Thursday, July 31, 2014

Is the Gift of Tongues Important?

Rom 12:6  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; Rom 12:7  if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; Rom 12:8  the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

I have been preaching through 1 Corinthians and find myself in the middle of chapter twelve and the subject of the gifts of the Holy Spirit; a daunting task to say the least.  While the debate of which gifts are to continue throughout the church age continues there are certainly some practical things to consider no matter on which side of the subject one might come down. 

I find it interesting to see that there are only three times in which the gifts of the Holy Spirit are listed for us in the NT.  In 1 Cor. 12 alone are tongues, miracles and healings listed.  In the other two places as seen in the above verses the listed gifts are exclusively gifts of service and exhortation and edification.  I find that a little more than interesting.  Similar gifts are also found in 1 Corinthians and none of the lists are the same indicating to me that there might be any number of different gifts given by the Holy Spirit to the church as they are needed.

What I find important is that the bulk of gifts mentioned in the NT are ones of serving each other in the church family.  Even what I and others would term the “sign gifts” were given to help in the church and they were not to be used in the church if they didn’t edify.  Paul takes pains to point out that speaking in tongues in which no one understands is pointless in 1 Cor. 14.  To me this indicates that the most important gifts are ones that help us serve each other.  When we think about how all this is played out in the modern Charismatic Movement a couple of red flags arise in my way of thinking.

Now I know that we cannot paint all Charismatics with the same brush and that not all practice what I am speaking of here but there is a general principle it seems among what I would see as traditional Pentecostalism that the most important gift is tongues.  They are told to pray for it because that is kind of the litmus test of whether one has the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  It is an important part of their worship services and we won’t even get into healings and “words of knowledge” and the like.  Now I think a good, sound case can be made that the whole idea of being baptized by the Spirit in the Charismatic sense is completely unbiblical but there is a fundamental problem with all this that in my mind reveals a flaw in how they view and use spiritual gifts.

My question, having said all this, is why are they so concerned with the gift of tongues when admittedly there is seldom any interpretation (and if there is, who can verify it beyond question) and so there is no edification?  At least one of the reasons Paul mentions tongues in in 1 Cor. 12-14 is because they saw themselves as more spiritual than others because they had this gift and so were using it to elevate themselves.  This is one reason why Paul says they need to be seeking the gift of prophecy because that was much more beneficial to the church because people could understand and be edified. 

Why the big emphasis in tongues and showy, potentially prideful gifts rather than the gifts that are mostly mentioned in the NT which are clearly serving gifts?  Why don’t we hear of people being exhorted to seek the gifts of cleaning the toilets in the church or being patient with the weak saint and helping them overcome problems in their lives?  How about seeking gifts of humility or the ability to teach clearly and faithfully our brothers and sisters the Word of God instead of being consumed with gibbering in a language that at best can only impress the poor confused person next to you in the pew who can only wish the Holy Spirit would display such amazing things in his life? 

Is not the Holy Spirit called “Holy” because he is to create Christlikeness in us and that is his primary function?  Even if tongues are to continue today is it not obvious that tongues are a minor gift that pales in comparison to gifts that cause us to serve and edify one another?  If we want to be Pentecostal in our theology then let us at least grasp what is important and what is not.  Unfortunately another abuse of gifts is to emphasize them over the careful study of God’s Word and so it becomes a vicious cycle of studying mainly the book of Acts and passages that deal with spectacular gifts and failing to put tongues in their proper relation to the other gifts.


  1. If I may, can our Sunday School class down here in Houston weigh in with some of our ideas on this topic just yesterday.

    Nathan, you hit the nail on the head on the aspect of edification. If it is done with no edification what is the point?

