Tongues Has Ceased?

pentecost-newOut of all of the gifts of the Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12-14, the one that often draws the most attention is tongues. There’s a strangeness associated with it that leads to misunderstanding. It’s something that doesn’t seem to make sense to our natural mind, so it’s easy to dismiss.

In the ongoing exchange I’ve had on the cessationist blog that I’ve mentioned previously, several attempts have been made to show that this gift is no longer valid.

The lowest approach used is ridicule – to describe the practice of tongues as “babble” and “gibberish”. Does this tactic offer a valid argument against the biblical validity of tongues? Clearly no – and yet so many people will go sniggeringly along with it.

Then there is the straw man approach, where something irrelevant is introduced and then made an important part of the argument. In this case the term “ecstatic utterance” is brought up and then an argument made that tongues is never described in scripture as an “ecstatic utterance”, as if THAT somehow proves the invalidity of tongues.

Using the same approach an argument could be made against the validity of the Lord’s Supper by saying that scripture never refers to broken bread as “pancakes” and therefore any practice of using bread and wine as a memorial to the Lord’s death can be dismissed as doctrinal error. Silly comparison? Of course – but no more silly than relying on the “ecstatic utterance” argument.

Another argument presented is that tongues in scripture is only ever a known earthly language and that it was only used to present the gospel to people in their own language and was never used as a prayer language.

The only reference that was given to support that claim was Acts 2, the first case of tongues being used, as if that was the ONLY reference to tell us about the nature and purpose of tongues. Now if this WAS the only scriptural example we had of the gift of tongues, the above argument would be reasonable, but subsequent cases of people speaking in tongues aren’t confined to the definition in that argument.

Acts 10 shows us that in the example of Cornelius and his household, tongues was the means by which Peter and his companions recognised that “the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God”. This is the same kind of thing that happened to new believers in Ephesus when they received the Holy Spirit “the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.” (Acts 19) The common factor in all of these cases mentioned in Acts, is that speaking in tongues came about as a result of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. When people received Him, one of the results was speaking in tongues.

The book of Acts doesn’t go into any detail about the purpose of tongues. The book presents examples of tongues usage as a historical fact: that people spoke in tongues as a result of receiving the Spirit. For more detail about the purpose and usage of tongues we need to look to Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians, and this is where the cessationist’s argument really fails apart, but also where the only possible “proof” of his viewpoint can be claimed.

Firstly, his claim that tongues was never a prayer language is easily blown apart. Regarding tongues Paul writes:

“For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God”


“For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also”

Clearly, according to those chapters tongues CAN be used for prayer.

I assume the cessationist made that easily refuted claim because he wanted to discredit claimed present-day usage of tongues as a “prayer language”, but again – his reliance on “experience” and trying to discredit the experience of others is NOT the correct approach to take, especially when the situation can be easily cleared up through referring to scripture where we find the foundation of his “tongues is not prayer” argument is easily undermined.

Now for the only scripture reference that he’s been able to draw upon to support his view that the gift of tongues ceased to be valid.

“As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”

Often Cessationists claim that the “perfect” refers to in this verse is the establishment of the canon of scripture. So when the bible as we know it today was compiled, there was no longer need for Spiritual gifts. The man I refer to in these recent posts doesn’t follow that belief, but sees the phrase “when the perfect comes” refers to the return of Jesus.

However, it is clear that Jesus hasn’t returned – so his condition for the ending of the gifts hasn’t been fulfilled, so how does he get around that problem?
Firstly he separates the reference to “tongues will cease” from the passing away of prophecies and knowledge, claiming it is only the latter two that are conditional upon the coming of the “perfect” because they are the only two of the three to be described as partial (“know in part and we prophesy in part”) . Therefore in his own mind he can place the ceasing of tongues at any time he chooses because it is not described as something “partial”, and according to him it is only the passing away of the partial that occurs after the coming of the perfect. [of course this does not explain his cessationist views relating to prophecy and other gifts].

