Why Do I Oppose the Unification Church?

At a morning Hoon Dok Hae service with Moon

I’m in the red box at a super early morning Hoon Dok Hae service with Moon

Since posting My Strange Relationship with the Mooniverse, I’ve had current members, both first and second generation, contact me. They often say that they understand to some extent on why I am “negative” (which is a dismissive term in the Unification Church), but they always assure me that the religion I grew up with is an overall positive thing for the world.

I am sorry, but I could not disagree enough.

I started my tumblr-blog How Well Do You Know Your Moon in 2009 with serious concerns over both the theology and the illegal and abusive activities of the UC. As I’ve continued to write and moderate this blog for the past six years, I’ve come to discover there are more layers of corruption in the Church than one could ever imagine.

So for those who are curious on why I take such a strong stand against the UC, I recently worked with the other writers of HWDYKYM to put together a brief explanation of the Unification Church and its corruption. This post is not comprehensive at all but somewhere to start in understanding the theology of the UC and their immoral and abusive practices.

Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU) Logo

Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU) Logo

What is the Unification Church? What do they believe?
The Unification Church, also known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU) or the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity (HSA-UWC), was formally founded in Seoul, Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon and some early followers. Moon claimed to have inherited the mission of Jesus Christ, whose sudden death on the cross left his mission and work unfinished. Moon and his wife, Hak Ja Han, were to be the restored Adam and Eve, establishing God’s lineage on the Earth for the first time in all of history. The main textbook of the Unification Movement is the Divine Principle, which was first published as a book in 1957. The theology was almost completely borrowed from other messianic teachers in Korea, such as Kim Baek-Moon.

Providential Affairs and Moon’s Theology of Sex

Soon Hwa (Annie) Choi, one of Moon's providential lovers and mother to Moon's son, Sam Park

Soon Hwa (Annie) Choi, one of Moon’s providential lovers and mother to Moon’s son, Sam Park

Moon taught that the fall of man, which introduced “original sin”, was sexual. He taught that the sexual transgressions of Adam and Eve were inherited by their descendants and that this condition could only be removed by sexual intercourse with a “restored” or “true” Adam, which he claimed to be. Sex rituals, known as ‘pikareum’ (blood separation, womb cleansing), were introduced by Moon early in the church’s history as the method by which women could be purified of Original Sin. Men could be purified by having sex with women who had undergone one of these rituals. These practices landed Moon in jail in 1946, 1948 (also for bigamy) and 1955. His “womb-cleansing” activities included the wives of the 36 and 72 couples who blessed in the early 1960s. That is why they are known as the “Royal Couples”. His sex activities may have continued to a lesser extent after that, with three representative wives from later blessings being cleansed.

The worth of a person, especially for those born into the Unification Church, is found in their sexual purity. Most of the education for second generation is about their identity as a generation without the “original sin” of Adam and Eve’s un-blessed sexual relationship, and how to protect this identity from being forfeited by sexual temptation.

Jen Kiaba, a second generation ex-member, did a brilliant photography piece on the “purity knife” phenomena among those who participated in the Special Task Force (now called Generation Peace Academy), a program for second generation that consisted largely of fundraising for the UC. She captioned this photo with the story of a second generation who was on her STF year and was raped and murdered while fundraising. She shared her story and the reaction of church members, highlighting the sexism and victim-blaming mentality in the UC and wider culture.

Kiaba wrote:

A few sisters said that their mothers had given them Purity Knives, and that all of the mothers should have given one to their daughters. This ideological relic comes from the old Korean tradition where young of women of high birth wore a knife and were “expected to commit suicide to ‘protect’ their virginity, as opposed to using the knife to defend themselves.”

While giving out these purity knives was never an official church custom, Moon did recommend that members carry “a knife to kill yourself before you will be violated” because it was a theological belief that losing one’s purity was far worse even than dying. Moon had said that “Women should always carry a small pistol or razor blade to protect lineage and sexual organ” and that “if you are assaulted, you should either kill yourself or stab the attacker in the stomach with a knife.”

At least there he spoke of a woman defending herself – even if the first option is to kill yourself. And this wasn’t a one-time quote of his. According to Moon “if someone is trying to invade you, you would rather kill yourself than go through the fall. At least you won’t go to hell that way. Even if you die, you don’t go to hell.”

Like other purity cultures, there has been widespread emotional and psychological injuries for UC adherents due to the strict and toxic beliefs on sexuality, especially for those considered “fallen” or are a part of a sexual minority.

Shamanism in the Unification Church
While church members generally consider themselves to be Christian, the church’s rituals and practices share much with Korean shamanism. Practices such as ancestor worship (liberation), spiritual channeling, sacrifices (such as fasting for long periods or sleep deprivation), and rhythmic movements and beatings are all common in Korean shamanism. These practices were deemphasized when the religion was exported to the West in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, replaced with more a more palatable slate for American and European young people, like communal living and outdoor retreats.

Me on stage in Newark, NJ, before an

Me on stage in Newark, NJ, before an “ansu” ceremony.

