Southern Baptists and Tongues: Biblically Based or Tradition Driven?

pentecostIn the last year many Southern Baptist entities have made statements that condemn the practice of speaking in tongues among those they appoint and employ and strongly discourage those in association with them from the practice. My question is simply, “Why do they condemn a practice that the first Christians, including the writers of the Scriptures found vital to daily Christian life? Many of them will say that these practices ceased at the close of the New Testament, but how do they substantiate this claim? What Bible passages hold water with this belief?

There are continual accounts of Christians throughout the centuries who have practiced speaking in tongues. It is becoming clearer and clearer that the Southern Baptist Convention may be stepping into territory that will only cause further dissention and possibly bring them into a place of picking Scriptures they will keep and which they will reject. Are Southern Baptists truly Biblically-based as they claim or has age old tradition taken hold in such a way that they reject a practice that the very writers of the Bible held so dear.

I applaud the boldness of Dr. Jerry Rankin, President of the International Mission Board for saying that he has had a private prayer language for many years. Making it clear that by the actions of the IMB Board of Trustees he is unequivocally disqualified for consideration for appointment to serve as a missionary for the organization that he has lead so wonderfully for many years. What is the big idea? Why not allow this to be a private decision for each believer?

I also applaud the boldness of the Rev. Dwight McKissic, Pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, TX for referring to his practice of tongues in a chapel address at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in August of this year. His statements during that address caused such a stir that the message was removed from the archives of the Seminary’s website. Why is such censorship placed upon a man of God speaking from the Word of God? The Seminary said that they do not support his statements about tongues. Why are they so vehemently opposed to a practice that multiplied millions around the world hold dear?

For many years I felt as though there were none within the SBC that held a Biblical perspective on speaking in tongues, I am delighted to say that there are those in the SBC and they are beginning to speak out! May the masses begin to identify themselves and stand up for the truth of Scripture and reject the traditions of man, on matter how long they have stood.


Nathan ( <– I think that’s the guy… O___O


6 comments on “Southern Baptists and Tongues: Biblically Based or Tradition Driven?

  1. While I am not in the SBC, I believe that many Baptists do hold to a Biblical view on tongues.
    Frankly, tongues as used in the NT are not what people claim to be tongues today. No where in the NT do we see an example of people speaking in an unknown language, or even ecstatic utterances. I know that the first thing that comes to mind is 1 Corinthians 12-14. But Paul is actually correcting the Corinthian view on the gift of tongues. Furthermore, in Acts we see that every time anyone acquired the gift of tongues it was use specifically to prove the Holy Spirit had come upon them. Acts 2, the Spirit was given to the Jews (and everyone heard Peter in their own language); Acts 10, the Spirit was given to the gentiles; Acts 19, the Spirit was given to those who already followed Jesus (i.e. John the Baptists’ teachings about a coming savior) but who did not know He had already come. In every instance the Spirit was given and tongues resulted as proof of that particular people group receiving the offer of salvation.
    Furthermore, Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 states that tongues are not to be used in the church; the reason is outsiders will be confused and think Christians are mad (which is what many do think about the current Charismatic movement).
    So basically, tongues as used in today’s evangelical churches IS NOT the tongues of the Bible. In fact, I would go as far to adamantly declare that what is going on in our churches is not tongues at all. I don’t know what it is, but I know that it is not tongues.

  2. While I cant change your mind, I do take issue with the fact that you would claim that the tongues spoken in the church today is not the same as the NT tongues. Not to put it too confrontationally, but it’s obvious to me that you yourself do not speak in tongues. If you did, I believe you would understand that what is happening with tongues in the NT is that there is one gift with different functions. There are at least three functions of tongues that we observe:
    1. Public use #1 –> wherein the speaker doesn’t understand what he is saying, but someone who speaks that language understands, as shown in Acts 2:4-11.
    2. Public use #2 –> wherein the speaker speaks in the church and someone else must interpret thru the Gift of Interpretation of Tongues, as shown in 1 Cor.14:27.
    3. Private use –> wherein the speaker speaks only to God, not to men, and no one understands him, as shown in 1 Cor.14:2 Here, apparently, interpretation is not necessary, but can be sought, as Paul says in 1 Cor.14:13-15.

    Known/unknown languages or ecstatic/non-ecstatic utterances are not really at issue here. After all, what does it really profit me to suddenly have the ability to worship and pray in French if I can learn French in high school? But, if I suddenly have the ability to speak in a heavenly language only God understands, then it profits me greatly. That’s not to say that I dont think tongues can be known languages. It’s simply that it’s a moot point b/c there are so many languages in the world (both used and dead), that we cant possibly test it. So, who cares?

