Thursday, January 24, 2008

Speaking in Tongues

"Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church." — 1 Corinthians 14:4

"I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue." — 1 Corinthians 14:19

"If anyone speaks in a tongue...let one interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God." — 1 Corinthians 14:27-28


To preface this post, let me say that I grew up mostly in big Methodist churches whose congregations consisted largely of middle-class white folk. Needless to say, I did not hear anyone speaking in tongues in these churches. Since coming to college, however, I have heard this happen, and I've been able to have conversations with people about the place of speaking in tongues in Christian worship. The purpose of this post is mostly for my own musing over a spiritual gift that I obviously do not have and that I rarely encounter.

The first (and only) time I saw someone speaking in tongues was at my church here in Durham. A predominantly African-American church, Asbury Temple UMC is Methodist with a heavy dose of gospel. Although calls of "Amen," "Preach" and "Thank you, Jesus" are common during sermons, prayers, songs...whenever...it's not a pentecostal church, and in almost 2 years attending there, I've only seen someone speak in tongues once. The experience was weird for me simply because it was so foreign—at my old church at home, you risk a dirty look if you whisper a joke to your sibling sitting next to you in worship, never mind standing up and producing a 15-minute monologue in what doesn't seem to resemble any known language.

The question that came to me was whether speaking in tongues is something that gratifies him or her who does it or whether it is beneficial to all present. Surely this depends in some degree on the setting. I spoke to a friend here at Duke who attends a church where speaking in tongues is pretty common. In a place where such a thing is expected as a manifestation of the Spirit at work in the congregation, I could see how that could be something the whole church would be engaged in, even if only one person were speaking. It's not as if speaking in tongues is completely out of the box—Paul writes, "Now I would like all of you to speak in tongues" (1 Cor. 14:5). It might not be an experience with which mainline denominations like my own are familiar, but it's been around since the days of the early church.

My current line of questioning has emerged because I listened to 1 Corinthians 14 (clearly) last night before going to bed, and besides the verses I've already quoted, there was one passage that struck me as interesting. "There are doubtless many different kinds of sounds in the world, and nothing is without sound. If then I do not know the meaning of a sound, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church" (1 Cor. 14:10-12). That got me thinking, not just about speaking in tongues, but about various elements of worship. When I witnessed the man speaking in tongues, he was very much a foreigner to me; I knew him, I knew his name, but in that moment a strangeness arose between me and him. Certainly a lot of that has to do with my white, middle-class background, and I was probably one of the least comfortable people in the room at the time, but it just makes me wonder. What, then, of other parts of worship that may make people feel like foreigners? Does the liturgy of a Catholic or Anglican service make a low-church visitor feel like a stranger? Does raucous gospel music or a praise band put a cradle Catholic visiting a contemporary worship service?

Obviously there are problems with this, because we certainly don't want to create a sterile, nonthreatening worship environment out of fear of making someone feel like a foreigner. I've been to churches that say they've stopped sharing the Eucharist because it makes some people uncomfortable. A church should never trade liturgical integrity for the benefit of being a "seeker-friendly" church. I wonder if somehow the recognizability of Jesus in all these forms of worship is what keeps Christians, even those from very different backgrounds, from feeling like strangers—maybe if I had been a little more willing to see Christ and the work of the Spirit in the man speaking in tongues, I would not have felt like a foreigner. I would say that churches who say that if you don't speak in tongues, you do not have the Spirit, err and take too narrow a view of the nature of spiritual gifts. But maybe middle-class, white churches like the ones I grew up in could do with a does of an unfamiliar spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues. It's just an interesting question to me.

2 comments:

SamuelDavid said...

I enjoyed reading your blog article!! I have been "googling" different phrases that have to do with the church and tongues; i will say your article was (by far) the least offensive AND nonbiased. I speak in Tongues and agreed with what you had to say about the topic. I really just wanted to say thank you for not being biased to an extreme point of view to the "tongues and church" topic. I thank God more than most that i speak in tongues, and i want others to appreciate what God has freely given to them. That we, as christians, need to speak with maturity on topics such as "tongues" and all the other fruits that the Spirit raises out of us. So THANK YOU for what you wrote, i definitely felt refreshed from the "hard heads" who have one side, but do not include ALL the scripture.

TrainTracks said...