However, in the 1990s shamanistic elements again came to the fore with the rise of “Dae Mo Nim”, a woman who claimed to channel spirit of the deceased mother of Hak Ja Han and the deceased son of the Moon couple, Heung Jin. This woman led a series of revivals at the church’s Cheongpyeong Lake facility that became permanent and institutionalized because of their popularity with members. Her teachings were where essentially Muism, a type of Korean shamanism fused with elements of Moon’s teachings. As would be the case with a Muist priestess, she acted as an intermediary for spirits and gods and conducted long sessions of intense purification rituals. Many of these rituals involved ansu (an appropriated shamanistic practice of slapping out evil spirits from one’s body), sleep and food deprivation, and limitations on personal space.

Prayer in Cheongpyeong

Prayer in Cheongpyeong

Marriage in the Unification Church
The marriage ceremony, or “blessing”, is the main sacrament of the Unification Church, and is believed to engraft couples back into God’s lineage. Most couples, especially First Generation, had their marriages arranged (or were “matched”) by Moon and other leaders. Once married by Moon, a member is able to produce children born without original sin, or “blessed children”.

In order to be eligible for the “blessing”, one had to meet a set of conditions, although these conditions changed much over the years. In the early days of the American Movement, members were required to convert at least three people (as protective archangels, or Satan could invade their marriage) and be celibate for three years. They also had to be completely devoted to a “public mission” or fundraising for years.


A Moonie “blessing ceremony”, or mass wedding

Later, as Moon began to see the marriages as a source of money and publicity, the conditions for entry were diluted, most recently to the point where eligibility became the willingness to pay a fee and little more. In one example, the Unification Church infamously solicited single men in Korea, many of which were older, poor, and/or desperate, offering wives, mostly from Japan and the Philippines, in exchange for a matching and blessing fee. Many violent and otherwise unhealthy marriages were produced from these unions, and fairly recently a Japanese member in Korea murdered her alcoholic Korean husband, a man who had been drawn to the Church solely to obtain a wife. He was never an active member.

The Extra-Sacramental Rituals
After the Blessing ceremony, for the First Generation there is an “Indemnity Stick ceremony” where the couples all have to beat their spouse’s buttocks as hard as they can with a baseball bat or heavy stick. The purpose of this is to pay a price for the sin of Adam and Eve by hitting the sexual area. It is also meant as the one time a couple is allowed to physically assault one another, after-which all disputes should be settled verbally. This ceremony is public, and is not a private experience. Members have been hospitalized with spinal injuries because of this ceremony.

Following a further separation period of at least 40 days a “Three Day Ceremony” of sex rituals between the couple is conducted. This mirrors the pikareum ceremony of earlier times, which also required three sessions of sexual intercourse on different days in different positions for spiritual restoration to be valid. However, after the blessing ceremony, it was common for couples to remain separated for periods of up to seven years, often not consummating for years after their union. Single members are able to devote more time to fundraising and witnessing to boost Moon’s empire.

A leader at Cheongpyeong helping a sister with ansu

A leader at Cheongpyeong helping a sister with ansu

More recently, with the rise of Dae Mo Nim, the practice of Ansu became an accepted ritual in the Unification Church. In Cheongpyeong, ansu rituals were practiced three times a day until fairly recently, as it was reduced to twice a day. They are crowded and sweaty sessions that last about an hour and a half. Members sing a UC hymn (Grace of the Holy Garden) in Korean while slapping their bodies and the bodies of those in front of them. During the ceremony, members follow the instructions of a dancing/singing/drumming troupe on stage called the Chanyang team. The Chanyang team calls out what body part from which to expel evil spirits, which includes the genitals and the buttocks. Medical ansu is a specialized ansu ceremony where members strip naked and beat parts of the body that they feel needs the most ansu. As you can imagine, this has resulted in some severe groin injuries, especially for men.

Fundraising and Unpaid Labor in the Unification Church

MFT members in the 70s

MFT members in the 70s

Fundraising activities for new recruits mostly consisted of travelling cross country in groups, usually in a van, and selling trinkets or asking for donations. These groups were called Mobile Fundraising Teams, or MFT. Fundraising was considered both a way of raising money for church activities and a spiritual activity tied to the idea that members needed to suffer, or “pay indemnity”, for the sins of previous and current generations. However, as church expenses grew and the Moon’s lifestyle became more lavish, pressure for ever more money meant that MFT was increasingly members’ only activity, rather than a rite of passage for new recruits. The emphasis on money and lack of concern for member safety caused thousands of members to leave in the 1970s and 80s. During that period there were many traffic accidents, some resulting in injury or death, often caused by sleep deprivation. Worse, more female members were sexually assaulted or raped than has ever been acknowledged.

As the church matured and acquired business interests, members would typically work at these businesses for either no or submarket wages. This would allow the businesses to maximize cash generation, funneled to either the Moon family or to church activities, as both were assumed to be the same. Rarely were wages sufficient to support a family, so many moonlighted selling flowers or trinkets in order to make ends meet, much as they had in their MFT days.

The Unification Church currently has many assets, thought to be in the billions of dollar value. However, over the years those assets have largely come to be owned directly or indirectly by the Moon family, and thus have been split, much as the family has split. Many of the assets are no longer under the supervision and management of the “mainline” Church (FFWPU), effectively stolen by the Moon family, namely Hyun Jin (H1) with UCI but also Kook Jin, owner of SAEILO USA and Kahr Arms.

Though the American Church is not as aggressive as it once was in its fundraising, there remains teams of youth teams throughout the US, Asia, Europe, and Latin America living in vans and church centers, raising money for the Unification Church, as well as international First Generation fundraising groups. MFT teams still exist in the US, formerly associated with the Santa Monica “video” center and currently with the New Hope Foundation International, though not much is known about these young members, even to active members.

