Sometimes topics of discussion come up with us out here and our varied backgrounds makes for a lively dialogue. I wanted to share one of the topics that recently sparked quite a conversation…speaking in tongues in a church service. The question arose from talking with a Thai person. She also happened to be a foreign exchange student in the US. While in the US, she experienced a Pentecostal service that had people going overboard in their expression of the power of the Holy Spirit. She was freaked out and did not want to return to such a place again.
Hence we wondered, how do we know the appropriate expression of the Holy Spirit in a public church service? Can one speak in tongues in a church service? Here is a quick and easy answer to what is speaking in tongues and what is a church service (the gathered believers).
I think we have all seen excess in the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. We have seen what can only be described as weird, and we are Pentecostal. We start thinking…imagine if my friend who doesn’t know God or a relative were here with me, what would they think? Our mind races to conclusions of how we would handle the service. We tend to guard against hindering unbelievers from knowing God. Sometimes we take a reactionary stance to what people do and border on quenching the Holy Spirit. We read I Corinthians through the eyes of today and see it as an outline for how to structure a church service. Rather, we should look at the letter Paul wrote from the eyes of the original audience. In this incredible letter we get great help for how to handle conflict in a church, correction in a church and order in a service.
Paul clearly addresses the matter of tongues in a church service in I Corinthians 14:1-40. Remember, he is writing to a people that he taught the gospel. He says he did not come with eloquent words, but with signs and wonders in the power of God. The problem in the church wasn’t that they were using tongues in the service, but they were speaking in tongues in excess. Paul did not tell them, you forgot what I taught you about not speaking in tongues in the service, and now you have messed everything up.
In fact, Paul tells them to bring order, because the chaos is sending people out the back door faster than they are coming in the front door. In their zeal to show how spiritual they are to each other and to God, they are losing their witness to the community. They are being labeled crazy rather than spiritual. Paul exhorts them to preach the word and use the prophetic (preaching) in order to convict the unbeliever of sin. He cautions to only use tongues when the one giving the tongue feels he has an interpretation.
Here is a side question to the topic. In chapter 12, speaking in tongues is one person and interpreting tongues is another person. However, in Chapter 14, Paul says he who speaks in tongues should do so when he also has an interpretation. How does that work? How do you know when you have an interpretation before you give a tongue?
Today, we find the church reacting in a tempered way not wanting to let the Spiritual get out of control, And on the other side, the hyper charismatic who repeat the error of Corinth in trying to display their spirituality as a badge of honor.
When I read Corinthians, I find Paul taking a middle road approach. He commends the spiritual. Yet, he expects order and understandability to the outsider. He says, when the whole church gathers together (which I would like to investigate what that means for church structure at another time), and an outsider is present, they will think you are out of your mind if you are speaking in tongues the whole time. But, the in the next paragraph, he says when you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. He goes on to say, no more than three should prophecy and likewise no more than two or three should speak with a tongue.
I do not find here the evidence to forbid tongues in a public service or ‘seeker service’ like many want to hold to. Neither do I find a basis for letting loose with the expressions of spirituality even if only believers are present. The point is order. The key verse to the whole debate is the last two verses in chapter 14, but I think too many have made up their mind before they read these verses.
“39Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”
We as the church or church leaders can be timid to allow the power of God to be present, because we don’t fully understand what and how it works, and we don’t want to scare people away. I would contend an authentic manifestation of God’s power would draw people to know God unless we fail to give an explanation to the gathered who watch curiously of what we do know. Even if we don’t fuly grasp what is happening, we can still give context to the outsider, so they don’t have to be confused. We need to always explain church language as well as explain the spiritual. When we shy from the moving of God in power, we can turn out like what Paul is talking about in I Thessalonians 5:19-20.
“19Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22Avoid every kind of evil.”
Personal Ministry Coach has a great post on spiritual openness.
I love being a part of the Foursquare Church. I have the privilege of traveling and visiting churches as we share what God is doing in Thailand. The one thing I can say is that Foursquare doesn’t have a cookie cutter approach to church service. One Foursquare Church can be as different as the next depending on how each pastor and staff design the meetings around the people and community they serve. Therefore, I don’t have a Foursquare model to work from. I think that may be why many have questions of how to do the spiritual element of a service. Jack Hayford has led well how to be sensitive to the outsider and passionate for the presence of God bringing balance in his leadership and pastoring. He explains his personal story in speaking in tongues in this article.
With this in mind, how should we in today’s context manage the spiritual element as church leaders? Here are some of my questions.
*In a public service with unbelievers, how do we allow for tongues and explain to the gathered what is happening?
*If we are in a time of corporate praise or prayer, and everyone is praising or praying…what if someone speaks in tongues from the stage or into a microphone?
*If we are in prayer circles, can we pray in tongues for the person we are praying for?
*When we are praying for some one to be filled with the Holy Spirit, can we pray in tongues for them?
What other experiences or questions do you have?