I speak in tounges as well and agree with SamuelDavid.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Speaking in Tongues

"Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church." — 1 Corinthians 14:4

"I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue." — 1 Corinthians 14:19

"If anyone speaks in a tongue...let one interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God." — 1 Corinthians 14:27-28


To preface this post, let me say that I grew up mostly in big Methodist churches whose congregations consisted largely of middle-class white folk. Needless to say, I did not hear anyone speaking in tongues in these churches. Since coming to college, however, I have heard this happen, and I've been able to have conversations with people about the place of speaking in tongues in Christian worship. The purpose of this post is mostly for my own musing over a spiritual gift that I obviously do not have and that I rarely encounter.

The first (and only) time I saw someone speaking in tongues was at my church here in Durham. A predominantly African-American church, Asbury Temple UMC is Methodist with a heavy dose of gospel. Although calls of "Amen," "Preach" and "Thank you, Jesus" are common during sermons, prayers, songs...whenever...it's not a pentecostal church, and in almost 2 years attending there, I've only seen someone speak in tongues once. The experience was weird for me simply because it was so foreign—at my old church at home, you risk a dirty look if you whisper a joke to your sibling sitting next to you in worship, never mind standing up and producing a 15-minute monologue in what doesn't seem to resemble any known language.

The question that came to me was whether speaking in tongues is something that gratifies him or her who does it or whether it is beneficial to all present. Surely this depends in some degree on the setting. I spoke to a friend here at Duke who attends a church where speaking in tongues is pretty common. In a place where such a thing is expected as a manifestation of the Spirit at work in the congregation, I could see how that could be something the whole church would be engaged in, even if only one person were speaking. It's not as if speaking in tongues is completely out of the box—Paul writes, "Now I would like all of you to speak in tongues" (1 Cor. 14:5). It might not be an experience with which mainline denominations like my own are familiar, but it's been around since the days of the early church.

My current line of questioning has emerged because I listened to 1 Corinthians 14 (clearly) last night before going to bed, and besides the verses I've already quoted, there was one passage that struck me as interesting. "There are doubtless many different kinds of sounds in the world, and nothing is without sound. If then I do not know the meaning of a sound, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church" (1 Cor. 14:10-12). That got me thinking, not just about speaking in tongues, but about various elements of worship. When I witnessed the man speaking in tongues, he was very much a foreigner to me; I knew him, I knew his name, but in that moment a strangeness arose between me and him. Certainly a lot of that has to do with my white, middle-class background, and I was probably one of the least comfortable people in the room at the time, but it just makes me wonder. What, then, of other parts of worship that may make people feel like foreigners? Does the liturgy of a Catholic or Anglican service make a low-church visitor feel like a stranger? Does raucous gospel music or a praise band put a cradle Catholic visiting a contemporary worship service?

Obviously there are problems with this, because we certainly don't want to create a sterile, nonthreatening worship environment out of fear of making someone feel like a foreigner. I've been to churches that say they've stopped sharing the Eucharist because it makes some people uncomfortable. A church should never trade liturgical integrity for the benefit of being a "seeker-friendly" church. I wonder if somehow the recognizability of Jesus in all these forms of worship is what keeps Christians, even those from very different backgrounds, from feeling like strangers—maybe if I had been a little more willing to see Christ and the work of the Spirit in the man speaking in tongues, I would not have felt like a foreigner. I would say that churches who say that if you don't speak in tongues, you do not have the Spirit, err and take too narrow a view of the nature of spiritual gifts. But maybe middle-class, white churches like the ones I grew up in could do with a does of an unfamiliar spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues. It's just an interesting question to me.

2 comments:

SamuelDavid said...

I enjoyed reading your blog article!! I have been "googling" different phrases that have to do with the church and tongues; i will say your article was (by far) the least offensive AND nonbiased. I speak in Tongues and agreed with what you had to say about the topic. I really just wanted to say thank you for not being biased to an extreme point of view to the "tongues and church" topic. I thank God more than most that i speak in tongues, and i want others to appreciate what God has freely given to them. That we, as christians, need to speak with maturity on topics such as "tongues" and all the other fruits that the Spirit raises out of us. So THANK YOU for what you wrote, i definitely felt refreshed from the "hard heads" who have one side, but do not include ALL the scripture.

TrainTracks said...

I speak in tounges as well and agree with SamuelDavid.

 

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