The Church in Japan
Even more extreme fundraising in Japan started around 1970 and continues to this day. There members deal with a higher demand of required financial giving to the Unification Church. It has been reported that about 75% of 2nd generation Unificationists in Japan do not attend college because they are unable to afford it. One example of absurd tithes was when Moon personally extracted $500 million from Japanese sisters in the fall of 1993. He demanded that 50,000 sisters attend his workshops on Cheju Island and each had to pay a fee of $10,000.

Moon inspecting the fundraising merchandise of the UC in Japan

Moon inspecting the fundraising merchandise of the UC in Japan

Not only are tithes and special “love offerings” exceptionally high, but the Church has systematically scammed Japanese people. The Church sent members door-to-door for the sales of a variety of art and religious objects that were sold for highly inflated prices, in the most extreme cases $30,000 for a set of two marble vases or more than $50,000 for a small jade pagoda. The religious objects were represented as having the power to liberate suffering ancestors and prevent misfortune. One member reported that “members were told to focus mainly on housewives, women over 30 who appeared to have some money.” Members would read these women’s palms and greatly flatter them. This scam has also run in other Asian countries, including Singapore. Moon supported the swindling as the practice raised an average of $1 million per month.

As well as putting members in providential roles in his drama, Moon put nations in providential roles. He put Japan in the role of Eve, to Korea’s Adam. (Moon explained that the shape of Korea was like a penis.) Because Eve seduced Adam, Japan had to pay the largest price of any country. In addition, because of Japan’s occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945 and appropriation of Korea’s resources during that time, the UC of Japan is endlessly held responsible for financially supporting the entire UC providence. The Japanese members tend to be very superstitious and tend to feel guilt and shame more than most. Moon understood this and severely manipulated the Japanese.

Moon in the West
Perhaps the role of other nations in the West was mainly to give Moon prestige and power. This was largely achieved because of the money coming in from Japan. The example of the Washington Times comes to mind, which has been supporting the causes of the Christian Right since its inception.

Sun Myung Moon meets Richard Nixon

Sun Myung Moon meets Richard Nixon

Moon understood the power of the media and bought himself protection through establishing newspapers in key countries. The amount of money he spent on PR, for example on his US rallies from 1973-1976, and on publications, is huge.

As a major funder of the Christian Right, Moon had a friendship with Tim LaHaye (writer of the Left Behind series), the Bush family (George H.W. Bush, and other family members, have spoken at many church-affiliated events), Jerry Falwell (as Moon poured millions of dollars into Liberty University), and dozens of others respected leaders in both the Evangelical Church and in right-wing politics.

His influence in American politics died out towards the end of his life, and many of his messianic dreams never came to pass. That said, his financial empire still exists, though now fragmented. The value of Moon-held businesses and properties throughout the world, is estimated to be in the tens of billions dollars. Most all of these have nothing to do with building any “Kingdom of God” on earth. That seems to be just a facade. The price for followers has been high.

Moon never became sovereign of a nation. He was not given a Nobel prize. He ended up as a rather grumpy shaman king with over 120 crowns but no kingdom. His “wisdom” was stolen. His talk of love was hollow, and his ideal family is anything but. He was talented at manipulating others for his own benefit. His strongest legacy has been as a warning to others.

The history of the Unification Church is quite complex. The experience of members in different regions and decades varies tremendously. The only consistent thing about the Unification Church throughout the years and throughout the globe is that it has always been manipulative and abusive towards members. Over the decades there have been countless of lives lost in service to Moon’s organization, and one can imagine the chronic suicidal presence and action among those affected by such a manipulative organization. There have been many untold and forgotten stories of those harmed by the Unification Church, and in the honor of these individuals, and for the sake of those still being abused by the church, I will continue to seek justice in any and every way I know how.

For more information,  you can check out my blog dedicated completely to this very topic: How Well Do You Know Your Moon

Recommended Resources
Change of Blood Lineage through Ritual Sex in the Unification Church by Kirsti Nevalainen
In the Shadow of the Moons: My Life in the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Family by Nansook Hong
A video of Sam Park, one of Moon’s children from his extramarital affairs, telling his mother’s and his story
Video testimonies against Moon by early members

There’s More to Revival

Worship at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, home of the in/famous “Toronto Blessing”

I was 16 years old when I was convinced that there was more to the Christian life than what I had been experiencing. I didn’t quite know what that looked like, but I found no reason to believe that what the disciples experienced in Pentecost was not for me. I prayed for over a month, every night, rain or snow, in a park nearby my house. I knew if my parents, who are not Christians, heard my pleading to God, they would be a bit freaked out. My prayers were loud, often whiny, sprinkled with shouting and screams, and always irreverent. I was God’s little brat child. (I still am. Sanctification is a process.)

At that time in my life I was a bit over-zealous, I admit, but I miss being filled with so much faith.  I really did expect God to intervene and answer my pleas. I imagined being filled with the Spirit as an absurdly dramatic encounter with God where the ground beneath me would shake, the skies would rumble, and I would be consumed by apocalyptic visions and inward raptures. Instead, each time I prayed, I felt love and peace warm my body, a deep assurance of God’s presence, and I’d shake, not from the bitter cold, but because I was overwhelmed by the love of God. For some reason, that wasn’t enough. I refused to count that as being filled with the Spirit. Eventually I got burnt out by what I saw as unanswered prayers, and stopped asking God to fill me with the Spirit and grant me with the same power as the apostles.