This combination of linguistic and theological gymnastics is the way this man has tried to justify his beliefs – focusing on a manipulation of a couple of verses, while ignoring the rest of the three chapters of scripture that provide the context of his chosen verses.

In those chapters Paul goes to great lengths to inform and instruct his readers about the nature and usage of the gifts given by the Holy Spirit “for the common good” and he ends his teaching on the gifts by saying:

So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.

(The above is not intended as a comprehensive look at the gift of tongues. For that I advise personal study. See the following as a starting point: Acts 2, Acts 10, Acts 19 and 1 Corinthians 12-14).

Cessationism: Evidence or Not?

aNot long ago I posted something under the title “The Complete and Exhaustive Biblical Evidence of the Cessationist Viewpoint”.
The evidence provided was a blank page. Some people didn’t initially get the point and clicked on the page, assuming it provided a link to the “evidence”. However they soon discovered that the white page WAS the extent of the evidence that could be provided. I was making the point that there is no biblical evidence to support the cessationist view.

So what is cessationism? Basically it is the belief that the gifts of the Spirit and the apostolic gifts are no longer valid, that they were withdrawn very early in church history, either with the last of the biblical apostles or with the establishment of the canon of scripture.

For two or three weeks now I’ve been commenting on a blog where the owner has been promoting cessationism. During that time I have continually asked him for biblical evidence that the gifts are no available.

bHe had written several articles promoting his views – so it could be assumed that, having written so much in those articles, he would have given at least the appearance of solid evidence to support his stance. But that has not been the case. His evidence in the main has been to mock the excesses of extreme “charismatics” and inferring that their errors PROVE that all supposed spiritual gifts are false.

This is a summary of the kind of reasoning I’ve seen:
– charismatic prophecies have been proven false, therefore all claimed prophecies are false.
– claimed charismatic healings are questionable, therefore all claimed gifts of healings are false.
He also makes claims about the gift of tongues that I hope to deal with separately another time.


What I want to do here regarding the matter of cessationism is to make a few points about what is NOT valid evidence.

1) Pointing out the foolishness of extreme charismatics is NOT evidence of the validity of cessationism
2) Having an absence of gifts in one’s own life, or never having witnessed or experienced the gifts of the Spirit is not evidence of the validity of cessationism
3) When the claimed gifts practiced by others doesn’t match your own perception of what the gifts of the Spirit should be like, it is not evidence for the validity of cessationism
4) Using non-biblical terms to mock gifts (such as referring to tongues as “gibberish” is not legitimate evidence supporting cessationsim.

Note that ALL of the above relate in some way to personal experience instead of reference to scripture. Ironically one of the biggest criticisms levelled against charismatics is that they are too experience driven, and yet all of the objections above are no less relying on experience (or lack of it).

Divine Reminders

sacrificeThe biggest regular art event in my local town is approaching. I entered the maximum five paintings as soon as the entry forms were made available. All I had to do was wait for the submission date and take the paintings to the gallery.

I thought that date was next weekend.

Last Saturday I went into town for lunch instead of eating at home as usual. While waiting for my order I saw a poster advertising the exhibition and found that the opening night was on the coming Friday. That meant the submission date was a week earlier than I thought. I wasn’t too concerned at the time, thinking I had the rest of Saturday afternoon and most of Sunday to deliver my paintings.

After lunch I went to buy some things for the garden and then drove home. As I was leaving the car park at about 1.50pm, for some reason I started to feel panicked. I was no longer sure that I had plenty of time to deliver my work for the exhibition. It took only five minutes to get home and I rushed inside to check the exhibition entry details. Submissions had to be in by 2.00pm that day.

I quickly pulled the paintings from the studio wall, threw them in the back of the car and drove to the gallery in town. As I took the paintings out of the car, the nearby town hall clock struck 2.00pm; I raced up the stairs and was able to deliver the paintings in time.

While some may see a few coincidences at work here, I have a different view of what happened. I thank God for the reminders that helped me to get those paintings to the gallery in time. This exhibition will potentially be the town’s most visited art event of the year giving my paintings quite a wide exposure. The paintings all have a scriptural inspiration, with titles like: “Man of Sorrows”, “Gospel”, and “Sacrifice” (see above illustration ) and either containing actual biblical text or at least visual references to the good news of Jesus the Messiah.

