The Incarnation in the Absurd

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When I was first exposed to a charismatic worship service, I experienced a bit of sensory overload. The shouting, the lights, the blowing of the shofar, the rapid speaking in tongues, the bodies twisting and falling over… it was all new and, to me, a bit much. Over time I learned to deal with flags, the arms raised and bodies swaying, and I even came to admire it and eventually participate in these forms of worship. That said, there was a long while where I could not help but judge the wackier practices and expressions of faith taking place. In fact, I still probably do judge these things. The “fire prayer” specifically annoyed me a great deal. For those foreign to charismania, this is when somebody lays hands on an individual and repeatedly declares “fire.” I dismissed it as manipulative and a futile attempt at prayer (and spirituality).  Yet I saw people fall down, shake, and weep as the chant of “fire, fire, fire” came out of the mouths of those ministering.

Now, the fire tunnel was even more of a joke. If you’re not familiar with fire tunnels, the picture above illustrates what they look like. A train of people go through a tunnel of those offering “ministry,” and hands are briefly laid on people for prophecy and prayer. Often those ministering simply yell “fire!” And again, I would see people very visible affected and moved by this experience. People would come out of the fire tunnel basking in the love of God, sometimes with uncontrollable laughter and other times in quiet tears.

Despite seeing all of this, I still could not help but think that these sincere, good people were obviously imbalanced.

I remember a few nights where I looked across the sanctuary and saw people laughing. I was genuinely disgusted by what I perceived to be irreverent and the result of either a mental illness or of a demon. One day, though, in all my doubt and cynicism, I found myself laughing for over 30 minutes during ministry time, having what old school Pentecostals would call a “glory fit.” I felt consumed by joy and overcome by the love of God.

After many months of worshiping alongside charismatics, I began having more and more emotional, strange, mysterious, and mystical experiences. My judgement towards the phenomena associated with Toronto Blessing and “river churches” started to die down, as I found myself laughing, weeping, shaking, and even struck completely still by God. I kept finding myself humbled by having the value of what I judged proven to me by the Holy Spirit herself.

Though I kept having my concept of discernment obliterated by the Holy Spirit, I still held on to as much cynicism as I could. Yes, I speak in tongues—and I even shake from time to time in prayer—and I have laughed in the Spirit and fell over before—but no, no, no, that ‘fire’ prayer is still ridiculous. As much as I felt so convinced of this, and as silly as the whole fire tunnel thing seemed, I jumped out of my seat when a fire tunnel was forming during one night of worship. Perhaps I was testing God, or perhaps it was a push from the Spirit, or maybe I just wanted to experientially know that this was nonsense—I have no idea, but I joined the train into the tunnel. A few people shouted five to ten word prophecies over me, and some laid hands longer than others to pray something coherent, but then I reached an old sweaty lady and she quickly laid hands and she prayed that goofy prayer: FIRE! As she shouted, immediately my body started getting warm and I began trembling. My knees grew too weak to remain standing so I jumped out and laid on the floor. A modesty cloth was immediately placed on my exposed navel as I twitched away with a heart swollen with love.

I encountered God through an absurd medium. The woman who was praying for me was dripping makeup on me as she passionately cried out to God a simple prayer. More drops of sweat came off her face than words out of her mouth. Perhaps she was authoritatively imparting grace into my life, or perhaps she was interceding on my behalf, but whatever she did worked. I met God in the sweat, in the shouts, in the absurdity.

There is something profoundly incarnational when God peeks through these silly things. These moments are so intensely human and yet, somehow, divine. I would think that the Holy Spirit wouldn’t waste her time on these bizarre attempts to know and experience her, but maybe she does value the wacky ways we approach her. Maybe all our ways of approaching her are kind of wacky. There’s a lot of pretension and arrogance and hard-heartedness in so many  of our prayers and maybe she’s just so excited to have some willingness, some yielding, some raw love, that she can handle a little bit of our ridiculousness.