It was months later, when I was 17, that I actually spoke in tongues. For whatever reason, I had some frustrating prayers that night and no matter what I said to God, it didn’t feel right. It didn’t capture something that was stirring in me. My words felt dry and the Holy Ghost seemed distant. I began pacing my bathroom post-prayer, annoyed at both myself and God, and these clumsy words pushed their way out of my mouth. I asked myself, “was that… what I think it was?” Terrified of being deceived by Satan, I got on my knees immediately and asked for discernment and wisdom, and as I prayed, more of these strange words came out. After quite a good while of praying in tongues, I felt clothed in power, filled with peace, and overflowing with love. I got a great sleep that night, too.

After this undeniably charismatic experience, I was scared that this Spirit-baptism would be isolating for me in my very Evangelical church and was hoping I wouldn’t have to succumb to attending a charismaniac church in order to finally exercise these gifts. Thankfully, in my little Christian & Missionary Alliance church, I had found the space to practice these spiritual gifts. I found out some of the youth and young adults in my church recently experienced similar things through a local house of prayer (associated with the International House of Prayer in Kansas City). Almost simultaneously, some of the adults, including folks in leadership, were also starting to experience the charismatic gifts and even started having mystical and ecstatic experiences, such as visions, uncontrollable laughter, and “soaking in the Spirit.”

With the support of the growing charismatic faction of the church, I began an ecumenical prayer ministry in the church basement where we’d eat cookies and then pound on Heaven’s door with simultaneous prayers, with known and unknown tongues. I also began interceding at the altar of the church with the youth every Sunday after service, contending for revival in our region. As I began attending the local house of prayer with my friends from church, I thought I was starting to see revival unfold before my eyes. It was there that I first saw healing, deliverance, and worship that flowed so smoothly yet so wildly. It was so raw, and at times even goofy, but somehow so beautiful and powerful.

Being prayed on a 'Miracles, Signs, and Wonders' conference (2012)

Being prayed on a ‘Miracles, Signs, and Wonders’ conference (2012)

I admit, at first I was terrified. I came to the house of prayer before a meeting and a leader warned me of what may occur that night. He started naming off different manifestations—shaking, falling, tongues, laughing—and I was disturbed. I had been speaking in tongues for maybe over a month, but I was offended that people would pull out something I saw as private and intimate in a meeting with dozens of strangers. As he named off the other manifestations, all I could think was, “I don’t want a demon!” Despite all my hesitation, much of it warranted as I look back on it, by the end of the night I ended up on the ground, squirming and sweating as I felt what I would describe as “fire” run throughout my body. I came out of this experience not knowing how to explain what just happened, but knowing deep in my soul that it was Jesus and I wanted more.

I still believe that it was Jesus, and I believe that fire was the love of God, as I experienced an unprecedented intimacy with God in the following months and came to experience the Christ’s refining work like never before. This was a special time in my life, but I admit that not all of it was healthy. The nature of these two years are such a mixed bag, filled with profound revelations and touches from God, but also much hype, disappointment, and irresponsible theology. There was an air of expectancy and fiery faith, but God was sometimes made out to be some cosmic vending machine and perhaps even a magic genie who automatically delivers your wishes. I remember being commanded to prophesy by a leader and I felt shamed when I was unable to spit out some oracles.

During this season, it had been promised by popular prophets and speakers that a national, and even a global, revival was to come out of the “current move of God”. There would be a new missionary movement, the Church would grow like never before, and a time of tribulation would come and test the Bride, and she’d rise in power and authority and bring back the return of Christ. We were the final generation; the manifest sons of God. But what really happened? I saw some people come to faith and I saw God renew and transform some lives, but I didn’t see transformation on a wider-scale, and I also saw a good amount of harm done. Eventually, even these “power encounters”, as some neo-charismatics label these experiences, started to die out. The testimonies started to dry up and we saw less and less healings and miracles, and even laughing, weeping, and being “slain in the Spirit” started to vanish from the meetings.

Ultimately, I didn’t see revival. At least not one that matched the narrative we were offered by popular charismatic teachers. What they offered doesn’t seem to count as revival anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in revival. I just think it’s bigger than doing signs and wonders and getting a bunch of people to say a prayer and go to church on Sunday. Revival, when it poured down on the Church in Pentecost, brought power from on high to do miracles and to preach the Gospel, but it also brought deep fellowship, discipleship, and selflessness in the Church. It created a radical community (Acts 2:42, 44-46).

Sometimes I wonder if much of the Charismatic world focuses on these elaborate prophecies and miraculous goals in order to avoid the hard stuff the gospel calls for us to do. I know too many people caught up in a cycle of mission trips, “schools of supernatural ministry”, conferences, etc., seeking to be equipped in the miraculous, but have no idea how to snap out of speaking Christianese and actually engage with the world. They are so often out of touch with issues of injustice in society and the ways the world desperately needs healing. It appears they are more concerned with winning people over to their club rather than living and manifesting redemption. Even their acts of compassion and mercy are frequently a ploy to gain a convert.

