On Speaking in Tongues

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I stumbled into speaking in tongues. At the time, it wasn’t what I wanted.

I was sixteen. I’d only been “born again” for about six months, and I knew I could experience God the same way people in the New Testament did. Paul talked about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians – healing, prophecy – and I believed.

I wanted Jesus to fill me with the Holy Spirit, the same way he did for believers in Acts.

I tend to get loud when I pray, and I needed to pray. I didn’t want to freak out my parents, so I decided to pray at a park near my house. At night. I wanted power. Power to do miracles. Power to heal the sick. Power to raise the dead. I’d wait in silence, but eventually, the prayers came out. I cried out to God, even argued with God. And every time, I felt something: warm waves of love crashed into my chest. I physically trembled. I shook.

I kept it up for over a month. Nightly trips to the park, rain or snow. The good feelings kept coming, but I wasn’t experiencing the power I wanted. I wanted more than a feeling. So I decided to chill out on begging God to Spirit-baptize me. Every once in awhile, I’d mention it in my prayers, but disappointment restrained my expectations.

And then I was troubled. I’d stopped actively seeking my own personal Pentecost, and one night, as I prayed, my words were dry, inauthentic. It annoyed me. I remember pacing through the second floor of our house, ticked off at God, and as I stepped into the bathroom, some words fell out of my mouth. But they weren’t in English. I didn’t recognize them.

Was I speaking in tongues?

I was scared. This wasn’t the gift I wanted. It didn’t make sense. But it felt – good. So good!

I ran to my room and prayed in the most pious position I could think of, with my hands folded on the corner of my bed, back straight, knees bent on the floor. I asked God for wisdom in regard to whatever had just occurred. As a precaution, I cast out any pesky demons trying to deceive me, and I asked God, yet again, to fill me with the Spirit. I felt an urge to open my mouth and there they were, those same mysterious words.

They kept coming. And somehow these words that I didn’t understand felt truer than anything else I’d prayed that night. Somehow the barriers I’d been running up against in prayer were gone.

I was skeptical of this new thing. But I was open to God, to whatever God wanted to do, and the result was that God gave me the goofiest and least powerful of the charismatic gifts: the gift of tongues.

The night I first spoke in tongues, I felt those feelings again – the ones that made me quake. The love rushing over me. Like I was cocooned in the Holy Spirit. After I stopped praying, and as I laid in my bed, the warmth and energy remained hovering over me, covering me; and I was at peace. I felt safe. I felt known.

I was humbled, too.

So many times, the Spirit had crept up on me, and I’d dismissed her. The feelings hadn’t seemed valid because they were just feelings. I’d wanted power. Somehow, God knew I needed comfort. That night, I praised God until I fell asleep. I slept well.

Looking back on that night, I recognize that God welcomed me into what N.T. Wright calls a “private language of love.” It felt intimate and holy. The Bible doesn’t say much about what tongues are or how the gift works (let alone what it’s for), but Paul uses the word “edifying.” Some talk about tongues as a way to receive power, like you’re building up Holy Spirit power in order to shoot out miracles. But that’s not what this gift does for me. It helps me tap into the indwelling presence of God. It’s a way of being, of cooperating, of resting with God. Speaking in tongues is about abiding in Christ.

To be honest, I’ve been struggling with prayer. Praying has been awkward and unnatural for me the past few months. I don’t know what to say to God. I’m fighting doubt as I pray, and I get overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness. I’ve been repeating the Lord’s Prayer a lot, and I’ve been praying in tongues. Most of the time, I just don’t know what to pray, and words fail to carry what God is stirring within me, so I lean on the Spirit and let her pray for me. In that place, I find rest. The syllables and noises can be clumsy and strange, but as they roll out (or burst out) I feel my spirit breathing, I feel life pouring in.

This act of holy-foolishness grounds me in Christ’s faithfulness, gives me a way to yield and be faithful in the face of my own confusion. The truth is, I still want power. But God knows what I really need.

Political Protest is Spiritual Warfare

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Philadelphia City Hall

When I was a freshman in college, my friends and I were discovering charismatic spirituality together. We often had long prayer sessions, and we always expected to experience and hear God. It was messy, naive, often fueled by fear, but God was somehow in it as we experimented with this bizarre mysticism that was so confident in Christ’s Spirit being within us. Some of us walked through our campus often, quietly praying in tongues, rebuking the spirits among us causing fear, spiritual drought, depression, etc., and declaring a better way for the Church and for the school. We called this spiritual warfare.

I still believe in the power of spiritual warfare, even if much of our demon-hunting was a bit silly. I’d like to think that Holy Spirit interpreted our prayers the way they needed to be interpreted, and maybe we did push the devil out of our campus a bit. Hopefully. But still, before Friends of Jesus retreats, I often try to spend time in intercession, praying for the outpouring of the Spirit and protection from the enemy, who loves to stir up quarreling among believers and quench the Holy Ghost. I’m still a firm believer that Christ handed an authority to the Church to be declare, prophesy, and shake things on this earth, and in the spirit realm, to realize the reign of God among and within us.

So I still command demons to shut up and back off. I still pray in tongues when I sense something off, which sometimes is a valid spiritual concern, and other times just my social anxiety acting up. That being said, I very much believe these things are helpful, real, and good. I’ve seen God heal dozens of sick people when hands were laid upon them, and the word of God was declared over them: “be healed.” I’ve felt the power of deliverance, having the weight of shame torn off my spirit instantaneously through a prophetic word. I’ve felt shifts in the atmosphere during worship, and then I’d notice somebody quietly praying in tongues, or interceding, and I’d feel that they probably were helping cleanse the environment for God’s presence to be realized.

I think these things are real.