There is something about such clumsy devotion that reveals the Incarnation so clearly. I’ve had similar experiences in the Society of Friends, as Friends so often give vocal ministry that, to me, reflect this union of Humanity and Divinity in Christ. Now, I’m not talking about that thought-provoking, poetic, and polished message that could make an excellent podcast, but I’m talking about that eccentric, sometimes hard to follow, and most definitely goofy message that you cannot deny is from the heart and even the Spirit of God. You may be listening and growing impatient with what seem to be tangents but find yourself at the end of the message with a heavy silence, finding the Seed in you growing, with a few rising queries that you cannot help but lean into.

I cannot help but think of Mary Magdalene’s odd devotion to Christ in John 12, as she poured expensive ointment on his feet and washed them with her hair. How bizarre, how strange, and even irresponsible. Judas Iscariot called out Mary for her irresponsibility, but Christ affirmed Mary’s devotion. He was thankful, even if it was ridiculous. I’m confident that Jesus revealed the heart of God in his acceptance and delight in the oddness of Mary’s lavished love. I would even say that I’m confident that God accepts and delights in our own goofiness.

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

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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.

Quakerism as a Charismatic Tradition: The Baptism of Love

In my second post of my series “Quakerism as a Charismatic Tradition” (the first being found here), I wanted to explore the Quaker view of baptism and its connections to charismatic spirituality.

Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church

Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church

“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

—Paul, Ephesians 3:18-19

One of the doctrinal distinctives of early Quakerism was the belief that the baptism Christians should receive is Christ’s baptism of the Spirit rather than John’s baptism of water. Robert Barclay, early Quaker apologist and theologian, summed up the Quaker view of baptism with 1 Peter 3:21: “baptism, which [the water] prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Accordingly, John’s water baptism is seen as a ritual that points to a higher and greater baptism, that being Christ’s, which offers “a good conscience, through the resurrection of Christ.” In this baptism, we can experience the grace of Christ.

Charismatic movements throughout Church history have nuanced baptism differently, almost always stressing the importance of water-baptism and often defining the water-baptism as a charismatic experience in itself. That said, a baptism of the Spirit has been vital to such movements, especially in its more modern forms. The charismatic view of this baptism is more so an awakening or activating experience, that stirs up the gift of God within and enables a believer to walk in the power of Christ’s ministry.

Quakerism, on the other hand, has never practiced water-baptism. From the beginning, baptism was seen as an inward work of God rather than an outward rite. The water-baptism was seen as empty ritualism that gave a false sense of spiritual security to those in the corrupt established churches. James Nayler wrote in response to the accusations coming from the established churches, “The saints’ baptism was by one Spirit into one body… but thine is without in carnal water.”

Though Friends do not practice water-baptism, the Friends view of baptism has several dimensions to it, some of which are shared with Charismatics.

Friends on Baptism

Image Credit: Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections

Image Credit: Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections

Isaac Penington wrote of a baptism received upon coming to faith in Jesus, which is the aspect of Spirit-baptism that Evangelicals most deeply explore. He wrote, “The promise of receiving the Spirit is upon believing, and it extendeth to every one that believeth. ‘He that believeth on me,’ as the scripture hath said, ‘out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water;’ but this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive…but every one received so much of the Spirit as to make him a son, and to cry Abba, Father, and to wash him.”

This initial baptism of the Spirit draws Christians into discipleship, but Friends stress that in no way does the experience of the Spirit end there. Both Paul and Peter were recorded to have received multiple fillings of the Spirit, indicating that experiencing the baptism or filling of the Spirit can continually occur. Paul even encouraged believers to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), revealing that believers should continually experience the Spirit’s filling and that one receives the filling in cooperation with, or in yielding to, God.

This baptism is written to be one of “Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11), which is later revealed by the 120 disciples on Pentecost to be a baptism of power. Early Friends testified to the power of their conversion, often counting it as a mystical and at times ecstatic experience that brought them into discipleship under Christ. The baptism of the Spirit grants “power from on high” (Luke 24:49) so disciples may manifest the Kingdom. Not only was this an empowering experience for early Quakers, but also often seen as a crucifixion of false desires and sin. Many spoke of a “baptism of death” and an “inward cross”, revealing the refining, and sometimes painful, aspect of this baptism. Only through this baptism of death can one experience the power of resurrection.

