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How can our church learn to speak in tongues?

According to the clear teaching of the New Testament, speaking in tongues is the ability to speak in a language previously unknown by the one speaking it. Tongues are not ecstatic utterances which many people today are seeking. The main passages of the New Testament that deal with tongues are Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 13-14. We have several articles our web site that cover this issue in the “Theology / Pneumatology” section. Before you seek this experience, let me encourage you to read these articles.

The New Testament does not encourage us to seek the gift of tongues and gives very specific guidelines for their use (1 Cor. 13-14). It also plainly states that not all speak in tongues (see 1 Cor. 12:28-30). Note that the questions Paul asks in 1 Cor. 12:28-30 like, “All do not speak with tongues, do they?” demand the answer NO in the Greek text as well as in the English translation. Further, tongues are listed last signifying they are least in importance of all the gifts. Rather, we are strongly challenged to seek the better gifts, those that edify (1 Cor. 12:31). Furthermore, we are never told to seek this gift—one used especially for the Jewish nation which had been dispersed among the nations of the world where they had to learn a different language (see 1 Cor. 14:20-22). Instead, we are to seek to edify others through those gifts that minister God’s truth in such a way that everyone can understand (see 1 Cor. 14:1f).

Interestingly, the only detailed instruction we have on the use of tongues—their purpose and significance—is found for us in 1 Corinthians, a church that Paul called carnal. This should make us suspect of any group that might seek or promote this gift for a personal experience (a self-centered purpose contrary to the design and use of gifts) or as a sign of spirituality. In all of the rest of the epistles like Romans and Ephesians and 1 Peter, etc., epistles that deal with true spirituality and our walk with God, tongues are not once mentioned.

In addition, the same kind of ecstatic phenomenon occurs among the unsaved all over the world. The suggestion of 1 Cor. 12:1-3 (Paul’s introduction to the gifts issue) strongly warns the Corinthians that they were trying to use the legitimate gift of tongues (at least for the early church) in the same way they had experienced ecstatic phenomenon before they were saved and caught up in paganism. That in itself should serve as a warning about seeking such an experience.

I would encourage you to give this careful and prayerful consideration and allow God’s Word to become your authority to guide you and not manipulation or pressure from people because I am convinced, on the basis of the Bible, that the focus normally seen today on tongues is not according to God’s Word and therefore not from Him.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Tongues