Monday, October 05, 2009

The Gift of Tongues

Repost from my website which is going away.

Tongues: Distinguishing Revelation, Ecstatic Utterances, and a Foreign Language


A person receives the Holy Spirit when they place their trust in Christ as savior. The redeeming work of the Holy Spirit logically precedes a person's proclamation of faith. One cannot have true faith with out a transformed nature. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to the church for the mutual benefit of the body of Christ, should not create a disorderly worship atmosphere and should not subvert our mental capacities in favor of emotional ecstasy.

Human Experience

Social scientists and linguists have studied the phenomena of speaking in tongues. The modern tongues movement is not actually the speaking of a foreign language, as seen in Acts chapter 2, but an ecstatic utterance. People in almost every religion practice some form of ecstatic utterance and it is a common human experience. I have heard unbelievers practice ecstatic utterances for its entertainment value. Also, jazz music uses a form of ecstatic utterance called scat. These in no way point to the redeeming work of the Holy Spirit. I consider ecstatic utterances NOT to be a form of revelation but a form of human expression. It is a form of human expression that does not carry denotative content. Somewhat akin to non-objective art, like the paintings of Jackson Pollock, which do not carry an image of anything in particular and yet they are human expressions. I do not believe those who practice ecstatic utterances to be more spiritual than the rest of the church.

Corinthian Experience

The tongues, which caused problems in the church at Corinth and Paul addressed in his letter, were probably these ecstatic utterances (1 Corinthians 12-14). The ecstatic utterances practiced by the Corinthian believers may have had roots in religious practices of their former religions. Rather than out law ecstatic utterances, Paul points to the more excellent way; love and intelligent service.

Experiences Of Pain

Paul also addresses the issue of ecstatic utterances in Romans 8:22-23. In this passage he draws a comparison of groans of pain a woman has in childbirth and the inward groaning we experience, as we desire our adoption. Here Paul is not addressing an experience in public worship but expressing a private experience that burdens his heart. The comparison between pains of childbirth and inward groaning in prayer highlights the depth of feeling. It is not intended that we should encourage people to practice this inward groaning. No one has to instruct a woman in childbirth to feel the pain and respond, it comes naturally.


In summary, it is a common human experience to use exclamations and other forms of speech that do not carry denotative content that I describe as ecstatic utterances. The response of the church should be to not focus on this experience but rather focus on love and intelligent service.
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