The Gift of Tongues as a Glorious Display of the Gospel

Friday, June 19, 2009

Part One: Redemption

C-o-c-a-c-o-l-a. C-o-c-a-c-o-l-a! C-o-c-a-c-o-l-a!!

These are the letters my friend jokingly repeated several times, having a bit of fun making light of those who abuse or misunderstand the gift of tongues. It also took me a few minutes to put it together and process what he was actually spelling: Coca Cola! Laughter always abounds when we pronounce at great speed, should-a-bought-a-honda, or repeat the words of the famous genie on the totally retarded Pee Wee Herman's Playhouse saturday morning specials: mekka-lekka-hi-mekka-hiney-ho! Still to this day I have no idea what he was saying...and I'm scared to linger long there.

As a charismatic, and a reformed one at that, the most uncomfortable gift for me personally has always been the gift of tongues. Primarily because, it's the only gift that's not communicated in our native language, therefore leaving us wondering, therefore leaving us skeptical. After all, how can anybody really know for sure whether or not that sister speaking in tongues during the praise and worship part of the Sunday morning gathering is just "out of her freaking mind" or whether or not she is truly speaking in tongues. My response has always been, and I suppose will continue to be this, plain and simple: how would someone know for sure in the book of Acts what was going on? I mean, come on! The three thousand plus people hearing the 120 speak in tongues in Acts 2 all thought those disciples were 9 o'clock on the morning! No, there has always been and always will be people who think that those who speak in tongues are wierd, misled, deceived, demon-possessed, or some mixture thereof. And many of those people are unfortunately fellow Christians who cannot imagine that the gift of tongues today is anything like what it was in the Bible days...even though none of them were around during the Bible days to take some audio samplings and do analyses, and the like to know for sure.

But that's not even the purpose of this post! is, sort of, in a round-a-bout way. It has become my opinion as a charismatic that this misunderstanding of tongues on the part of fellow believers erodes their fuller, historical, theological, redemptive, missiological grasp of these emphases of the gospel which are all inherent in the gift of tongues. In other words, "dissing" tongues today may also be "dissing" one of the most spectacular theological/practical outworkings of the gospel which was established by the Holy Spirit in the church age, and which He intends to continue until Jesus returns. Let me try to explain as best I can.

First, consider the historical foundation, since this is the grounds on which the theological, redemptive, missiological, and practical emphases are built. I'd like to submit that the foundation of this whole theology of tongues largely rests on the comparison between the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 and Pentecost in Acts 2. If you don't happen to recall the Tower incident it was quite simple. God had given a mandate to His people in Genesis 1:28 to fill the earth and subdue it. Simply put, He was interested in building a kingdom of priests on His new planet who would rule for Him and glorify Him by reflecting His image in and through their lives. By the time we reach Genesis 11, however, the people had developed an attitude quite the opposite of God's original intention.

1 At one time all the people of the world spoke
the same language and used the same words.
2 As the people migrated to the
east, they found a plain in the land of Babylonia* and settled
there. 3 They began saying to each other, "Let's make bricks and
harden them with fire." (In this region bricks were used instead of stone, and
tar was used for mortar.) 4 Then they said, "Come, let's build a great city
for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous
and keep us from being scattered all over the world."

There it is in verse 4. They wanted to be kept from scattering all over the world contrary to God's design. In order to stop their arrogance and further His original intent, here's what God said and did.
5 But the LORD came down to look at the city and
the tower the people were building. 6 "Look!" he said. "The people are
united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out
to do will be impossible for them! 7 Come, let's go down and confuse the
people with different languages. Then they won't be able to understand each
other." 8 In that way, the LORD scattered them all over the
world, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why the city was called
Babel,* because that is where the LORD confused the people with different
languages. In this way he scattered them all over the world.
What cannot be missed here is that the introduction of various languages into the human race was a judgment upon the people for their rebellion against God. I love verse 8 and its contrast to verse 4, as if to say to everyone who has read Genesis from that day forth, "You created beings cannot stop my intent for my plan!" They wanted to prevent themselves from being scattered throughout the earth. But God scattered them all over the world anyway. And again, in that ever famous Hebraic way of repeating something for emphasis, Moses repeats himself again in verse 9 ending his story with God's plan over against man's plan: "In this way he scattered them all over the world." I love it! Take that you arrogant, rebellious humans! (And thanks for making world travel and world missions so difficult, by the way!)

My sarcasm brings me to the historical contrast. It is found in Acts 2, at Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, and ten days after He ascended to heaven. The 120 were in the upper room praying, the eleven apostles with them. And on day ten of the prayer meeting, here's what happened.

1 On the day of Pentecost* all the believers were meeting together in one place.

2 Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages,* as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

Now, don't miss the parallels here. In verse 1, all the believers had just been given a command to meet together and pray. And that command was followed by the Great Commission of Acts 1:8 which foretold of them going to the ends of the earth. Compare this prayerful preparation to God's intent to fill the earth and subdue it, way back in Genesis, with the rebellious response to God's intent by those at the Tower of Babel. Both groups gathered in one place. But the first group gathered to make a name for themselves. The second group gathered to make famous the name of Jesus Christ.

In verse 2, Luke describes for us what that moment was like when the wind of the Spirit (see John 3:8) came rushing into the room where they were sitting. We aren't told what the confusion of languages was like in Genesis 11, but I wonder if it was the same sort of happening? I wouldn't doubt it.

In verse 3, little flames of fire that resembled the shape of a tongue settled on each of their heads. Fire was normally a metaphor for judgment. So what's happening here? I don't think I'm way off base here when I say that the judgment of Babel may be in view here. The tongues of fire may be illustrative of tongues of judgment, which the Spirit is about to set aright in the new age of redemption.

The Spirit who created the world's languages at Babel united them again in a miraculous, supernatural gift at Pentecost. The one who saw to it that the people of the earth would scatter toward God's purposes at Babel, saw to it at Pentecost that those same scattered people would now be united by Spirit through reconciliation in Jesus.

In short, the manifestation of tongues at Pentecost was a divine, redemptive, correction to divine judgment at Babel. And it's message was not "let us make a name for ourselves," but rather the one that Peter preached that day...

22 God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene* by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know...

32 "God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this. 33 Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God's right hand...

36 So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!

It's not a name for ourselves, but a name for Jesus, the Nazarene, the Messiah, the resurrected One, the exalted One, the most honored One in heaven, the Authority of Heaven, the Lord!


Holy cow...the chill bumps!

Absolutely breathtaking...this display of the Father's original intent at Babel, now redeemed at Pentecost, facilitated in the Spirit, paved by the gospel.

The application should be easy enough for us.

It's the same gospel.

And we're working with the same issue...a multitude of differing languages.

And we're on the same make disciples of all nations.

The gospel, the mission, and the method are all being guided by the same means...the Holy Spirit.

If the same gospel is going to the same language groups for the same mission, then the Spirit still moves in the same way today. He still gifts His people with tongues. But the mission and the message govern those tongues. This is an encouragement in two directions.
For one group it means leaving off with an exegesis of this tongues issue that isn't guided by the over arching theology. Cessationism is simply not something that can be supported exegetically when redemptive history is allowed to govern.
And for the other group it means leaving off with an overemphasis on prayer-languages that isn't guided by the same over arching theology. Wild, erratic, non-sensical speech focusing on the personal rather than the corporate also cannot be supported exegetically when a proper theology is governing.

The goal is the mission. The message is the gospel. The method must of necessity still include the same gift of tongues as we read of in Acts, if for no other reason than the means is still the same Holy Spirit. Praise God for this incredible gift that spans the age of the church on earth!

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