And as we go in the streets to protest, to demonstrate, we are engaging with the enemy: oppressive, abusive, and corrupt systems. We wage war against the spirit of racism as we declare that Black Lives Matter, and as we point out the sins of our country, the sins of our people, and reveal a better way. One of compassion, one of hope, one of generosity, one of love. Even if we are marching with those who do not identify as followers of Christ, they are carrying a mantle and anointing as well to crush the work of the enemy and extend the reality of God’s love.

All that to say: To protest is to rebuke. To protest is to war against the devil. To protest is to prophesy. And as dangerous forms of religious and political fundamentalism continue to grow in all directions, and as the Empire continues to slaughter innocent people all over the world, we need to be loudly warring against these spirits that are strangling the Church and the world, and we need to preach the Good News. We need to be the Good News.

The Church in America, in this mind-boggling and disheartening political climate, needs to speak. We need to call out the systemic sins of the world, including religious institutions, and live and preach a way forward. Your tongue has the power of life and death (Prov. 18:21), and when you choose not to speak out for Life, you are often giving power to death. So speak. Loudly. For the oppressed, for the forgotten, for the lost, for the hurting, and for all God’s children. And in doing this, you bind the enemy and you confess Christ.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” —Ephesians 6:12

 

“And these signs will accompany those who believe.”

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15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons;they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” 19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.
Mark 15:15-20

As a charismatic believer, I have often seen these verses used to defend the belief that tongues is for all believers and that healing is the desire of God. These verses, though, are not in the earliest of manuscripts (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) and most bibles make note this fact. For a long time, I did not believe these verses could be used at all to defend this view and even railed against those who used in this in their own apologetics on the charismatic gifts. Though I still agree (admittedly, with some hesitance) with most scholars that these verses were not likely penned by Mark, I still value these verses and recognize that they could hold some significance for Christians today. There is the possibility that they may have ended up in the manuscripts because of either oral tradition or the notes of a scribe. Nevertheless, the fact that they exist means something. I think the Church needs to open to the possibility that their existence indicates that a supernatural culture, one full of the miraculous and providential work of the Spirit, was the norm of the early church.

Post-Constantine Christianity (note: perhaps a problematic term, but a historical shift is undeniable, and Constantine was definitely helpful in that) may have ushered in a spiritual drought as Christianity lost its counter-cultural, subversive nature. The Church became a pillar of the Empire, and though the good news of Jesus continued to nurture and instruct thousands of souls in the ways of righteousness, the political implications of this good news was much-rejected, and the spiritual power of the Church seemed to have been drained as a result. It did not help that the Galatian heresy of mixing Christ’s grace with the Law seemed to also consume the formal doctrine of the Church, and that the role of prophets and prophecy (which continued into the early church, as evidenced by the Didache) vanished as Ignatius instructed the Church to “do nothing without the bishops,” pushing the gift of prophecy to lose its egalitarian nature as it became a gift for bishops alone. (Read “The Decline of Ecstatic Prophecy in the Early Church” by James L. Ash, Jr. for more on this.)

Augustine developed a form of cessationism during this time, arguably because of the lack of charismatic activity in the Church. This experience was quite common throughout the Church of the time. Before this period, the approach to the miraculous was much more earnest and frequent among Christians. In the second century, both Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyon spoke of the charismatic gifts, discussing prophetic ministry, exorcisms, and even the raising of the dead. The practice of jubilation, which seems to be practice of singing in tongues, was even a part of the liturgy, and continued even into the ninth century. By the end of Augustine’s life, he had changed his view as he witnessed a revival of healing, but his cessationism continues to influence many Christians.

All this to say that these extra verses in Mark seem to reflect the early church’s practice of the miraculous.

  1. In my name they will drive out demons (a practice described by Ireneaus of Lyon, Origen of Alexandria, Lactantius, Tertullian, among church fathers and early Christians)
  2. …they will speak in new tongues (note: not other tongues but new tongues, which could likely include the practice of “jubilation” as described by Augustine and the mystics)
  3.  …they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all  (not a practice to reproduce, as some fundamentalists do, but a promise of protection; Paul experiences this in Acts 28:3 when bit by a snake)
  4. …they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well (reveals the authority to heal among believers and is talked about by a number of early Christians, including by Augustine in the City of God)

If this Spirit-driven culture of the Church was the norm for early Christians, and they regularly exercised the charismatic gifts and miracles, then I cannot see why it shouldn’t be the norm for the believer and Church today. Throughout Church history, we have seen this apostolic and prophetic power restored and tapped into time after time, among several Anabaptist and Huguenot groups, throughout Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement, as well as the Quakers, especially the first generation of Friends, who regularly saw such manifestations occur.

As Christendom as we know it crumbles before our eyes, the heresies of legalism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, leader-centered/hierarchical models of worship, violence, imperalism, and all our limiting theologies on the work of Christ and the Spirit, are losing their hold on God’s people. I pray that as we move forward in the revelation of Christ, in the pursuit of God’s Kingdom, we would seek the Spirit’s anointing and grow in an imaginative, dynamic faith that welcomes the impossible.

Speaking to my Quaker sisters and brothers, we must not forget that the first generation of Friends were yielded disciples of Jesus Christ. They were truly Pentecostal; united in the experience and life found in the Spirit of Christ. Their actions were often subversive to both the Church and State, and their ministries and fellowship were marked by the life-changing power of the Spirit. They saw miracles daily, just like the Church after Pentecost, and they boldly lived out the political implications of the gospel. All of this was the result of following and submitting to the lead of the Holy Spirit. We have a glorious inheritance in our spiritual lineage, and I am confident that as we discover and yield to the Spirit that sparked our movement, we can walk in the power of early Friends and the apostles, and see the greater things that Christ promised to us (John 14:12).

 

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.