Random Reflections on Tongues as Gifted Sign

PentecostLet’s be honest (and I’m saying this as a Pentecostal practitioner, minister and professor)…speaking in tongues is weird. I really can not get away from that. It seems illogical. It seems meaningless. It seems crazy. Paul even admitted as much (1 Cor.14.23). Yet, it was endowed by the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and given as a gift to the Church.

As I reflect on this strange practice and its theological significance I am struck by several ideas (which are decidedly influenced by Karl Barth’s dogmatic confessions):

  • Tongues as gifted sign of the Creator
  • Tongues as gifted sign of the Reconciler
  • Tongues as gifted sign of the Redeemer

It is “gift” because it belongs from beginning to end to the Giver (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to bestow. It is always an act of grace. It is persistently an act of grace. It could be no other way (1 Cor.12.3-10).

That tongues are a gifted sign is meant to speak to the gracious testimony they give. They point to their Giver in His own self-giving. They are never a testimony self-reflecting from the human sphere, but only reflecting the act and being of the God who gives.

That tongues are a gifted sign of the Creator is a testimony of the gift of our creatureliness. We are those who are always contingent upon God’s own graciousness toward us. We exist because God has made it so. We exist as we do because we were created by this God to speak and to hear. Our tongues belong to our creatureliness and when we speak in tongues (while we do not speak with our minds) we speak with self-control in an orderly (if seemingly chaotic at times) fashion (1 Cor.14.14, 27). We speak in tongues because “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” and we cannot but testify to this good news.

That tongues are a gifted sign of the Reconciler is a witness to our sinfulness manifest in broken relationship to all and our own reconciliation with all in Christ Jesus as God’s Word to and for us. Tongues are for a sign of judgment (1 Cor.14.21-22), but better…an eschatological sign of the reconciliation of people from every “nation, tribe, people and language” (Rev.7.9) to the One who alone can, and has, and will reconcile this world to Himself.

That tongues are a gifted sign of the Redeemer is a response of prayer and praise by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus crying “Abba, Father” (Rom.8.15; Gal.4.6). It is a word we could never truly speak for ourselves, but always belongs to the very Spirit (the Spirit of the Son) who works our salvation into the age to come. Such tongues can only come from a faith that rests in the will and enablement of the Spirit to make such a prayer that is heard and answered (Rom.8.26-27) because it is the prayer of the Son redeeming the world to the Father.

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4 thoughts on “Random Reflections on Tongues as Gifted Sign

  1. We had a Catholic Charismatic Christian join our church who has the Gift of Interpretation of Tongues. Suddenly, we could use tongues in our church! But no one is used to the idea. Gifts of healings are being used to heal cancer, auto-immune diseases, genetic problems, etc. Gifts of Prophecy, Word of Knowledge and Word of Wisdom are very valuable for counseling and finding out what to pray for. The gifts of discerning of spirits spot counterfeits at the door. When I tell disciples to “ask, seek and knock” for gifts of the Holy Spirit, they usually go for prophecy and get it.

  2. Before I was a Christian, I would jerk around charismatic Christians by speaking random blather and then ask if that proved I was a Christian. They would say no because it wasn’t a real language. I would reply, “prove it.” They would mumble away.
    I recall an occultist in Seattle who would blather like that and say it was ancient Yiddish. Problem is that Yiddish is relatively recent. If he had only chosen something more credible, like the Inca language of the priests or something…
    Tongues is at the last of the list of gifts – for good reason.
    However, I know a judge who felt led to go into the mountains of South America with his family on a personal family mission. They ran into a primitive, untouched tribe. They tried what languages they knew to no effect. As they stood there, the judge felt moved to give “tongues” a try. He started blathering. They all stood there. He kept blathering. suddenly they all bowed their heads. Suddenly they looked up and started jumping up & down in joy, mentioning “Iesu”.
    They went down the mountain and told a pastor about what happened and asked him to find a translator, so he could follow them up.

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