    In addition, Paul nowhere says that tongues should never be used in church. In fact, he says the opposite: “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up… do not forbid speaking in tongues… ” (I Cor. 14:26 & 39b) How does that prohibit tongues in church? Paul simply says that in church he’d rather speak more in a language ppl can understand than pray in his private prayer language. If you look at this chapter as a whole, you’ll see that he prohibits 3 different groups from speaking in public in the assembly – prophets, tongues-speakers and wives – all for the sake of keeping order. But, when guidelines are followed and order is kept, then let the church be edified by all of their verbal contributions.

    The only problem in some charismatic churches today is following those guidelines. And the problem with churches like the some of the SBs and other non-charismatic churches is that they disobey Scripture by prohibiting all of these verbal contributions on the basis of fear. Fear of the unknown (since they themselves have no experience with tongues or prophecy), and fear of not being able to keep the order in church. There are actually quite a number of SB churches that are charismatic (and orderly!) who take exception with their own denomination’s narrow-minded view on tongues, inc. Nathan Finn, whom I quoted. If SB members themselves are divided, I’d say it bears a second opinion. And who best to give an opinion than those who have experience? You dont ask a single person about marriage, nor a man how to give birth. So, why take the word of one who doesnt speak in tongues (i.e. most of these SB leaders who formulate these ridiculous documents forbidding their own ppl from using tongues) over one who does? Makes no sense.

    Anyway, I used to be a cessationist (hard as that may be to believe), so I know that I knew nothing before I actually experienced tongues for myself, and I think they would do well to keep humble about things they know very little about.

  3. I appreciate the quick response. While I don’t want a full blown argument, I must respectfully disagree with your NT interpretation on the functions of tongues. You note three functions:

    “1. Public use #1 –> wherein the speaker doesn’t understand what he is saying, but someone who speaks that language understands, as shown in Acts 2:4-11.”

    I’m curious why you believe Peter, in Acts 2, didn’t understand what he was saying? That is an unwarranted assumption for the text does not imply that at all. All we see in Acts 2 is that the people understood them in their own language; this is clearly miraculous and used for a specific purpose: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). Therefore, tongues was used to display the power of God, which in turn brought others to salvation.

    “2. Public use #2 –> wherein the speaker speaks in the church and someone else must interpret thru the Gift of Interpretation of Tongues, as shown in 1 Cor.14:27.”

    Apart from Acts nowhere in the NT do we see anybody speaking in tongues; 1 Corinthians 14 only discusses tongues. So the question is, why is Paul concerning himself with writing about this particular gift; either 1) the Corinthians did speak in tongues; or 2) they believed that they did. Beginning in the twelfth chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul presents an argument that the gifts granted by the Spirit are all equally beneficial. This argument continually builds with a focus on love as that which is superior to these gifts (see 1 Cor 13). The true problem that Paul is dealing with in this section of the letter is addressed in chapter 14; the misuse of the gift of tongues.
    Paul states the problem at the start of this chapter: “For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church my receive edifying” (1 Cor 14:2-5).
    Paul rightly attacks the use of tongues in the church by declaring: 1) the use of tongues is meant for God; 2) a person who speaks in tongues only edifies himself; and 3) there must be an interpreter. Paul is classifying the use of tongues as a revelatory gift; it is used to reveal a mystery of God. Hence, when used in Acts it properly directs glory to God; it displays His power; it brings unbelievers to salvation.

    “3. Private use –> wherein the speaker speaks only to God, not to men, and no one understands him, as shown in 1 Cor.14:2 Here, apparently, interpretation is not necessary, but can be sought, as Paul says in 1 Cor.14:13-15.”

    Once again I must respectfully disagree with your interpretation:
    First, tongues is unfruitful (1 Cor 14:13-14): Paul aims his question at the reader, if you speak in an unknown language pray for interpretation (v. 13). Directing the issue to himself, Paul states: “For if I pray in an unknown tongue…my understanding is unfruitful” (Cor 14:14). He is expressing that tongues is not used for edification; it is unfruitful.
    Second, understanding is edifying (1 Cor 14:15-17): Paul continues by explaining what is edifying: when he prays it will be with understanding; when he sings it will be with understanding (v. 15). Within the assembly of the church, it is the ability to understand the speaker which edifies the body. “Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue” (1 Cor 14:19). Thus, 1 Corinthians 14 provides that tongues are not to be used in the confines of the church and it is a revelatory gift which needs an interpreter.

    Basically I would state that all three of these functions that you see are really only one, and that is the proclaiming the Gospel. Note what Paul says next:
    1 Cor 14:20-25, Paul emphasizes a point by quoting Isaiah; God will use foreigners to spread his word and through the use of other languages God will speak to this people (v. 21). Paul is declaring the fulfillment of prophecy by the use of tongues; because tongues are for the unbelievers (v. 22). The gift of tongues is explicitly used for bringing (i.e. revealing) the gospel to the Gentile world. Paul continues stating that if the church speaks in various tongues and unbelievers come in, they will think that the church is mad (v. 23).