    Our conclusion was that tongues continue even today, but with a ton of "buts", those "buts"being:

    1) Tongues in Acts appear to have good reason--authenticate the apostles, and show that the Gentiles are saved too in like manner to the Jews
    2) Miracle gifts did seem to decrease (but not to zero) after the Apostolic Age
    3) There really is a paucity of tongues in the Bible--only 3 places in Acts, one quick mention in the scribal addition at the end of Mark, and of course, 1 Corinthians. When thinking about the WHOLE Bible, it is certainly is not even a primary topic.
    4) Then, the one place where it does get expounded--1 Corinthians--Paul intentionally de-emphasizes it, putting it at the end of lists, and clearly saying that love>tongues, prophesy> tongues, and apostles, prophets, teachers>tongues.
    5) Tongues didn't make the deacon requirement list in 1 Timothy.
    6) Tongues didn't make the worship service lists in other NT worship service passages.

    So at a bare minimum, we can say, that tongues is NOT a normative requirement that all Christians should experience. But conversely, we should never put God in a box and say that tongues have ceased. Ceased is a pretty big word.

    Kenny B

    1. Kenny, these are good points to make. Concerning point 2 I would like to know the confirmation of the gift of miracles after the apostles. I know that there are a lot of accounts of them but which can be verified in someone who had the "gift". Again it seems that those who talked of them are so doctrinally out there that I am not sure what to do with their accounts. I am not saying that miracles never happen but can we be sure that the gift of miracles happened after the Apostolic age?

      As far as "never putting God in a box", I agree but the exception is that when God tells us that he works in a certain way then holding him to that and expecting him to do that is not putting him in a box but he has put himself in one although that is not a good way to put it. My point is that I have heard this argument before for a lot of things that people do and sometimes they seem to forget that God has already laid out how he is going to work or what his will is and so it is appropriate for us to assume he is not going to go against his revealed will. So, if, and I repeat if, the Bible teaches that tongues are not for this age then we are not putting him in a box if we don't expect to see that gift anymore. I hope this makes sense; I am not saying your conclusions are wrong but just some more things to add to the mix.

      If you see a problem with my reasoning let me know, thanks for the comment.


    2. Thanks for replying.

      I went ahead and listened to your most recent sermon and it gave me a better understanding of your position. And without you getting to hear me talk extendly on this difficult topic, let me say we are pretty close in position.

      On your 1st point--the gift of miracles past the Apostolic Age--I would agree with you that there doesn't appear to be specific Christians with the gift of miracles, only scattered miracles here and there. So, the gift of miracles appears to have ceased, . . . . so far! Perhaps the exact same logic can be used for tongues.

      (I am totally with you with extreme skepticism for folks coming up to you or me with a word from the Lord for you or me. Let's stick to the Bible as God's way of communicating to you or me today and/or God speaking to directly to you or me.)

      Let me flesh out a little bit more on the not-putting-God-in-a-box.

      First observation--I'm not sure God has told us he only works in certain ways now. Specific to tongues, a lot of good folks feel like God said that tongues would cease when the canon was completed--citing I Cor 13:8. As you might imagine a lot of good folks would say that the said ceasing will occur at the return of Christ which the Greek has overtones to and v.12 context seems to indicate. A ceasing of tongues upon the completion of the canon in v.8 seems extraneous to the text.

      Second--There were lots of miracles around Moses & Joshua, and Jesus & the apostles--two pretty crucial times. Assuredly there was plenty of pretty important authentification of the messengers. Perhaps we will see an increase in miracles in and around the return of Christ, which I would posit could be another pretty important time.

      Third--I can see an evangelistic need for tongues on the foreign mission field and I think there has been a report or two of this.

      Fourth--Personality types may factor into all this.

      Fifth--I am so loathe to disparage some one else's experience. If God doesn't allow tongues anymore, then those whole claim them are probably just doing monkey gibberish, but some folks wanna make it worse and say it is off the devil. Not me, buddy.

      We have a lady who will share her one-time experience in our class next Sunday which I only vaguely know about at this point, but it had something to do with some spiritual warfare in her family.

      So I'm just loathe to put God in a box on this issue.

      I hope that fleshes out my views a little better.