George Fox wrote that this “baptism… plunges down sin and corruption, which hath gotten up by disobedience and transgression.” In other words, this baptism was seen as sanctifying, cleansing people of their crooked ways. Ann Branson, a Quaker minister, was in agreement with Fox, writing in 1833, “We must experience the refining, cleansing operation of his baptism–the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, purging the temple of our hearts from all that his righteous controversy is with, before He will deign to own us before his Father and the holy angels.”

Friends often seemed to see this cleansing from the Spirit as experienced through suffering. Suffering was often embraced as the providential work of God in a believer’s life. Isaac Penington wrote, “The power and Spirit of the Lord, which cleanseth away all this rubbish, will make his truth shine, his church shine, his suffering lambs, that come out of the great tribulation, shine more than ever before.”

19th century Friend Job Scott wrote the following in his journal, revealing the sanctifying suffering seen as baptism:

“Though Jesus has once passed through it all, and trod the wine press alone, he has not thereby exempted us from the like baptisms. On the contrary, he queried with those who seemed desirous to sit with him in his kingdom, ‘Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ These are the terms still. It is true, remission of sins that are past, is only through his blood; but as to actual sanctification, it is they only who suffer with him that can reign with him.”

Joseph Gurney may be a controversial Friend, but his words on baptism give a very full definition to the Spirit-baptism.

In his sermon in 1838 at Arch Street Meetinghouse, he describes being baptized in the Spirit as “trembl[ing] under an awful feeling of the power and the holiness of Jehovah.” He went on to explain the sobering and convicting experience found in the baptism, calling it a “living sense of his holiness… an awful remembrance of the doctrine, that God is light, and that in him there is no darkness at all” and that through this baptism “we begin to see our own alienation from him, while we are dead in trespasses and sin; then do we begin to perceive the sinfulness of sin; then are we brought to a trembling sense of the malignity of this worst of all evils.”

In that same sermon, he explained that this baptism of holiness was also one of love:

“And yet, friends, there is a being baptized into a sense, not only of the holiness, but of the love of God. O yes, we may well be melted into tenderness, when we offend the immutable Jehovah, the God of holiness, who condescends to plead with his transgressing children, as a father pleads with his dear son or daughter!”

Early Pentecostals on Spirit-Baptism

Much of how Gurney describes this baptism lines up with historical Pentecostal theology.

In 1833 at Bishopsgate Street Meetinghouse, Gurney spoke of the empowering nature of this baptism of love, as he explained that the apostles “were baptized of the great Baptizer… with the Holy Ghost and with fire; their hearts were indeed warm with the Saviour’s love, they knew the pure flame of his love to burn up the chaff within them, and were constrained by the strongest of motives to turn their backs on a world lying in wickedness, and to take up their cross and follow Jesus.”

Frank Bartleman, an early Pentecostal leader, wrote in his account of Azusa Street that the Spirit manifested most clearly in this revival through love.

“Divine love was wonderfully manifest in the meetings. They would not even allow an unkind word said against their opposers or the churches.  The message was ‘the love of God.’ It was a sort of ‘first love’ of the early church returned. The ‘baptism,’ as we received it in the beginning, did not allow us to think, speak or hear evil of any man. The Spirit was very sensitive, tender as a dove.

According to Gurney and early Pentecostals like Bartleman, the love of God imparted through the baptism fueled the work of the Church.

Modern Pentecostal theologian Frank D. Macchia wrote in his book “Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology“:

“The Spirit who mediated the love between the Father and the Son is now poured out so as to draw humanity into the koinonia of God and to gift and empower the church to participate in the mission of God in the world.”

Like Agnes Ozman, Pandita Ramabai, William Seymour, and other early Pentecostals, Macchia believes the “Spirit baptism is a baptism into divine love” and the greatest evidence of this baptism being unselfish love. Though many early Pentecostals believed that tongues was the initial evidence of the baptism, there was a consensus that love was the primary and greatest result of this baptism.

