Let’s be honest (and I’m saying this as a Pentecostal practitioner, minister and professor)…speaking in tongues is weird. I really can not get away from that. It seems illogical. It seems meaningless. It seems crazy. Paul even admitted as much (1 Cor.14.23). Yet, it was endowed by the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and given as a gift to the Church.
As I reflect on this strange practice and its theological significance I am struck by several ideas (which are decidedly influenced by Karl Barth’s dogmatic confessions):
Tongues as gifted sign of the Creator
Tongues as gifted sign of the Reconciler
Tongues as gifted sign of the Redeemer
It is “gift” because it belongs from beginning to end to the Giver (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to bestow. It is always an act of grace. It is persistently an act of grace. It could be no other way (1 Cor.12.3-10).
That tongues are a gifted sign is meant to speak to the gracious testimony they give. They point to their Giver in His own self-giving. They are never a testimony self-reflecting from the human sphere, but only reflecting the act and being of the God who gives.
That tongues are a gifted sign of the Creator is a testimony of the gift of our creatureliness. We are those who are always contingent upon God’s own graciousness toward us. We exist because God has made it so. We exist as we do because we were created by this God to speak and to hear. Our tongues belong to our creatureliness and when we speak in tongues (while we do not speak with our minds) we speak with self-control in an orderly (if seemingly chaotic at times) fashion (1 Cor.14.14, 27). We speak in tongues because “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” and we cannot but testify to this good news.
That tongues are a gifted sign of the Reconciler is a witness to our sinfulness manifest in broken relationship to all and our own reconciliation with all in Christ Jesus as God’s Word to and for us. Tongues are for a sign of judgment (1 Cor.14.21-22), but better…an eschatological sign of the reconciliation of people from every “nation, tribe, people and language” (Rev.7.9) to the One who alone can, and has, and will reconcile this world to Himself.
That tongues are a gifted sign of the Redeemer is a response of prayer and praise by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus crying “Abba, Father” (Rom.8.15; Gal.4.6). It is a word we could never truly speak for ourselves, but always belongs to the very Spirit (the Spirit of the Son) who works our salvation into the age to come. Such tongues can only come from a faith that rests in the will and enablement of the Spirit to make such a prayer that is heard and answered (Rom.8.26-27) because it is the prayer of the Son redeeming the world to the Father.
Am I really Pentecostal? I’m thinking of this in several ways because recently I have been attacked by some for (1) being too Pentecostal, and by others for (2) not being Pentecostal enough. So which is it? Or is neither accusation correct? Maybe I’m the perfect Pentecostal (whatever that might look like 🙂 ). What does it even mean to be “Pentecostal”? Does it just mean I speak in tongues? That would be a pretty lame interpretation that would leave aside the entire Pentecostal conceptualization of the Gospel message (Jesus is Savior/Sanctifier, Baptizer, Healer, and Soon Coming King) or ethos (empowered participants of the life of the Spirit).
Can I be “Pentecostal” and not speak in tongues? Think William Seymour as he began his ministry. Can I speak in tongues and still not be “Pentecostal”? Think Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Does it really hinge on tongues? Should it?
Is it to be a person of the Spirit (whatever that means)? Or is that too individualistic and to generally broad? Is it to be a vibrant member of the people of the Spirit? Or is that broader still even while encompassing the wider movement of God’s presence and work in the world?
And shouldn’t I already have all this figured out because I’m not only a self-describing “Pentecostal”, but even a pastor of a “Pentecostal” Fellowship (and among the regional leadership of said wider Fellowship)? Worse still, I’m a “Pentecostal” scholar working on a PhD in Pentecostal Studies. But does that mean I happen to be a Pentecostal who is a scholar or that I am a scholar of things Pentecostal? And does that mean I really have it figured out?
One would really think a person like myself should have a lot more answers. The problem is that with every answer, I find more questions begging to be answered. So what kind of Pentecostal am I anyways? I would like to think I am the kind that loves the Lord my God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loves my neighbor as myself. I would like to think I am the kind that does this in the vivifying power of the Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who was sent by the Father, who is the Spirit of Christ Jesus.
Oh, and I also speak in tongues.
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It was my birthday this last week and one of my sisters, Holly (may her name be blessed forever for buying me books for my birthday 😉 ), purchased a book for me which was on my Amazon wishlist (apparently she didn’t want to buy the other nearly 200 volumes on said list…). She called to tell me as much, but did not mention just which book it was. I was elated this afternoon to open the mail and discover she had purchased Sam Storms Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist (Kansas City, MO: Enjoying God Ministries, 2005).
Now some of you are already thinking, “You can’t be BOTH a Charismatic and a Calvinist…aren’t those an oxymoron like jumbo shrimp, found missing, or pretty ugly?” Sam Storms recognizes this tension (even proposed contradiction) and addresses it in his forward. He writes about those in each “camp” who cannot fathom their being any mixing of the two:
“Many of my friends and colleagues over the years have questioned my wisdom, if not my sanity, in seeking to live and minister in both worlds. Some of those from “Orlando” [representing Calvinists] have insisted, often zealously, that people who speak in tongues rarely engage in serious theological reflection. They’ve tried to convince me that people who pray expectantly for miraculous healings are inclined to minimize the importance of Greek exegesis. Quite a few have suggested that my being a Calvinist is inconsistent with belief in the spiritual gift of prophecy.
Those from “Anaheim” [representing the Charismatics] have also voiced their concerns. Some fear that my unflinching affirmation of the sovereignty of God will either kill my evangelistic zeal or undermine any sense of urgency in prayer, or perhaps both. They are often suspicious of my emphasis on the mind and the critical importance of history and tradition. Although few have said it openly, I can sense their uneasiness with my persistent and meticulous habit of subjecting all claims of supernatural phenomena to the test of Scripture. Beneath it is the worry that excessive devotion to biblical precision will either breed dogmatic arrogance or quench the Spirit or, again, both.
I didn’t buy into such false dichotomies then, and I don’t buy into them now. (pp.7-8)
While I am neither a self-confessed “Charismatic” or “Calvinist,”* I do find great strength in the contributions of these (professedly) divergent streams of the Faith. I’ve been looking forward to reading this volume for some time now and I personally believe it can only strengthen the church to be more “catholic” (with a little ‘c’) in its self-understanding and embrace of the wider potential for enriching ourselves and our communities of faith.
What are your thoughts? If you are Calvinistic, is their room for being Charismatic? If you are Charismatic, is there room for being Calvinistic?
* While I do not profess to being a “Charismatic Calvinist” I do profess to being “Reformed and Pentecostal” (the distinctions are not unimportant to my thinking).