Monday, February 1, 2016

I Don’t Speak In Tongues, Am I A Christian?

            There are essential and fringe doctrines in Christianity. According to Dr. Norman Geisler, essential doctrines should be connected to our salvation and its connection to our salvation must be crucial, for without that connection, our salvation should be impossible.1 Fringe doctrines are not connected to our salvation.

            We can agree to disagree on the fringe doctrines. But we cannot compromise on the essential doctrines.

            This is not as simple as it appears to be. The complication arises if and when fringe doctrines are interpreted as essential.

            Speaking in tongues (glossolalia) is considered as a fringe doctrine by some Christian denominations. These denominations consider the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues as a gift from God and not as a sign of God’s approval of the believer’s authenticity.

            Conversely, a few denominations consider speaking in tongues as an essential demonstration of salvation i.e. if a believer is saved, then he/she should speak in tongues, “WE BELIEVE... The Initial Physical Evidence of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is ‘Speaking in Tongues,’ as experienced on the Day of Pentecost and referenced throughout Acts and the Epistles.”2

            This then is the problem to contend with. If a genuine Christian is defined as the one who speaks in tongues, then would those who do not speak in tongues be considered as not genuine? If they are not genuine, would they not gain salvation?

            Those who consider speaking in tongues as a mandatory manifestation of the Holy Spirit receive their affirmation from the Bible. But if the very same Bible stipulates that all Christians need not necessarily speak in tongues, then this problem could be resolved.

            So let us consider some verses from the Bible:

            1. The Holy Spirit sovereignly determines the recipients of the spiritual gifts (e.g. gift of tongues), “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines(1 Corinthians 12: 11, NIV, Emphasis Mine). Spiritual gifts are not rewards to those who seek or qualify for them.

            2. No one gift is for everyone and no one person has every gift, “…God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts…” (1 Corinthians 12: 28-31, NIV). The implied answer to each of these questions, which includes the question on tongues, is “no.”

            3. Believers are to seek the spiritual gift of prophecy or that of interpreting the tongues than merely speaking in tongues, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy...For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say” (1 Corinthians 14: 1 & 13, NIV).

            Those that mandate speaking in tongues in public (during the worship service) encourage believers to seek that spiritual gift. There are curriculums to speak in tongues in some churches.

            Conversely, the Bible teaches that speaking in tongues but without interpreting it merely edifies the person who speaks in tongues. Instead, speaking in tongues and interpreting it is to be greatly desired in the worship service.

            4. Love is to be greatly desired than any spiritual gift, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13: 1-3, NIV).

            5. Tongues without interpretation is not meant for the worship service, but meant for private prayer purposes only, “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God” (1 Corinthians 14: 27-28, NIV).

            These verses certainly demonstrate that the Scripture does not command all Christians to exclusively seek the gift of speaking in tongues. Therefore, it is a perfectly acceptable scenario for Christians to not speak in tongues. Significantly, the Bible’s emphasis is on God who bestows these spiritual gifts than those who receive the spiritual gifts.

            It would be unwise to think that only a few speak in tongues. The Bible teaches that speaking in tongues edifies the person speaking in tongues. Therefore, it is possible that the Holy Spirit could have given the gift of speaking in tongues to many.

            A mandate to speak in tongues seems to provide an instance of Christian denominations jostling for spiritual superiority over their counterparts. Alternatively, these denominations may be incorrectly interpreting the Bible. This seems to be a minor concern in Christianity, for it is better to seek the spiritual gifts, than not.

            On a side note, it is wiser to not ridicule those who speak in tongues, although some instances of speaking in tongues appear as a fake - repetitive utterances of only a few syllables fall under this category. If we ridicule, we could run the risk of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit of God.

            Whatever the case may be, I personally reckon that an initiative to desire for the spiritual gifts is better than not desiring for spiritual gifts.  But the big question is do we eagerly desire the spiritual gifts?


Websites referenced were last accessed on 1st February 2016.




Nick Addington said...

The AG statement says that tongues is the evidence of Baptism in the Spirit not salvation. I agree that it is neither but this might just be a straw man

Raj Richard said...

True, Nick. Some pastors and church leaders interpret such faith statements to condemn those who do not speak in tongues.

Thanks for your comment.

Stevie B said...

The AG site you linked to doesn't say one must speak in tongues to be saved:

WE BELIEVE...the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a Special Experience Following Salvation that empowers believers for witnessing and effective service, just as it did in New Testament times. [1 of 4 cardinal doctrines of the AG]

WE BELIEVE... The Initial Physical Evidence of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is ‘Speaking in Tongues,’ as experienced on the Day of Pentecost and referenced throughout Acts and the Epistles.
It seems to me from reading that, they believe it's a second experience and that its evidence is tongues.

I have written a book called 9 Lies People Believe About Speaking in Tongues that I'd be happy to send you a digital copy of if you have an open mind and heart to hear other perspectives about speaking in tongues.

Blessings to you.

Raj Richard said...

Stevie, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

I agree with you that AG do not explicitly mention that speaking in tongues is mandatory. But as I said earlier, certain church leaders and pastors believe that if a Christian does not speak in tongues then he/she is not genuine. In other words, they say that all Christians ought to speak in tongues if they are anointed by the Holy Spirit.

Please send me your digital copy. Thanks again.

Stevie B said...

Thanks for responding. I apologize for taking this long to respond. I didn't get any kind of notification or indication you had responded, and just came back to this link now to see. Please let me know how I can send you the PDF of the book.

Blessings to you.