Macchia argues that “if Spirit baptism is ever to reconnect to sanctification and the fulfillment of the kingdom of God, it will do so with the help of Spirit baptism conceived as a participation in the love of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” This Pentecostal vision of Spirit-baptism includes growing in holiness, being supernaturally empowered, but at the heart of it is love.

Testimonies of receiving the Spirit of Love in the Spirit-baptism was and is common in modern charismatic movements. J. Rodman Williams shares the account of Lutheran Renewal pastor Erwin Prange in “Renewal Theology“:

“How could a man think he was passing out the bread of life every Sunday and still remain so utterly hungry himself? I was empty, and I knew it. This was the end of the line.” So writes Prange about his situation as a Lutheran pastor in his first parish. Then “all at once a voice seemed to come from nowhere and everything… The gift is already yours. Reach out and take it.” As Prange then stretched out his hands toward the altar, palms up, jaws tightening, and mouth open, “in an instant, there was a sudden shift of dimensions, and God became real. A spirit of pure love pervaded the church and drenched me like rain. He was beating in my heart, flowing through my blood, breathing in my lungs, and thinking in my brain. Every cell in my body, every nerve end, tingled with the fire of His presence.

This seems similar to the accounts of some Friends, like Job Scott, who wrote in his journal of a baptism that was experienced as overwhelming love.

“Ninth month, 1st, the Lord, the God of my life, was graciously pleased to fill my soul with the overflowing of Divine love, and inshinings of Divine light, which continued with me until late in the night, and wherein I have been much instructed. And, O Lord, my God! I humbly crave of thee to enable me, rightly to settle, or to have and know through thy help rightly settled in my mind, every rule, limit, and regulation of life; and that thou wouldest steadily hold my hand, and guide my feet in ways that will please thee, until every such rule and limitation, receive the sanction in my heart of a divine law, that is not to be broken against forever; yea, until a confirmed and habitual observance of them, shall have conformed my whole life thereunto; and therein to thy Divine will, and heavenly image. Amen!”

This recorded “divine visitation” of Scott reveals the variety of baptisms experiences among Friends. Not every baptism was one of suffering and tribulation, but some were pure ecstasies. That is not to say that such experiences were normative. What ties all these baptisms together was the love of God. As Paul put it, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5) To know the Cross of Christ or to experience the perfecting work of the inward Teacher through baptism is to know and experience the love of God. Even if baptisms may be refining in the most painful sense, Hebrews 12:6 explains that this too is out of love, “because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Though traditional Quaker theology tends to see the Spirit-baptism in terms of the progressive saving work of the Spirit, there remains a charismatic element to this baptism, as it is often seen as experiential and empowering for ministry. What binds the theology of baptism among both Charismatics and Quakers is that it fills one with love and the fruit of it is love. Perhaps both baptisms could qualify as what sociologist Margaret Poloma calls “godly love”, which is the experience of God’s love driving people to work towards justice and live out of love for their fellow child of God. If these baptisms are continual and at the core of the Christian experience, as Friends preached, then theologian Karl Barth was right in saying that “the Christian life begins with love [and] it also ends with love.”

Quakerism as a Charismatic Tradition: Introduction

The past few weeks have been incredibly busy, as I’ve moved across the country, celebrated my sister’s wedding, and started a new job, but in the midst of that I’ve also been writing a bit about the charismatic spirituality of Quakerism. I know many post/ex-Evangelicals and folks in general have a bitter taste of the Charismatic Movement, whether it because of abusive experiences or disagreements with their theology, but I ask that you give me a chance in these series of posts to explain why I very much consider Quakerism a charismatic movement.

Gracechurch Street Meeting, London ca.1779.

Gracechurch Street Meeting, London ca.1779.

What is the Charismatic Movement?