Jesus calls us to a radical mission, and sometimes it is to go across the world and serve the poor, but most often it is to bring the gospel to wherever we are. It does not take much searching to find brokenness. The truth is that most often the ministries we are called to don’t look fantastic or worthy of being on the front cover of Charisma Magazine. God almost always utilizes the situation we are already in and the resources we already have. Even if God breaks into our lives with the miraculous, let us never fool ourselves to think we are more than human. In the incarnation, and even on the cross, we discover there is glory in being human. There is even power in being weak. May we never forget to live boldly in the ordinary, bringing the seed of the Kingdom into every act, and the love of God into every moment. I think that’s what revival looks like.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’”
Matthew 7:21-23

“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
1 Corinthians 13:1-3

The Gift of Tongues in Corporate Worship

Screen shot 2013-02-03 at 11.04.11 PM

Micah Bales recently posted “Are Quakers Allowed to Speak in Tongues?“, and I have to say this post was another reminder of why I am thankful for the Friends of Jesus Fellowship. Micah does not speak in tongues nor is he seeking this gift, and he actually admitted to having felt nervous in the presence of tongues in our fellowship. He followed this vulnerable admission with something I found incredibly affirming for those like me who do speak in tongues.

I’m proud of my community. Friends of Jesus Fellowship isn’t obsessed with charismatic expressions. We’re not chasing after exotic gifts and wonders. At the same time, we don’t flee from them when they do occur. On the contrary, our 2014 Fall Gathering was edified by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, expressed in large part through the ecstatic prayer and non-rational utterances by several of our brothers and sisters.

The discussions around this post, on both Micah’s site and facebook, have been incredibly interesting with people from all over the board, including skeptical former Pentecostals to Quakers who discretely practice the gift of tongues. One of the major concerns of those in the middle, perhaps the “open but cautious” types, is how tongues should operate in corporate worship.

Many claim that the use of tongues for prayer and worship in corporate settings is terribly inappropriate and not in line with 1 Corinthians. Others see tongues without interpretation as unable to ever be profitable to the Church and dismiss any use of tongues that has no interpretation. Despite all the arguments and debates on how tongues should be used within a body, I think 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 14 bring the needed clarity into this topic as they go into great detail about the importance of the charismatic gifts and how they ought to be used properly.

I will preface this post by saying that this is not the official or even the majority view among the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, especially my view that tongues is a gift that all may experience in Christ and not a select few.  That said, I hope that this post can shed some light on the nature of tongues and their use in worship, even if you do not find yourself quite agreeing with what I have to say.

Two kinds of tongues

1 Corinthians 14 goes into most depth about two gifts, that being tongues and prophecy. In this chapter, we see there being two natures to tongues, one of edification for the body of saints (with interpretation, v.5) and the other being for the individual in their prayer-life (v.2). One form of tongues is seen as on the same level as prophecy (v.5), as it may be bring “revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction” (v.6). According to verse 27, “let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.” So then, the gift of tongues could operate up to 2 or 3 in succession, then the congregation should allow time for there to be an interpretation before resuming with more tongues (if the Spirit so moves). That way, interpretation is coming forth at regular intervals so the congregation is edified.

The other tongues, though, is for prayer and worship (vs. 14-17). Without interpretation, this use of tongues is still edifying for one’s spirit (v.14). That being true, Paul encouraged tongue-prayers to ask the Lord for the power to interpret their own tongues so they may also understand what they are praying and have their mind be fruitful (v. 13). We see Paul is thankful to speak in tongues more than the rest of the Corinthians (v.18), which is quite incredibly considering how tongue-crazy they were, but in a church he found it more profitable to bring intelligible instruction than display his prayer language before the whole assembly.

I would also argue that only one form of these tongues is the gift listed in 1 Cor. 12. that being the tongues that brings forth prophetic messages. I say this because each “manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7), and the personal use of tongues is not strictly for the common good but most often for the building up of one’s spirit. This may be why later on in 1 Corinthians 12:30, Paul rhetorically asks, “Do all speak in tongues?” The answer of course being “no”, for up to this point he only discussed the gift of tongues and not the prayer language he expands on in chapter 14.

The pentecostal inheritance

Many believe that the tongues at Pentecost were human languages and were for the purpose of evangelism, but as I discussed in a previous post on tongues, the tongues at Pentecost seemed to be more doxological than evangelistic, as the unbelievers heard declarations of “the wonders of God in [their] own tongues” (Acts 2:11).  More importantly than glossolalia, Pentecost brought forth the outpouring of the Spirit on the Church. Pentecost opened the hearts of the early Christians to the revelation of the new covenant: In Christ, we are children of God (Gal. 3:26). As the people and children of God, we need no mediator between us and Christ (Heb. 9:15, 12:24), we have been made the temple of the Spirit as individuals and corporately (1 Cor. 3:16, 6:19-20, 1 Peter 2:5),  and God is within us (Ez. 36:27, Rom. 8:11, 2 Tim. 1:14).

As the prophecy in Joel 2 became fulfilled at Pentecost, as Peter subsequently went on to sermonize about (Acts 2:14-41), the prophetic role of this new covenant people was also revealed. As indicated by Joel and Peter, every believer has the ability to listen to the voice of God and experience direct revelations from God. As Robert Barclay wrote in Apology for the True Christian Divinity, by the Spirit, “God always revealed himself to his children.”

