Saturday, December 18, 2010

Should We All Speak At The Same Time in Tongues?

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.


ScottL said...

David -

Thanks for the link to my article.

I can only imagine that 1 Cor 14:28 and the words, 'speak to himself and to God', does not mean wait until we get home or in a private setting (as some might suggest), but to allow for it to take place in the gathering, but not in any 'disturbing' manner. Of course, one could argue that if all are singing in tongues, then it is disturbing.

One practical-pastoral aspect we must realise is that Paul's words are not legalistic rules. I.e., if there is more than 2 or 3 prophecies (1 Cor 14:29), it doesn't necessarily mean we have gone wrong. And we need to consider this with some of the prescriptions of tongues (or what we understand to be prescribed, but could be reading our own desires into the wording).

It's just like with using English in our contexts. As we are worshiping as a local body, many people might get caught up in praise in some kind of audible way in English. But if it is a specific encouragement, exhortation, prophecy, etc, then the person will raise their voice (or come forward to the microphone in our day). We would be silly to ask people to be completely silent and not pray/praise in some kind of audible level from their own seat. The people can continue to speak 'to themselves and to God' (in English) in the midst of the gathering. I would believe the same is available with tongues.

In all, though 1 Cor 14 is the most we have in Scripture with addressing tongues in the gathering, I don't think it addresses everything, nor do I see it as tight instructions on every single practical aspect.

Hope that helps.

David Matthew said...

'Why do un-interpreted tongues cease to be a negative sign to unbelievers just because they are sung rather than spoken?'
Because, I think, the dominant feature is the music, the harmony, the rise and fall, the melody - which tend to push the nature of the words into the background.

David Derbyshire said...

Thanks for your comments guys!

Scott, I must say that I don’t really want to hear other’s individual half audible prayers around me, even in English. I can see your point that we can’t stop this all together but I think that our emphasis should be listening to other’s clearly made contributions and saying 'Amen'.

David, this is an interesting idea that what might be unacceptable in lyrics spoken is made more acceptable in song. I wonder if this might apply to other things such as the lamenting and even imprecatory Psalms? Just a thought.