Many people make sweeping statements about the Charismatic Movement without much comprehension of the diversity among Charismatics, as evidenced by the multitude of books cautioning believers of this broad movement. In 2013, neo-reformed Baptist preacher and author John MacArthur held a conference that attracted thousands of participants that was dedicated to villifying the excesses of Pentecostals and Charismatics. This conference, “Strange Fire”, assumed Charismatics to be at least gravely deceived, if not hell-bound and blasphemers.

Thankfully, this sort of rhetoric is not as commonplace as it once was in the Church and is progressively losing its steam, as about 26% of the global Church is considered charismatic, and as different charismatic practices have been normalized and adopted by non-charismatic traditions (such as “listening prayer”, “prayer teams”, raising arms in worship, and even speaking in tongues, or the more sanitized “prayer languages”.) That said, people still have strange assumptions about what charismatic spirituality is, and many often are shocked when I claim that Quakerism is actually a thoroughly charismatic tradition.

The Charismatic Movement was initially a renewal movement across the Church rather than a distinct denominational tradition. In many ways it was influenced and informed by its predecessor, the Pentecostal Movement, but was distinct from Pentecostalism because its malleability and its desire to not start a new religious group but instead renew the participants’ respective churches in the power of the Holy Spirit. Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, and virtually every Church tradition was impacted by this movement.

Charismatic Catholics in New Orleans, 1979

Charismatic Catholics in New Orleans, 1979

The Charismatic Movement introduced many Christians to the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”, an experience theologically nuanced in different ways throughout the Movement but could be summed up as a “stirring” or “activation” of the Spirit within. This experience is often ecstatic or euphoric, and those who have received such an experience often claim to have felt God’s love and/or power in those moments as well as have manifested the gift of tongues or, to a lesser extent, prophecy.

The Renewal was not simply for the sake of a personal mysticism but was always meant to revitalize and bless Christian fellowship. The Charismatic Movement touched whole churches, bringing forth the corporate use of the charismata (a Greek word used by Paul that is roughly translated as “grace-expression” or , more commonly, “spiritual gifts”) Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 12:7-10, which include prophecy, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so on, to denominations that were not associated with such phenomena.

The use of these “supernatural” gifts and these “charismatic” experiences are not at all foreign to the Church. This charismatic thread has been an aspect of the Church since Christ’s ministry of healing the sick and casting out demons. Though the use of these gifts have waned throughout Church history, there have been several resurgences of charismatic phenomena, such as the healing revivals St. Augustine witnessed (Augustine, Book XXI, City of God), the ecstatic and miraculous experiences among medieval mystics (such as with Bernard of Clairvaux and Hildegard of Bingen), the modern Pentecostal movement, and countless other movements that believed the Spirit’s miraculous and emboldening power is a timeless gift for the Church.

The charismatic conviction that every individual may access God’s power and hear God’s voice, whether it be for the sake of building up and encouraging the Church, or the proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel, or even for an individual’s edification, is at the heart of Quakerism and, in my opinion, qualifies it as a charismatic tradition.

The charismatic thread in Quakerism

Quakerism follows this thread seen throughout the Church history where disciples sought the Spirit’s power for their lives and ministries so ardently that the intervention of God became expected. This is evident in Friends history from the very beginning with George Fox. Miracles placed a huge role in Fox’s ministry, giving him the reputation of being a healer. Fox’s own ministry was sparked by a revelatory experience where God spoke to him that only Christ could speak to his condition, revealing that there was no need for earthly mediators to connect to God.

Fox was not the only early Friend who experienced the power of the Spirit in such a spectacular manner, as meeting was widely experienced as a space for the Spirit to dramatically touch lives and empower the body of believers, and visions and rapturous experiences were frequent in the early days of the Society.

