Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Scripture We Like to Ignore: I Corinthians 14:26-28, 39-40

“Are you a full-gospel Christian?” asked a potential roommate when I was trying to find a place to live for graduate school. I knew the Christian university I had chosen had a lot of Charismatic Christians, but until that moment, I had never heard anyone suggest that the gospel I believe is incomplete.

“If you want to know whether I speak in tongues, the answer is ‘no,’” was my reply (though I think I said it much less eloquently and with some stammering). The interview ended quickly, and I never heard back from her.

The spiritual gift of speaking in tongues is remarkably divisive for the Christian community. Some say that God gave the gift of tongues only in New Testament times; others believe that everyone who truly has faith will eventually speak in tongues. People who hold these beliefs will quote examples from Scripture, but none of the examples fully support either view.

One passage on tongues that both sides usually ignore is this one: “What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. . . . Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (I Corinthians 14;26-28, 39-40, NIV).

Christians who do not speak in tongues like to ignore this passage because hearing others speak in tongues makes us uncomfortable. Christians who do speak in tongues also tend to ignore this passage: I have been a part of several services where people spoke in tongues, but I have never heard a translation. Why not?

God may choose to gift you with the ability to speak in tongues, but if He has not provided a translator, it may be that He wants you to use your gift in private worship. It’s a bit like a child who wants to take his favorite Christmas gift to school. His parents are likely to tell him, “You can’t share it with everyone, so you better keep it at home.”

God gives spiritual gifts to strengthen the church, not to cause division.