      Kenny B

    3. I wouldn't disagree with that but I am not sure if these are things we can know for sure. My point with putting God in a box is just that if he is clear on a subject then we are not putting him in a box if we expect people to follow his Word on the subject. Obviously on some of these matters I agree that we can't be dogmatic.

      I would say that missions to places the gospel hasn't been spread could be a place for tongues but I would assume we are speaking of languages. Either way it is rare at best and it seems clear from history that to make tongues such a big part of the Christian experience is to miss the important things.

      I didn't tape my first message where I go through the list of gifts. We were doing a church picnic and we forgot the recorder; just in case you were wondering what was going on.


    4. I am in whole hearted agreement with you about the relative unimportance of tongues, which indeed was the original question in your original post.

      I would say that, in the early church, beyond the obvious importance of 1) the evangelism of Pentecost, 2) the confirmation of Gentiles into the church, and 3) the help of tongues in authenticating the apostles, all you have in the early church is just one loner church apparantly experiencing tongues, and that church was kinda blowing it. Beyond the main three things I just mentioned, tongues appears in even in the early church to be quite unimportant. And even then, Paul de-emphasizes it from there.

      Likewise, we can say with strong confidence that tongues, even if they continue today, they are really quite unimportant. Unimportant period. But also unimportant relative to other gifts.

      So I'm very much in step with you.

      The Pentecostal movement of today is wrong if and when they stress either the importance of tongues, and/or make them a normative requirement that all Christians should seek to experience.

      And it appears we both are correctly saying to not be overly dogmatic on quite a few aspects of this tough issue.

      I really appreciate your willingness to converse. Talking to real pastors is kinda rare.

      Kenny B


    The new covenant church was established on the Day of Pentecost 33 AD. Three thousand men were converted to Christ as a result of the preaching of the apostle Peter. What was Peter's message?

    Churches in the U.S.A. are either losing members, or are experiencing stagnation. What are the reasons for declining membership in the body of Christ?

    What did Peter preach that inspired three thousand men to be converted to Christ?

    1. Peter preached: Acts 2:21 And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (NKJV)

    Peter did not say all who have been individually selected for salvation will be saved. Nor did Peter confirm that most men have been selected to burn in hell and therefore have no free-will.

    2. Peter preached: Acts 2:22 Men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know---(NKJV)

    Peter did not say God attested these men; Horus, Balder, Krishna, Hiram, Plato, nor Kiou-tse. Peter did not say that there are many roads to heaven.

    3. Peter preached: Acts 2:31-32 :he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. 32 "This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. (NKJV)

    Peter did not say that the Jerusalem church of Christ had a lot of church activities for the youth such as musical concerts, field trips etc. nor did Peter the note the good food at the church dinners and stress the wonderful church campus.

    4. Peter preached: Acts 2:36 "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly the God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (NKJV)

    Peter did not say I am not going to judge anyone who disagrees with my message. Peter did not say if you accept Jesus as Lord and the Christ, and give money to the church, you will become wealthy and healthy.

    5. Peter preached: Acts 2:37-38 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" 38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and lets every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (NKJV)

    Peter did not say you were saved the minute you believed, so your sins are already forgiven, so simply repent and be baptized as a testimony of your faith. Peter did not say water baptism is a work and works cannot save you. Peter did not say you have been saved by grace alone, therefore God forced you to believe so that you might be saved. Peter did not say the thief on cross was saved without being immersed so men living under the new covenant do not have to baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. Peter did not say be baptized so you can be forgiven for the sins of Adam and Eve.

    6. Peter preached: Acts 2:40-41....41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.(NKJV)

    Peter did not say join the denomination of your choice and you will automatically be added to the Lord's church. Peter did not say sprinkle unbelieving infants and they will be added to the body of Christ.

    Is it possible that there is a causation and correlation between the lack of Biblical preaching and declining church growth and lower church attendance?

    Christianity is about Jesus Christ it is not about church programs nor is it about man-made doctrines.