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.
I have been lecturing in one of my classes for a few weeks on the Neo-Pentecostal and Charismatic outpourings of the Spirit in the wider Church. Today I showed that class a 9 minute video of Harald Bredesen (a Neo-Pentecostal Lutheran minister) sharing about the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. It is short, practical, simple and to the point. I followed this by closing the class session with a call to the students to both ask and receive the promise of the Father. It is my prayer to see the furtherance of the move of the Spirit throughout the Church regardless of affiliation. Come, Holy Spirit! Harald Bredesen on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit
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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