Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Latest Controversy Article: Is the Gift of Tongues for Today?

[This is a personal initiative blog, not under any organization or for gaining profits.]

My Lengthy Introduction                                          
One day I heard a minister said to his hearers, “Today is the day God wants to gives you all the gift of tongues, all of you.” At the hearing to his claimed, my mind race to 1 Corinthians 12 where Apostle Paul writes that not everyone will have the same spiritual gifts but the Spirit, God’s Spirit ‘alone decides which gift each person should have’ (verse 11).

Another time he also said that, “In order to receive the gift of tongue, one should just open their mouth and say something out… let it flow naturally… but just say something… the Holy Spirit will come and filled you” Oh, I couldn’t sit still, I felt something was wrong – I heard this familiar line before. One, when I was still a college student, my senior invites us to pray; “Just says ‘Ra-ba-ba-ba-ba-tu-tu-tu-tu… shi-ki-ra-ba-ba-ba…’…. come repeat after me… oh, I feel the presence of the Lord is here… [bla… bla…]” Again I remember what I have read from Acts 2:4 where the Holy Spirit comes to many believers during the day of Pentecost. First ‘everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit’ then, only then, they ‘begin speaking in other languages (or in other tongues)’, not the other way round. That shocked me up!

Some common lines that had been bordering me regarding of the gift of tongues these day are; “When you pray with your spirit, you do not think of the sounds of the language. Just trust God, but make the sounds when I tell you to.” Or “You don’t even have to think in order to pray in the Spirit.” etc. What makes these statements (including above) are desirable and sound very attractive to some of our curious hearers is that they are using words such as ‘God wants…’, ‘I see the Holy Spirit comes...’, ‘God said to me…’, ‘the Bible says…’ and many more to spread their lies and to promote their godly-appeared-to-be-performances. It scared me sometime, but often than not it arouses my anger when I heard God’s name being misused (Exodus 20:7)!
[P.s: love means hate sin, rebuke error.]

Now, am I against the gift of tongues? No. So, I encourage it? No, not really. Then what am I trying to communicate here? I want you to test the spirit if ‘they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world’ (John 4:1). Don’t just swallow the gum, chew it. Don’t just believe every spirit, test it. John F. MacArthur, Jr. had written a very controversy yet very eye-opening book entitled Charismatic Chaos. I encourage you to read it; especially on the chapter 10: Is the Gift of Tongues for Today? Below are my summaries of this chapter (together with my own personal opinions) regarding on this hot-issue:

The Biblical Gift of Tongues
Tongues are mentioned in 3 books of the Bible: Mark (16:17); Acts (2, 10, 19); and 1 Corinthians (12-14). Let me only focus on 1 Corinthians for this article. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul discussed spiritual gifts in general, how they are received, and how God has ordered the gifts in the church. In 1 Corinthian 14 Paul demonstrated the inferiority of tongues to prophesy. In 1 Corinthians 13 however, Paul affirms the preeminence of love. Verse 13:1 plainly states that miraculous languages without love are nothing. Paul was rebuking the Corinthians for using gift of the Spirit selfishly and without love. They were more interested in inflating their egos or in enjoying a euphoric (or ecstatic) experience than they were in serving one another with the self-sacrificing concern that characterizes agape love. In short, Paul was not condemning the practice itself; he was saying that if the gift of tongues is used in any other way that God intended, without love, it is only noise (‘noisy gong or clanging cymbal’).

Are Tongues a Heavenly Language?
Many believe (misinterpret, as I understand it) that Paul was suggesting that the gift of tongues involves some kind of angelic or heavenly language. [Paul writes, ‘If I could speak…’ (1 Cor. 13:1) not that he could speak in a heavenly language] Most believe that the gift of tongues is a private prayer language, a heavenly language known only to God, celestial speech, or some other kind of unearthly idiom. John MacArthur says that there is no warrant in the Scripture for such a view, and I agree with him. He observed that Paul was speaking theoretically, suggesting that even if those things were true, without love they would be meaningless. Besides, there is no evidence in Scripture that angels use a heavenly language. Whenever angels appear in Scripture, they communicate in normal human language (E.g. Luke 1:11-20, 26-37. In the movies angels may speak strangely, not in the Scripture!).

Then, what kind of language do they speak in 1 Corinthians 12-14 and Acts 2? Venture for me to say that they speak in a human language. The Greek word in both places is glossa. In the book of Acts it is clear that the disciples were speaking in real human languages. Acts 2:6 “When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.” ‘Their own languages’ indicates that it is an understandable, real human language. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul writes that the gift of tongues must accompany with the gift of interpretation (verse 4). The gift of interpretation was a supernatural ability to translate a language one had never learned so that other might be edified by the message (verse 5). You cannot translate ecstatic speech or gibberish. Thus, my conclusion would be this: the gift of tongues speaks real, valid human languages, not some kind of angelic speech!

Counterfeit Tongues
This is easy. Clearly, true biblical tongues are not gibberish (or ‘shi-ki-ra-ba-ba-ba’), but languages. What we are hearing today (what I heard in my introduction above); if it is not language, then it is not the biblical gift of tongues. John MacArthur conclude, “If they used tongues that way (he mean ecstatic experience), they would do harm and not good for the cause of Christ.”

