Monday, April 22, 2013

Some Views on Glossolalia & Prayer Language

The following post was originally written in 2009 for an assignment in a Theology class for seminary, it has been slighted altered for its posting on here.

Recently I have had some discussions that revolved around the gift of tongues and their proper use within the present day. I have close friends and family who are all over the place in regards to their proper view of tongues, if they are still relevant today, how private they should be, interpretation or no interpretation, etc. The purpose of this brief look at the gift of tongues is in regards to how some groups, specifically mission sending agencies have gotten their view of the gift of tongues out of balance. There is a clear example of this by simply looking at the two largest missions sending denominations, the Assemblies of God and the Southern Baptist (Great Commission Baptist). In order to do international missions with the one you have to speak in tongues, to do international missions with the other you are forbidden from speaking in tongues. In my opinion, neither view is biblical. 

The particular policy that I want to look at has recognizable strengths and weaknesses throughout the guideline. But without revealing too much, this particular policy put in place by a large sending agency disqualifies individuals who practice the gift of tongues in any form. 

The immediate strength of this particular policy is recognition that the New Testament does refer to the gift of glossolalia, which is considered a legitimate language (Acts 2:8-11; 1 Cor. 12:10; 1 Cor. 14). Out of this initial strength this policy moves into a weakness because upon recognition of glossolalia as a gift, it is listed that it “had” specific uses and conditions for its exercise in public worship. I have a general agreement with the statement initially, but by adding the word “had” in the statement, this policy immediately disqualifies the possibility of glossolalia being used to fit the previous definition in the future. The third part of the policy is also a weakness, because the definitions are vague and if a candidate for this mission agency lines up on every other policy and guideline, but falls slightly outside on this one than they have been disqualified immediately.

A policy such as this one could/should fall into areas of secondary and tertiary issues depending on the degree of use, but many groups and denominations are making it a primary issue. By making an issue such as tongues and prayer language a primary issue, one is immediately cut off from associating with many groups of Christians. If groups instead chose to make it a secondary issue then there would still be some resistance and caution, understandably so, but with an open heart and mind to take each individual case and person on a biblical basis. And if it were to be a tertiary issue then there would probably still be a policy on the use of the gift, but it would not disqualify every potential candidate immediately on the basis of some form of the gift.
This section is broken into four parts. The first part is strength because it is correct that Scripture must test any spiritual experience. The second part is a weakness because Scripture clearly teaches in 1 Corinthians 14:2, which says, “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” (ESV). Now, this passage does go on to refer to the need of an interpretation for the purpose of understanding and edification in public group settings, but many groups only refer to the latter half of this Corinthians passage. The third part of this section is strength, primarily because there is a large amount of agreement of not being convinced that ecstatic utterance as a prayer language is valid, although I, like some, am open to that idea upon the basis of it being a person alone by themselves in prayer to God, whereas many would disagree with me. Based on my own definition, there is reason that a person should not be disqualified from being a representative of a denomination based on this, many see it a different way, which is a weakness because they have taken this idea of a prayer language and put it into a box with a tightly closed lid on it. I agree with Dr. Daniel Akin of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary here when he says, "A private prayer language is private, therefore, we should not ask others about it, but leave it as private."
The third section of this policy is the application section that is broken down into two parts. The first part is weak because it basically asserts that this is where this group stands and their stance is not retroactive. This reveals their satisfaction with what they have developed regardless if they were rebuked in love on any of the particulars within the policy. The second part is a strength because although listed as retroactive, this part allows for exceptions, which must be reviewed by the staff and Mission Personnel Committee. Although curiosity exist as to how many exceptions there have been since this policy came out and a to the result decided by the staff and Mission Personnel. In my opinion, none or there are closest-tongue speakers within this group.
It is understandable that large organizations, including mission organizations, have a need to incorporate policies and guidelines, as they grow larger. This is why there is not a problem with having a guideline on tongues and a prayer language within itself. There is a specific purpose for guidelines such as this one as they are necessary.
There is however a problem with this specific guideline in how it is defined and implemented. The strengths and weaknesses of this guideline have been recognized throughout and overall there is dissatisfaction in this one and it is viewed as very weak. The gift of tongues and prayer language is something that has been of personal study in the last five years of my life. Initially I would like to read a policy like this one and be fully supportive, but I cannot when I really start to assess the strengths and weaknesses. I view a policy like this lazy because it is an easy way not to have to deal with a difficult issue. In some ways I cannot blame this organization, but I believe that there could be such a stronger, biblical approach to an issue like this one. This group even says, “Any spiritual experience must be tested by Scripture”, but I do not view this policy as testing things with Scripture. This is more of lets take the parts of Scripture that agree with what we want it to say on tongues and prayer language and leave it at that.
Unfortunately there are many policies and guidelines such as this one being implemented by entire denominations and mission sending agencies that are turning into legalism. As a result many pastors, churches, and individuals are deciding to send their funds elsewhere to do things on their own in a biblical way and it is hard to blame them. My prayer is that these agencies and denominations would continue to be used by God for years to come and that there would be a focus on changing policies such as this one to fit a more biblical model, as to not cut off so many willing candidates who are called to reach the nations.     


  1. I won't doubt that sometimes people speak in another language that they don't know miraculously. I've seen this happen, and it's always beneficial when it happens.

    I also won't doubt that many people believe that they are speaking or interpreting in another language during the practice at some churches that we are more familiar with. I personally think this is most often a result of sociological fervor rather than the Spirit of God coming upon someone. However, I won't discount that something of the Holy Spirit might be happening.

    However, in reading the arguments that Paul is making in 1 Corinthians, I don't think he's talking about a particularly miraculous gift. Although Greek was the primary language of Corinth, the people were incredibly diverse and there were many different languages spoken there. This diversity was helping to generate some of the problems that the church there was having. I read Paul advocating for limiting the language used to that which most people spoke. That didn't mean that people who didn't speak the main language couldn't speak, but only that it wouldn't do any good unless they had an interpreter. In 13:1 or 14:2, I think Paul simply went a little hyperbolic. Throwing in important information (such as the way many often translate these passages) not found anywhere else in the scriptures would not fit Paul's argument here.

    Now, I could be wrong. So I'm willing to allow others to differ with me without much contest for the purpose of unity here. But I would press Paul's larger focus as a positive direction for this section of 1 Corinthians.

  2. Enjoyable article. Well balanced and articulate. I am glad that I personally do not have to adhere to either denomination's policies as both are too narrow for my liking. I have never understood the draw toward Cessationism. It seems to me like too many Evangelical denominations have talked themselves out of the better part of the New Testament. Speaking from experience, the power gifts are some of the most practical and utilitarian tools given to the Church for the fulfilling of the Great Commission. On the other hand I would agree with the previous comment that much of what takes place in many Pentecostal churches is the result of "sociological fervor", wherein what is often promoted (and defended) is nothing more than a cultural phenomenon, the outward expression of some sort of emotional ecstatic experience. Which in my view is nothing to be afraid of, but also not something to be held as necessarily spiritual.

  3. Thank you both for your feedback, I knew that this post would invoke feedback, but I wasn't sure what kind it would be. Obviously my cessastionist friends that have read the article are being shy and not saying anything. A few years ago this was a hot topic for me to study, discuss, and wrestle with, and I am thankful for the professor that assigned this to me as it help me wrestle further with my own conclusions. It still a much debated topic, but I have little time for the debate as I am pushing forward the mission in a place where some people speak in tongues and some people don't, but either way I will take both people on my team as we need all the help we can get.