Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Speaking in Tongues, Part 1

Speaking in Tongues, Part 1
Kevin Shrum

The subject of speaking ‘in tongues’ has always been controversial and divisive. In recent days, tongues as a viable spiritual gift has once again surfaced in the Southern Baptist Convention. My next several posts will deal with this subject.

I want to begin by asking the question: Where should the spiritual gift of tongues be placed on the church’s priority scale? At this point, never mind if tongues is even a viable gift for the modern day church and/or believer. I’ll argue that point in a later post. I’m assuming, for the sake of making a point, that it is a viable gift – what priority should it take in the life of the church and/or believer?

If it is of first priority then we must focus on it with great energy. If it is of lesser importance then we may need to take another look at how much we allow this gift, and the controversy surrounding it, to consume our time and energy. Is it a priority gift? Or, has it become a distracting doctrine: “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because they are unprofitable and useless.” (Titus 3:9)

My answer to this question is that tongues should be viewed as a second-tier priority. Why? Because the spiritual gift of tongues in Scripture was never viewed as an ends, it was always viewed as a means. For example, on the day of Pentecost “each one (the visitors to the city Jerusalem) heard them speaking in his own language.” (Acts 2:6) God supernaturally enabled the early believers to speak languages that they didn’t know but that were the known languages of those visiting the city so that the gospel – I repeat – the gospel could be heard by every person in every tongue from every nation and people group (Acts 2:8-12).

The focus in Acts was on the work of the Spirit using a means by which to accomplish the preaching of the gospel. The focus was not on tongues as an end; the focus was on the gospel (Acts 2:14-41) as the end, accompanied by the salvation of sinners and the glory of God.

This kind of second-tier perspective can be observed in Paul’s argument on this subject: “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy (preaching).” (1 Cor. 14:1) Rather than press the Corinthians to seek the spiritual gift of tongues, he encourages them to preach and speak God’s Word.

My second question is: If the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues is a second-tier gift used as a means for gospel preaching when it first appeared at Pentecost, is such a gift needed in our day when language is less of a barrier than in previous generations? This is the question at the heart of the question!

When we elevate the spiritual gift of tongues as a first-tier gift we tend to get ourselves in trouble, misconstruing the means God uses from time to time with the ultimate ends of His purposes – the preaching of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ so that sinners might be saved and God might be glorified. Stated tuned for more to come…!

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