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had on the cessationist blog that I’ve mentioned previously, several attempts have been made to show that this gift is no longer valid.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