As this reality is uncovered by Peter, all those in Christ seeking the promise of the Father at this point (Acts 1:4), that is the prophetic and charismatic endowment of the Spirit, had been given the ability to utter doxologies in other tongues. Though tongues was not explicitly mentioned in every account of the Spirit-baptism in Acts (Acts 11:15-17), it is most commonly manifested in this spiritual event throughout Acts (Acts 2:11; Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6).

Both tongues and prophecy are closely related, as indicated by both Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14, and to some degree are related. The whole Church is set apart as a prophetic people but there is the gifting and anointing of those called to be prophets. Paul indicates the uniqueness of this gift in same 1 Corinthians 12:29 when he asks rhetorically, “Are all prophets?” This prophetic gifting is for one to be set apart to be constantly building up the church with prophecies, as well as weighing prophecies (1 Cor. 14:29). Though prophets are set apart as a unique calling, the call to prophesy is for all believers (Acts 2:17-21, 1 Cor. 14:1, 39), and in the new covenant we are all promised to hear the Shepherd’s voice (Acts 2, John 10). Like the role and grace of being a prophet, there are those who are especially gifted with the gift of tongues for the sake of delivering prophetic messages (1 Cor. 12:30), but it is indicated that the ability to pray and worship in other tongues is normative for all believers. Both prophecy and tongues seem to be the pentecostal inheritance of all believers.

Tongues sung and prayed in church

Early on in Church history there were instances of the corporate use of tongues. One example would be Jubilation, which was a widespread practice of what could very well be labeled worshiping in tongues. It was described by Eddie Ensley in Sounds of Wonder as a point in the 4th to 9th century liturgy when “the people moved into exuberant wordless singing on vowel sounds [which] could last for up to five minutes.” Jubilation was replaced by written music for various reasons, but continued as a private practice and was exercised by St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, and other mystics.

From experience, I must say, that when tongues is sang corporately, there is a loss of distinction in the individual tongues and a beautiful, almost angelic sound does arise. I have heard several testimonies of men stumbling into charismatic meetings and being drawn by the powerful beauty of the sound of melodies in tongues. Though this argument is not at all part of the exegetical study of the corporate use of tongues, it is definitely worth considering. This is probably why so many of the major fathers of the Church enthusiastically wrote about the practice of jubilation, as Richard Hogue noted in Tongues: A Theological History of Christian Glossalalia:

“Augustine, Jerome, John Cassian, Ambrose, Pter Chrysologus, John Chrysostom, Gregory the Great, Isidore of Seville, and Cassiodorus–wrote of jubilation. Obviously, most of the fathers of the late Roman Empire and Dark Ages believed jubilation was the continuation of a biblical and apostolic tradition. To the fathers, the relationship Christians enjoyed with God was at its best a mystery. For them, praying and singing with God was a way of entering into that mystery, a way of experiencing God that was too great for ordinary words. It was a mean of entering into mystery, of being led into the mystery with body and soil. And it worked. It seems to have been the use of jubilation that kept Augustine open to the supernatural. Later in his life, Augustine, writing his famous work, The City of God, acknowledge his great joy at the miraculous move of the Holy Spirit in his church at Hippo: ‘Even now, miracles are wrought in the name of Christ, whether by sacraments or by prayer or the relics of his saints.'”

The issues with worshiping in tongues

The idea of whole-church participation in speaking in tongues may be concerning to many because of 1 Corinthians 14:22-25:

Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”

What does Paul mean when he writes that tongues are a sign for unbelievers?

First off, that tongues and interpretation is described to be for the edification of the Church (v. 5), and that prophecy was also used to expose the unbelievers’ hearts and draw them to Christ (v. 25). Prophecy and tongues are for both the edification of the saints and evangelism to the lost. Perhaps it could be said that tongues is primarily a sign for unbelievers, but also a gift to the Church, and prophecy is primarily a gift to the Church, but also a sign to unbelievers.

Tongues when interpreted is, as noted earlier, a “revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction.” It is basically a prophetic message, but first coming in an unknown tongue. This tongue could be of any language and there is a possibility that the tongue-speaker could be speaking in the unbeliever’s language (1 Cor. 13:1), or at least they could hear it as their own. In this way, tongues offer a greater sign to the unbeliever.

If the whole Church gathered and allowed all to individually deliver their tongue without any interpretation, this would be chaotic and unedifying. This would be perfect reason for an unbeliever to conclude that Christians are out of their minds (v. 23). This is what seemed to be happening in the Corinthian church.

It could be said that the Corinthians are an example of over-enthusiastic charismatics on the verge of idolizing the signs and wonders. They may have gathered to produce the sign for the sake of producing a sign. He points them to way of love (1 Cor. 13, 14:1), encourages them to keep desiring the manifestations of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:31, 14:1), and never claims that the gifts and miracles among them were not from God but instead tells them to be wiser in their discernment and to keep the unbeliever in mind.

I think it should also be noted that it would be unfair if a tongue with a message specifically for the unbeliever is left uninterpreted. This profound message from God is instead judged as fanaticism by the one who desperately needs ears to hear.

In verse 28, Paul tells those who are unable to find one gifted in interpretation to “speak to himself and to God.” In this way, uninterpreted tongues is permitted as long as it is not directed to the congregation. There’s a possibility that this tongue was not inspired for the use of corporate edification and that is why no interpreter could be found. Evidence of this would be in the fact that this speaker was able to “speak to himself and to God.”

