Pastor, Why? #15: Why Not Tongues?

Few issues among churches have become more divisive in modern times than “speaking in tongues”. But a brief historical glance will reveal that “ecstatic utterance” is not a new phenomenon at all. In Bible times it was practiced by pagan worshipers as well as Christians. In the 1800’s the practice was primarily found among Mormons, followed by the Pentecostals in the early 1900's. In recent decades nearly every “Christian” denomination from Catholic to Baptist has factions that speak in tongues.

“Test the spirits…."

Most who do so today believe they are being led by the Holy Spirit of God. How can we or a tongues-speaker know if this practice is truly Biblical. Is this really the Holy Spirit, or is it possibly something else? Fortunately the Bible gives us a clear way to find out. First, some basic premises:

  • All things supernatural are not Biblical

Satan is a master counterfeiter and deceiver. 2 Thessalonians 2:9 warns us that the anti-Christ will come “with all power and signs and lying wonders.”

  • All things are to be evaluated by Scripture, our absolute and final authority for faith and practice.

No experience, feeling, preacher or teacher can ever take precedence over the Bible. The Berean believers in Acts 17:11 set an excellent example when they “searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

  • The Holy Spirit can never influence anyone to do anything that is contrary to what He has written in His own Word.

Malachi 3:6 says, “For I am the LORD, I change not….”   

 

THEREFORE any belief, practice or experience (in this case tongues) that does not line up on ALL counts with God’s Word cannot possibly be from God’s Spirit.

1 John 4:1 commands us to “Believe not every spirit, but try [test] the spirits whether they are of God....” The questions about whether “tongues” is intended for our day, what its purposes were, or what tongues actually is, might be debatable among good and godly people, but the TESTS by which we can evaluate them are clear and definite. They are found in 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14. Following are four of several Biblical tests:

Bible Test #1     Biblical tongues was a self-controlled tongue.

  • The fact that Paul gives numerous guidelines for tongues clearly implies that tongues was a controlled gift, just like every other gift.
  • Galatians 5:22 says one fruit of the Spirit is temperance (self-control). Since a definite evidence of the Holy Spirit’s filling is self-control, it would not make sense that He would send us out of control in ecstatic utterances, dancing, barking, falling over in stupors, etc.
  • 1 Corinthians 14 repeatedly focuses on the Corinthians’ need for self- control in the exercise of their spiritual gifts in the church, and particularly with tongues. Paul summarizes his entire passage on tongues with these strong admonitions:  

- 14:33 “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”

- 14:40   “Let all things be done decently and in order.”          

Bible Test #2     Biblical tongues was limited to two or three in a service speaking one at a time in an orderly manner.

14:27 “If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course....”   

Bible Test #3       Biblical tongues in church was interpreted.

14:13   “Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.”

              14:27b-28 “...let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church....”

Bible Test #4     Biblical tongues was not practiced by women in the assembly, especially in the presence of men.

14:34 “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak….” [in the context of tongues]  

Tongues, as it is commonly practiced in many circles today, cannot be of the Holy Ghost. These and all of the other guidelines for tongues in 1 Corinthians 14-16 are neither suggestions nor optional. After Paul wrote in 14:37, “The things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.”

 

My personal belief is that tongues in the New Testament was the ability to speak or understand a previously unlearned language.

 

Some may ask, “If the tongues generally practiced today cannot be a Holy Ghost gift, then what is it?” There is much controversy and many possible answers to that question. Suffice it to say, “We do not need to know what it is, to know what it is not.” If God still grants the gift of tongues today to some believers, (in our opinion He generally does not), its practice will line up perfectly with the Holy Spirit’s Biblical instructions for its use.