In a new article Holy Gobbledygook on his site David Matthew argues for the use of speaking in tongues today but at the same time he is critical of the practice of everyone speaking at the same time in tongues.
He particularly looks at 1 Corinthians 14 and comes to the conclusion that primarily tongues are for private devotions. There is also a place for them in public worship but Paul puts tight guidelines on this such as tongues should not be heard in public without an interpretation. The message in tongues is to be given clear enough for everyone to know it is meant to be a public contribution and is to be followed by an interpretation.
David goes on to show that the quote from Isaiah in 1 Corinthians 14 serves to show that tongue speaking without interpretation tends to put visitors off. Careful analysis shows that it is a reference to foreign languages being a sign of God’s judgement when the Assyrians invaded Israel and carried the Israelites off into captivity. Today people hearing un-interpreted tongues my think, “These Christians are nuts. I’m not coming here again.”
So what do we make of it when someone speaks in tongues in a gathering in a way that is quiet enough for others to know that it is not a public contribution but loudly enough to hear? David refers to such use as ‘unhelpfully intrusive”. He evidently understands that speaking to yourself and to God in 1 Corinthians 14:28 will mean being inaudible to others around you. In a subsequent email discussion David confirmed this.
Interestingly in a recent post by Scott Lencke, as part of a series on speaking in tongues, Scott looks also looks at this verse. Generally he comes to similar conclusions to Dave about tongues and interpretation. But rather than an injunction to remain completely silent Scott sees this as simply not raising your voice but continuing to speak “at a much lower decibel”. I have great respect for Scott’s opinions but I just can’t see any basis for this one. Surely silent means silent!
What does this mean to the common charismatic practice of corporate singing in tongues? Though David sees singing in tongues as following much the same principles as when spoken he does admit that perhaps everyone singing in tongues may be more acceptable in worship than everyone speaking in tongues. Though the Bible is silent on this issue David suggests that it could be seen as similar to everyone worshipping on instruments. But then I must ask: why do un-interpreted tongues cease to be a negative sign to unbelievers just because they are sung rather than spoken?
These ideas have some real practical applications to those of us who use or are seeking to use tongues in our worship gatherings. If you have any further thoughts on this please leave them in the comments below.