I write all of this out of my gratitude for what I have experienced with worship and prayer in tongues, in my own devotional life and when practiced in community, as well as my conviction that a revival of the body-building gift of tongues (and not just the ability to pray in other tongues) needs to arise in the Church. I also hope I could address the legitimate concerns of those against the use of uninterpreted tongues for worship, prayer, and personal edification. For those who do not understand praying in tongues and have been uncomfortable with its practice in fellowship, I hope that you would keep in mind the words of my friend Micah:

I don’t have to understand speaking in tongues to know that it felt healthy when others did. I don’t have to pretend I’m comfortable with tongues to welcome these gifts into our community.

May we all be willing to embrace the gifts among our brothers and sisters, no matter how unfamiliar or even quirky, and may we be wise and discerning, truly valuing God’s gifts for all that they are.

Further reading:
Blog: LCMS Post Cessationist Theology: Jubilation & the Gift of Tongues
Article: “The Gift of Tongues & Jubilation” by Terry Donahue
Book: Gift of the Holy Spirit by Paul Ragan
Book: The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Revised Edition by Gordon Fee

Quakerism as a Charismatic Tradition: A Prophetic Church

Quaker Meeting, 1700s

Quaker Meeting, 1700s

For my third and last post in my “Quakerism as a Charismatic Tradition” series (you can read my introduction here and my post on the Spirit-baptism here), I wanted to dig into the heart of the Quaker worship and the Society’s spiritual legacy by exploring the role of prophecy in Quakerism.

In the Liberal Quaker tradition, I’ve found that the word ‘prophecy’ is a term many are familiar with but is often defined more broadly than what the New Testament offers as an explanation and nuanced with a social justice bend. That is not to say it is incorrect or misguided, because I believe this is also part of the gospel-package, but I think we are a community that also prophesies in a way that is compatible with charismatic spirituality.

Prophecy as the Church’s inheritance

Being filled with the Spirit is often associated with prophecy throughout the Old Testament. One example is when Saul received the Holy Spirit, began to prophesy, and was “changed into a different person” (1 Samuel 10:1-10). A more in-depth preview into what the apostolic Church would experience is Numbers 11, where Moses gathered 70 elders and God rested the Spirit on them and they began to prophesy. Two other elders outside the tent simultaneously received the Spirit and began to prophesy. Joshua, Moses’ assistant, opposed the two who were not gathered and received the Spirit, and Moses rebuked him saying, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” (v. 29)

This event in Numbers foreshadows two major things:

  • The 72 disciples who were sent out by Christ to proclaim the Gospel and receive the authority to “overcome all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10), which itself arguably foreshadows the same commission and authority for all Christians (Matthew 28:16-20).
  • God’s desire to have all people receive the Spirit and walk in the prophetic, which was fulfilled in Acts 2.

Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2, was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2) that a day would come when God’s Spirit would be poured out on all people, and they would have visions, dreams, and prophesy. Simply put, the Holy Spirit would make her home in every kind of person, unrestricted by their status or age, and would give them access to God’s voice.

The Role of Prophecy in the Church

Prophecy is more than receiving revelation, or hearing God, but a report or proclamation of a message received from God. Prophecy in the Old Testament is often foretelling of coming future events and rebukes of the wayward Israel for the sake of their redemption. In the New Testament, the operation of prophecy is a bit more open-ended. As Gordon Fee points out in Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, “[t]he actual function of prophecy in the Pauline churches is… difficult to pin down.” He goes on to explain that “on the one hand, the Spirit directs the lives of his servants in specific ways; sometimes they are singled out for the ministry the Spirit empowers (1 Tim. 1:18, 4:14), and sometimes they are directed to undertake a difficult mission to Jerusalem (Gal 2:2),” and other times it was an eschatological message, reminding believers of the increasing evil of the age. In 1 Corinthians, though, prophecy is seen as a reported revelation that is meant to encourage and edify the body.

1 Corinthians 12 makes it clear that when Christians meet for fellowship and worship, everybody ought to participate. Paul writes in verse 7, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Paul seemed very enthusiastic about the use of prophecy in meetings, encouraging the Corinthians to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially to prophesy. He seemed to find prophecy to be the most vital gift to fellowship, putting tongues on the same footing as long as it is interpreted with a prophetic message or teaching (1 Cor. 14:5-19). He warned the Thessalonian Church to “not treat prophecies with contempt.” (1 Thess. 5:20).

1 Corinthians also reveals that Paul saw prophecy not as an ecstatic, uncontrollable experience but a gift that needed to be handled with discernment.

“Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.”

—1 Corinthians 14:29-33

These verses shed light on how this gift could be harnessed by the community in the Spirit as well as the possibility of all in the meeting prophesying so that everybody present could be encouraged. This may not frequently happen or be the ideal, but Paul reveals that it is possible, as long as it is orderly, in turn, and properly discerned.

Some may find the language of “prophets” limiting and reserved for those who are constant oracles, but as Gordon Fee points out in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, “prophet” is used a bit ambiguously and those called prophets throughout the New Testament may not have the title of prophet but are simply recognized to prophesy more frequently than others. The gift of prophecy, too, is not something that one owns but a manifestation that all who follow Christ can experience as they yield to the Spirit, following Paul’s encouragement to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially to prophesy.” In a sense, the New Testament Church is one where Moses’ desire in Numbers 11 for all the Lord’s people to be prophets, endowed with the gift of the Spirit, is fulfilled.

