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Speaking in Tongues

Does Whitewater practice speaking in tongues?

Whitewater Crossing Christian Church does not practice “speaking in tongues” in our corporate worship services. We do not believe that speaking in tongues is necessary to prove the presence of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12:7-11). However, the New Testament does refer to the speaking in tongues as a gift of the Holy Spirit, therefore, a person can be a member of WCCC if they believe in speaking in tongues as long as the gift is practiced within the boundaries established by the New Testament. Below is a brief explanation of this issue from our perspective.

The Greek word translated as “tongues” in most New Testament translations literally means “languages.” Acts 2 describes “speaking in tongues” as a miraculous gift given to the apostles so they could communicate the gospel in foreign languages. In Acts 2, many Jews had gathered from different nations for Pentecost and they each heard the apostles speaking “in their own native language” (Acts 2:8). The apostles were not babbling or communicating in an unknown angelic language, but were speaking known human languages that they had never studied. The miracle had a threefold purpose: (1) to quickly spread the gospel to those of different languages; (2) to prove the reliability of the apostles’ message since the New Testament had not yet been written, there was nothing to verify the apostles’ bold claims about Jesus Christ and (3) to be a physical or visible proof of the presence of the invisible Holy Spirit. Acts 2 provides the historical precedent for speaking in tongues for the New Testament church.

However, unlike the Acts 2 example, the speaking in tongues that is often practiced today is usually not understandable in any human language. It is often called a “prayer language” or an “angelic” or “ecstatic” language, only understandable to God. Some Christians in charismatic or Pentecostal traditions say that the ability to speak in tongues is a test of one’s faith or a test of the true filling of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says that all Christians will receive the Holy Spirit through faith at baptism (Acts 2:38), but not all Christians will speak in tongues (I Corinthians 12:7-11).

Other Christians claim the practice of speaking in tongues is ungodly and that those who advocate it are teaching a “false doctrine.” They oppose speaking in tongues because the miracle cannot be verified since the individual is claiming to speak in an “angelic” or “unknown” tongue. To the opposition, these unsubstantiated “miracles” seem to devalue the original Acts 2 miracle, which was verified by people from different nations hearing the wonders of God in their own tongue. Since God is a God of order and truth, speaking in uncontrolled, incomprehensible utterances seem ungodly.

In I Corinthians 14:2, Paul mentions the type of “prayer language” that charismatics and Pentecostals claim to be speaking. He says, “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.” Paul takes three chapters, I Corinthians 12-14, to explain how we should view the supernatural gifts, especially the gift of speaking in tongues, and how they should be used in worship. He asks that we not speak in tongues during corporate worship lest the world think we are out of our minds (I Corinthians 14:23), and that we do all things decently and in order (I Corinthians 14:40). Paul says that intelligible words are more beneficial to the church, “. . . in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (I Corinthians 14:19). However, we are not taught by Paul to forbid the speaking in tongues.

We should not casually assign the term “miracle” to something that is not. Yet neither should we put God in our box and claim that He can only work the way we think He should. Some will point to Paul’s claim in I Corinthians 13:8 that “tongues . . . will be stilled” as proof that “speaking in tongues” was a temporary spiritual gift to verify the gospel message before the New Testament was written. This cessationist view of miraculous gifts states that since we now have God’s Word, we no longer need the miraculous or supernatural gifts (the same is said of the supernatural gifts of prophecy and healing). It is true that those gifts are not needed to verify the message of the gospel because the New Testament is sufficient. (See also Hebrews 2:3-4). But if God wants to allow someone to speak in a foreign language to communicate his message, He can do that as well today as He could in the New Testament.

Throughout I Corinthians, Paul repeatedly emphasized that the spiritual gifts should promote unity in the church rather than disharmony. Because this is not a clear-cut biblical issue, we do not forbid members to speak in tongues. However, to maintain unity and harmony at Whitewater Crossing, we ask that they agree to do so privately, that they not interrupt the worship service in exercising their gift, that they refrain from encouraging others to speak in tongues and that they not use their gift as a test of faith or fellowship. Romans 14:22, in the context of disputable matters, offers wise advice: “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.”

Approved by the elders 11.15.11