I may never know whether anyone receives anything from the messages the paintings are intended to convey, but the weekend’s experience gives me more confidence that God will make use of my work.
Thank you Jesus.

Not Really About Hats or Hair Length…

One of my new cessationist friends said something that has made me think (very cruel of her to do that!)

I had made the point that scripture makes it clear that Spiritual gifts were given to the church, but nowhere does it make it clear that those gifts would be withdrawn within less than a century (or even in subsequent centuries).

She made the comparison with what scripture says about womens’ head coverings and hair length. Should we consider THEY are still necessary because scripture doesn’t mention a withdrawal of that requirement?

While that may initially seem to be a valid point, it made me think a little about the reason women no longer wear head coverings in church and how long they haven’t been doing it.
Is it a changed requirement from God’s point of view or is it more a matter of quite recent changes in western fashion?

Until maybe the mid-20th century (or a little earlier) it wouldn’t have been an issue at all because it was common for women to wear hats; and in non-western cultures head coverings of various types are still normal attire for women.

I’m not intending this as a campaign to return hats to the heads of church attending women, it’s not really an issue that I’ve thought to be important and I’ve not looked at what scripture DOES say about it, but it made me think of how easily our understanding of spiritual issues can be changed by the world’s trends or our observations of the world, and then become accepted as spiritual “normality”.

MacArthur’s Return to Old Battleground

It seems that John MacArthur has caused a bit of a stir with his latest attack on Pentecostals and Charismatics. A few blogs I follow have addressed his “Strange Fire” conference.

From what I’ve read, it seems like none of the arguments presented at the conference have their basis in scripture. Instead they point at the excesses of the charismatic movement and then use those as the basis to deny the continuing validity of Spiritual gifts.

The common argument is that Charismatics are focused on experience rather than scriptural truth – and yet, aren’t those anti-charismatics like MacArthur also basing their own beliefs on experience or more accurately a LACK of experience of Spiritual gifts instead of scripture?

In the almost 40 years since I became a Christian I’ve seen absolutely NO biblical evidence that God withdrew the Spiritual gifts given to the early church. In fact I believe scripture supports their ongoing importance.

This denial of Spiritual gifts isn’t something new from MacArthur. It is merely a return to an old obsession that he’s promoted for decades, but it’s an obsession that could have a significant cost. Not only does he deny the validity of spiritual gifts, but it seems from the reports that I’ve read that he believes the gifts* that ARE evident have a satanic origin. If that is true MacArthur is stepping on dangerous ground. It was similar accusations made against Jesus that led Jesus to warn of the dangers of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit; something HE said could not be forgiven.


* By this I’m not referring to spurious “gifts” such as the appearance of gold dust, gem stones and “angel” feathers, but to the biblically identified gifts such as tongues, prophecy, healing etc.

Thorny Thoughts

A few thoughts about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”.

Despite common assumptions, there is no indication that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a health issue – the scriptures describe it as a messenger from Satan sent to buffet Paul.

Paul had the understanding that God COULD remove it and would possibly be willing to remove it and therefore was able to ask for it to be removed. Then Paul was open enough to God’s Spirit to seek and hear God’s reason for the non-removal. He didn’t merely assume God wasn’t in the thorn-removal business.

2 Cor 12 spells out the nature of this “thorn in the flesh” and God’s revealed reason for not removing it:

“…because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations [given to Paul], a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Paul’s thorn wasn’t removed because it prevented him from becoming conceited (proud) due to the revelation he’d been given.

God told Paul that His grace was sufficient, but sufficient for what? Sufficient for Paul to endure, or sufficient for Paul to personally resist that messenger from Satan?

An interesting parallel dealing with similar issues of pride, humility and Satanic harassment can be found in James 4:6-7

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

I find a comparison between the two scripture passages suggests a viable answer to my question above about sufficiency.