Even after the initial ecstatic period had long passed, revelations remained vital to Quaker spirituality. John Woolman, a Quaker minister and early abolitionist, wrote about an “opening” experience in his journal where he saw the Light manifest and God speak to his spirit. He wrote, “I awoke; it was yet dark, and no appearance of day or moonshine, and as I opened mine eyes I saw a light in my chamber, at the apparent distance of five feet, about nine inches in diameter, of a clear, easy brightness, and near its centre the most radiant. As I lay still looking upon it without any surprise, words were spoken to my inward ear, which filled my whole inward man. They were not the effect of thought, nor any conclusion in relation to the appearance, but as the language of the Holy One spoken in my mind. The words were, CERTAIN EVIDENCE OF DIVINE TRUTH. They were again repeated exactly in the same manner, and then the light disappeared.”

Even today, Quaker meetings continue to host the presence of God (though with perhaps a deeper contemplative edge) and the gift of prophecy often manifests among us during worship, often referred to as “vocal ministry”. The model of unprogrammed Quaker meeting, where all can equally be vessels of the Spirit, is in line with what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, where all gathered may be used to manifest the power of God.

Quaker meeting also fully embraces what God granted the Church on the day of Pentecost, which was when the Spirit of God was poured out on the Church to empower the her and grant her the ability to hear God and prophesy. This event is the foundation of the Pentecostal Movement and at the heart of charismatic spirituality. On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached as soon as the Spirit was poured out and recounted Joel’s prophecy,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.”

In Quaker meeting, we see this prophecy fulfilled week after week, as we corporately experience the baptism of the Spirit and hear the voice of God from whomever God chooses to minister. We may not be a tongue-talking, holy-rolling bunch of folks, though I wouldn’t mind a little more of that, but one thing we Quakers know is the power and voice of the Spirit. As the Society of Friends, we have a glorious heritage as a people of the Spirit and I’m thankful that even today we continue to reap the gifts of Pentecost in our profoundly charismatic worship.

Read part two, on the baptism of love, here.
Read part three, on the prophetic Church, here.

What Tongue is Tongues?

My first post in awhile and yes, it is on tongues. You would think I would come back from my hiatus with some mystical reflections, but no, just some thoughts on glossolalia and the Bible. What else do you expect from me, though?

So… what language is all this wacky tongues-speaking in? And does it matter?

From the New York Times' article "A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues"

From the New York Times’ article “A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues”

Some take bold stands against the charismatic practice of speaking in tongues because many examples of tongues that have been observed do not seem to resemble any known human language.  Many argue that tongues could not possibly be anything but a human language, turning for proof to Pentecost in Acts 2, when many Jews were able to understand the tongues that the disciples spoke, as well as to 1 Corinthians 14:10, which says, “Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning.” 1 Corinthians 14 sheds some light on the linguistics of tongues.

Many theologians would say there is a difference between the tongues of Pentecost and the tongues described in 1 Corinthians, saying that Pentecost was with known languages, as the Jews from different nations and regions were able to recognize their language being spoken by the disciples (vv. 5-8). Though this is very much possible, I tend to side with the view that the tongues that occurred during Pentecost were the same kind of ‘doxological’ (instead of evangelistic) tongues of the Corinthians. I would propose that the disciples were not actually speaking in known human languages but the unbelievers miraculously were able to hear the disciples’ praise in their own languages. The fact that Pentecost included 120 disciples who spoke in tongues simultaneously makes the probability of one of the foreigners hearing their own language and identifying the words quite slim, especially since these foreigners were on the streets while the disciples were in the Upper Room. The varieties of languages spoken at once would likely keep one from hearing the disciple(s) who’s praise was in their particular language. Even if the tongues at Pentecost were actually human languages, the gift of tongues that Paul speaks of does not always seem to be.

1 Corinthians 14 is obviously the chapter many use to dive into the topic of tongues and how this gift ought to be handled in fellowship. He writes that “no one understands them”, in reference to those who speak in a tongue, and goes on to say “they utter mysteries by the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 14:2). In the same verse, he makes known that this form of tongues is not for speaking to people but to God. Then he goes on to push believers to not come before the church speaking in tongues if there is no interpretation, for then it is but “unintelligible words” which does not edify the body (vv.6-12). It is clear that Paul does not see tongues as something to be understood by the natural ear and this is why he pushes believers to interpret (v.5), which does come from human knowledge but through the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:10). Tongues with interpretation are done so that the Church may be built up;3 tongues in personal devotion is only fruitful for an individual’s spirit (vv.4,14).

