, especially Glossolalia. The summary of it which was a discussion that had begun in chapter 12 was that ‘Love’ should be our motive in the exercise of spiritual gifts and ‘Edification’ is the demonstration of that love. Tongues edify the speaker except he interprets for the public good (1 Corinthians 14.3). Where a public speaker speaks in tongues, another must interpret, otherwise, he should pray for that ability himself (1 Corinthians 14.13). Pastors need to be sensitive in organizing prayer meetings and ensure Edification and Orderliness in their conduct so everyone can be carried along and none left feeling awkward, ashamed, uncomfortable, or outrightly ostracized in our prayer meetings.
“I thank God that I speak in tongues more than any of you. But in a church meeting, I would rather speak five understandable words to help others than ten thousand words in an unknown language.” 1 Corinthians 14:18-19 NLT
I remember with nostalgia the regular occurrences of tongues and interpretation of tongues in various charismatic meetings when I was a young Christian. Such practices have become rare in our services. While I acknowledge the pressure on time in our days, I believe a room should be made for such in small group meetings. Large gatherings should also make room for such occasions. If in the wisdom of God he has endowed the church with spiritual gifts, we must allow their manifestations and demonstrations in our midst. We rob ourselves of lots of edification, exhortation, comfort, and miracles when we ‘quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5.19).
We must not stop speaking in tongues but rather do much more in private, feel free to do more in believers’ meetings where we all speak in tongues, but lead primarily in understanding in large and public prayer meetings that include others who cannot speak in tongues.
Finally, I believe where there is a genuine move of God, there is no need to resort to practices like telling people to repeat certain words after us and deem them as tongues when ministering the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Nobody taught the disciples of Jesus to speak in tongues in Acts 2.1-4 nor teach the gentiles in the house of Cornelius in Acts 10.44-46. Not all gibberish is inspired by the Holy Spirit and that is why many who speak in tongues lack power in their spiritual lives. If their experiences were genuine, they will change their lives and supernaturally energize their ministries. The Spirit of God has been with the church since Pentecost to empower us. As we believe in genuine encounters with Him, spiritual things will no longer be a struggle. May greater times of refreshing come upon us from the presence of the Lord.