    Ok, at this point you are probably wondering why then does Paul give rules for its use with in the church; in my opinion Paul lists these rules to prove a point that tongues are not for the church.

    In summary, tongues is a gift that is graciously given by God through the Holy Spirit; it is a gift that by its very nature is revelatory (i.e. it is used to declare the gospel); at each occurrence it is a miraculous event; it is a sign to unbelievers; it must be understood; and tongues are unlearned languages. Therefore, a conclusion is reached that the gift of tongues – as observed in the New Testament – is to bring the gospel to the unbelievers of the various gentile languages.

    So is the spiritual gift of tongues still valid today?
    While the primary issue behind the question of whether or not the Gift of Tongues is valid in today’s church is a theological one, there are more pressing matters at hand. While an inference can be made that the Corinthians did not truly possess the gift of tongues but only believed they did; it is my view that this assumption can not be validated within a proper reading of the text. However, the same conclusion is very much inside the realm of possibility when it is applied to today’s church. It is my belief that those in the “charismatic movement” do believe they posses this gift; yet, truly do not. First, there is no apparent purpose behind the use of tongues; the modern tongue movement is filled with chaos and often lacks interpretation. As concluded above, every time the gift was used it was for a purpose and in such it glorified God.

    In today’s church evidence of neglect in theology and a focus on the supernatural has led to multiple problems. In many cases missionaries believed they found an easy way to evangelize the world but instead found disappointment and actually had the learn the language. The sudden reemergence of this supposed gift has initiated a genera of bad-theological “spirit-filled” books with the primary function of appealing to the reader’s emotions.

    In looking back on the arrived definition of tongues, the following conclusions are reached: 1) the gift of tongues is a gracious gift given from God which is not to be prayed for (see Acts 2; cf. 10:44-48; 19:1-7). In the charismatic movement of today people are encouraged to pray for this gift. 2) Tongues are an unlearned human language; today, the majority of uses are unintelligible utterances. 3) It is a miraculous event; something that happens on a daily (or weekly) basis does not constitute a miracle. 4) There must be an interpreter present; as noted above this is not always the case. 5) Tongues is a revelatory gift, shown as a sign to unbelievers; for this aspect to be valid a person with the gift of tongues should therefore go and spread the gospel via this gift. 6) It is not for use within the church because it does not edify the body (see 1 Cor 14:1-5, 13-19); unfortunately, in the charismatic movement of today this is the only place where it is used.

    In conclusion, the use of tongues in today’s church is not a legitimately used gift. The current charismatic movement as it stands is best described by Paul: “If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad” (1 Cor 14:23). The charismatic movement needs discerning Christians to wade through the mess and bring this faction back to theologically grounded doctrine.

  4. And so, without going into a full-blown argument, I think it’s safe to say we can end our discussion here. I’ve presented my view, you’ve presented yours. What you consider to be “charismatic chaos” is for me nothing more than the daily revelation (dare I say, miracle?) of who God is in my spiritual walk. I’m coming to the table as someone who does use tongues (and yes – corporately), and you’re not. I see how God speaks through the practice of tongues both privately and corporately, and you do not. I experience daily how it edifies my walk with Jesus and my ministry to my siblings in Christ. You do not. Since you disagree with the present use of ‘alleged’ tongues, your theological position really makes no difference in the grand scheme of things. You will obviously never experience tongues, since you dont think it’s real and therefore have no desire to. In never experiencing, you will never know if your theological position is right or not. You can only take it on hearsay and faith. Therefore, we have no common ground, and no compromise on this issue. I will not convince you. You will not convince me. Thank you for your opinion. Anything more is simply verbal gymnastics.

  5. Jas,
    If you felt this was a personal attack, please accept my sincere appologies for I do tend to on occasion sound that way when I don’t intend to. We do have our own beliefs, yet I would state (and I’m sure you would agree) that we are both Christians and just accept that our view on a specific point just don’t coincide. Since we are not discussing the Gospel, Eternal Security, etc. it is very much safe to just leave the argument as is and allow others to form their own conclusions.

    Once again, I was just expressing my personal beliefs on the subject; I pray that you did not take them personally. Perhaps we shall talk again some day, God Bless.

  6. Stewart, it’s fine. I completely understand how heated a discussion like this can become, which is why I suggest we end it here. There really is nowhere else to go. And, like you basically said, we can agree to disagree on this non-essential point of doctrine. After all, you are my brother and we’re spiritually on the same level at the foot of the cross. Maybe we will talk some other time about other issues. Until then, take care and blessings.

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