The interpretation of tongues is seen as vital whenever a tongue is spoken to the body (1 Corinthians 14:5-6) and Paul even forbids tongues that are not interpreted to be spoken to the body (vv.27-28). This seems to indicate that it was very unlikely for somebody to actually understand tongues if there was no interpretation. Would the gift of interpretation of tongues be vital in the corporate use of tongues if tongues were a human language?

As mentioned before, many of those who argue that tongues has to be a human language point to 1 Corinthians 14:10. They also make use of the following verse, which says, “If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me.” If I went abroad to a non-English-speaking country, I would be experiencing the same thing as one who hears uninterpreted tongues, which is Paul’s point in these verses. He is not saying that tongues are human languages but he is instead giving an analogy that reveals that tongues function like human languages.

In verse 18, Paul talks about how he is thankful that he “speaks in tongues more than” all the Corinthians. Wayne Grudem argues that if tongues “were known foreign languages that foreigners could understand… why would Paul speak more than all the Corinthians in private, where no one would understand, rather than in church where foreign visitors could understand?” (Systematic Theology, 1072)

So what is the language of tongues?

Now there are some speculative issues when it comes to what the language of tongues is exactly. The infighting in the Church over tongues often is whether it is angelic or human, or perhaps something else altogether.

Some believe the notion that tongues is an angelic language is ridiculous and say that 1 Corinthians 13:1, where the tongues of angels is mentioned, is hyperbolic. Though such an argument is consistent with the language of the beginning of 1 Corinthians 13, Gordon Fee proposes that the possibility of the Corinthians, as well as Paul, thinking of tongues as angelic is likely because of ancient Jewish sources speaking of angelic languages being spoken by humans by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He also proposes that the Corinthians’ view of spirituality may have been skewed by a belief that they “already entered into some expression of angelic existence”, and that it is likely that Corinthians may have believed they were actually speaking in these angelic languages. This could possibly explain their bizarre view of sexuality (1 Corinthians 7:1-7, 11:2-16) and perhaps even contribute to why they often denied the future existence of a glorified body (15:12, 35). (Gordon Fee, New International Commentary of the New Testament: The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 630-631)

Some see the worship of our spirit through tongues as carrying a whole new language that can only be produced by the Holy Spirit, and though this is very much possible, there is not enough in Scripture to support this view, other than the fact that the tongues in Corinth very much do not seem human. Some see 1 Corinthians 13:1 as hyperbolic, in regards to not just the angelic tongues but also the human tongues. They see Paul making the idea of being able to speak in tongues of either men or angels to be extraordinary and not normative for tongues-speakers. Those who take such a view usually do not believe that the disciples in Acts 2 were speaking human languages but a language of the Spirit and that God performed a miracle of hearing on the unbelieving.

Some, such as D.A. Carson, view praying in tongues likely to be in some Spirit-guided code; though this is a minority view, It seems consistent with the view previously mentioned. Many, such as Sam Storms, take a broader view. In the first part of Storms’ essay called “Tongues: Praying and Praising in the Spirit”, he concludes that “tongues may be human languages never before learned by the speaker, but need not be. They may also be angelic dialects or unique linguistic utterances shaped specially by the Spirit and distributed to believers according to the will of God.”

Personally, I do hold to Storms’ view of tongues, acknowledging that there are in fact a diversity of tongues that can be spoken (1 Corinthians 12:10) and that it may just be beyond the tongues of men and angels. A lot of this is speculative, but restricting tongues to only that of humans would not fit 1 Corinthians. This gift for prayer, worship, and the edification of the Church should not be shut down simply because the language is unidentifiable by those present or hindered because of silly debates on its exact nature, but discerned, celebrated, and encouraged, especially when accompanied by interpretation. Let us heed to Paul’s encouragement in 1 Cor. 14:39, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.”