The Religious Society of Friends as a Community of Prophets

In the very beginning of Quakerism, charismatic phenomena was normative within the Quaker experience. Silence has always been valued by the Society of Friends, but the silence often drove early meetings into deep ecstasies and mystical experiences. There would be spontaneous songs, prophecies, physical trembling, and other manifestations. The ministry of George Fox was full of what John Wimber, founder of the neo-charismatic Vineyard denomination and former Evangelical Quaker minister, would call “empowered evangelism”. This term was coined to describe the use of the charismatic gifts in proclaiming the gospel.  Fox was not simply known as an evangelist or a minister but also a healer, even claiming to have raised the dead

More than any other miracle or gift, prophecy has always been an integral aspect of Quaker worship and spirituality. Fox’s life and ministry were transformed by hearing God tell him that above all preachers and churches, only Christ could speak to his condition. This conviction that Christ has come to teach God’s people himself drew many out of the established churches and into the Religious Society.

A simple but radical vision arose among Quakers; one that stood against the Empire as well as the empty and corrupt ways of the established churches. Their deep conviction in the words of Christ and their transformative experience of the Spirit drove them to prophesy to one another in silent meetings, offering messages to inspire, encourage, and edify. George Fox wrote that An Epistle to All People on the Earth that “it was the Practice of many to wait in Silence upon God, to hear his Word, and know his Voice.”

Prophecy was not simply for the meeting of believers, but also for the world outside the Religious Society of Friends. Quakers, including George Fox, were known to enter religious meetings and call out the clergy and whole congregations for their lavishness, empty rituals, hierarchy, and their sexism, and would propose a different and better way, as modeled by the forming Quaker communities, and by Christ. This was in line with the Old Testament prophets, speaking forth the heart of God fully, in its rebuke and proposal, all for redemption’s sake.

Throughout the centuries, Quakers have continued to embrace prophecy, and in even broader ways. Rufus Jones felt the Society had “prophetic service” to offer the world; which was, according to Jones, “free and broad-visioned enough to see around and beyond the partial one-sided aspect of the issue for which the ‘party’ stands, and to seize the ethical and spiritual significance of the whole situation before us, and deal with it from above the storm and controversy and propaganda of the moment.” The social justice work of the Religious Society has always been out of attempts to be Spirit-led and to see through God’s eyes, and to model a better, and often times much more radical, way.

Though many Quakers in the West tend to associate prophecy with the Society’s “prophetic service,” the charismatic gift of prophecy is still very much alive in Quakerism, particularly in meeting for worship. When Friends give a message, they speak out of inspiration that they let brew in the silent presence of God. Anybody can be inspired and led by God to give vocal ministry, as church hierarchy is no barrier to participation in Quaker meeting. This model was given by Paul, who envisioned fellowship being a space where every disciple of Christ would be used by the Spirit.

The Quaker practice of waiting in silence gives space for the Spirit to manifest powerful graces. This silence is not simply about prophetic ministry but also grants worshipers a space to individually center themselves and for the whole meeting to share God’s presence and experience a corporate baptism of the Spirit. The marriage of prophetic ministry with contemplative prayer is fairly unique.

Of course Quakerism is not unique in its observance of silent worship, as “waiting worship” has been practiced throughout Church history by those in mystical and monastic traditions. This form of worship has been revived in Protestantism through different ecumenical movements but also the Pentecostal and charismatic movements. The Azusa Street Revival, which sparked the Pentecostal Movement, often had meetings that had no ministers but consisted of a silent enjoyment of God alone, which often led to ecstatic experiences and ministries of healing and prophecy. This form of “waiting” worship has been a component of Charismatic Renewal prayer meetings since the movement’s inception in the 1960s. Often this extended silence was for the sake of giving prophecy and other spiritual gifts space to manifest.

That said, the Charismatic Movement, especially outside the “Renewal”of the Catholic, liturgical, and mainline churches, most often experience prophecy arising during vocal prayer and worship. Also, in many mystical Christian traditions, contemplative prayer may bring about self-realization and divine guidance, as well as an experience of deep presence and mystical union with God, but is not often experienced corporately with prophecy for the edification of the body. What Quaker meeting offers is unique in this sense.

The potential of what our meetings could be is both powerful and beautiful, but I have to say that I’ve often been disappointed during worship among Friends. My discernment is limited and perhaps I was overly-critical, but there have been times where I’ve been worshiping among Friends and I either felt like I was in a meditation group or in a community discussion sprinkled with silence. I accept and embrace that our worship may be clumsy at times and that sometimes all God grants us is God’s silent, sweet presence, but I also believe that prophecy is the Church’s inheritance in Christ and that we are to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially to prophesy. We have a rich spiritual heritage of prophets and a legacy of being a prophetic community, and I hope we never lose that fire.

I pray that the Society of Friends would continually produce and raise up prophets who would speak in the Spirit of Jesus, building up the Church and revealing the brokenness of the world’s order. I pray that the Society of Friends would more fully inherit the prophetic mantle of the apostolic Church.  I pray we may be a people of vision, for “where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18), and reveal the glory of God’s Kingdom on Earth. As the Church has prayed for centuries, Come, Holy Spirit.