The Abuse of Tongues at Corinth
John MacArthur explained that in 1 Corinthians 14:2 Paul was criticizing the Corinthians for using their ‘gift of tongues’ to speak to God and not to men: “One who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.” (NASB) Paul’s comment is not suggesting that tongues should be used as a ‘prayer language’; he was using irony, pointing out the futility of speaking in tongues without an interpreter, because only God would know if anything was said. Spiritual gifts were never intended to be used for God’s benefit, or for the benefit of the gifted individual. Peter made that clear in 1 Peter 4:10: “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.”
The Corinthians were using tongues to build themselves up in a selfish sense, egocentric and desire to exercise the most spectacular, showy gifts in front of other believers [For more biblical arguments on this topic, please refer to Charismatic Chaos, page 279, 280).  Sadly, the very problem same problems are threatening the church today.

Tongues will Cease
In 1 Corinthians 13:8 Paul made an interesting, almost startling, statement: “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.” (NASB, highlighted mine) “Love never fails” the Greek word translated ‘fails’ means ‘to decay’ or ‘to be abolished’ – thus, Paul was saying that love is eternal, that it will be applicable forever and will never end. Tongues, however, ‘will cease’. The Greek verb used in 1 Corinthians 13:8 (pauo) means ‘to cease permanently’. It implies that when tongues ceased, they would never start up again. “I am convinced by history, theology, and the Bible that,” writes John MacArthur, “tongues ceased in the apostolic age. And when it happened, they terminated altogether.” Here, I have to admit that, in my opinion, tongues is already ceased [I’m ready to be confronted].

A final Outpouring?
Many tongues-teachers nowadays often quote Joel 2:28 to strengthen their claim on the gift of tongues: “Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.But if you read the Book of Joel in context, you’ll find that Joel was talking about the event before the final Day of the Lord. God’s Spirit will be poured out in such a way that there will be wonders in the sky, and on the earth – blood, fire, and columns of smoke: “The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before the great and terrible day of the Lord arrives.” (2:31) Joel 2 is a kingdom prophecy, which was not completely fulfilled at Pentecost (Act 2) as many people claimed it was, or on any occasion since. It must refer to an era that is still future. [Pentecost was only a partial fulfillment, or better; a preview of the prophecy’s ultimate culmination, not fully realized yet.] Plus, Joel 2:28 don’t mention anything about the gift of tongues!

What kind of Tongues are being Spoken Today?
John MacArthur writes, “Without question, many people who speak in tongues say they find the practice beneficial to one degree or another. But normally – as in the testimonies cited above (page 290) – they are speaking of how it makes them feel or look, not how it helps them be better Christians. Yet improved looks and feelings were never results of the New Testament gift.” I couldn’t agree more!

Then, how can the phenomenon of speaking in tongues (ecstatic experience) be explained today? Among many possibilities, I choose to discuss only 2 of it in this short summary. First possibility is that tongues may be satanic or demonic. [Note the words ‘may be’] Throughout the Bible, Satan often the force behind phenomena that pass as gifts of the spirit. After all, he is behind every false religion (1 Cor. 10:20), and he specializes in counterfeiting truth (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Many in the church these days are susceptible to this lies: “Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons.” (I Timothy 4:1) Second possibility is that tongues is a learned behavior. Most tongues-teachers I know personally encourage people to getting them to shout prayers and praise emotionally. They also suggest some sample syllables (e.g.‘shi-ki-ra-ba-ba-ba’) to prime the pump; and they encourage people to repeat ‘funny little sounds’. That’s clearly not how a spontaneous gift operates; it is something almost anyone can learn to do. It is striking that many of the many tongues-teachers use the same terms and sounds. They all speak essentially the same way.

But Why are Tongues so Popular?
Very boldly, John MacArthur said that the tongues being spoken today are not biblical and those who speak in tongues are not practicing the gift described in Scripture. He further explained,
Then why do so many pursue this practice with such fervor? Then why do they (tongues teachers and writes) seek to convince and intimidate others to start doing the same thing? A basic reason is spiritual hunger. People hear that tongues is a way to have a wonderful spiritual experience… they fear… missing something… they want ‘something more’. Also, many people are hungry to express themselves spiritually… They have not been recognized as particularly spiritual or holy; and because they hear that tongues-speakers are thought to be holy and spiritual, they try it. Another basic reason… the need for acceptance and security. People need to be ‘in the group’.

My Sort-of-Short Ending
Many more to say, and many more to writes, but let me conclude this lengthy article this way: the gift of tongues (if there is) is not a valid indicator that you’re close to God. Your love toward God and others is the most valid indicator of your personal relationship with God. God’s love, God’s spirit will transform your life wholly not onetime experiences. Obedience, joyful obedience to the authority of God’s Word is much more beneficial than to utter tongues of an unknown language. Experiencing God inwardly express outwardly through your relationship with others is better than (if any) experiencing ecstatic spirituality that is egocentric (‘me, me, me,’) and showy. Tongues will cease, and even now already ceased. But love (‘God is love’, 1 John 4:8) will never cease, it is eternal. Our search for His gifts is not to be the top priority in our lives; God is our top priority in our lives. (Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't ask for His gifts - you should) The Giver is much valuable, much desirable, to be treasure more than His gifts. The Giver is the Treasure – God Himself.

If you ask me, have I ever spoke in tongues. No, I have not for a very long time (Yes, I had when I was a ‘baby’, immature Christians) No, not since then. Jesus and I have been communicating in English, Bahasa Malaysia (BM) and bahasa Iban (BI). I speak to Him in a known languages and He hears and understands me completely. He speaks to me in English, BM and BI through His Word; the Bible, and I understand Him.


  1. Unless noted. All the Scripture quotations is from Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. 
  2. Scripture marked NASB is New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. 
  3. Most of my material for this writing is from Charismatic Chaos, copyright © 1992 by John F. MacArthur, Jr. published by Zondervan Publishing House.
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