on tongues–Cornelius’ household & the disciples at Ephesus

In Acts 10, we are introduced to Cornelius, a converted Gentile who fears the Lord. In a powerful vision, the Lord spoke to him and told him to have Simon Peter visit. So Cornelius sent men to Joppa to bring back Peter. In the meantime, Peter had a vision in which the Lord revealed to him that all Gentiles who believed in Him would be considered clean in His eyes. There was no distinction between Jews and Gentiles in true salvation. So, accompanied by some of his Jewish brothers in Christ, Peter visited Cornelius’ house and gave a powerful, compelling message. Before he was finished preaching, “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, ‘Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days” (Acts 10:44-48). 

 

Two things jump out in this text. The first is that the Jews who accompanied Peter to Cornelius’ house were obviously accustomed to seeing tongues accompanying the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Their amazement was not just that people spoke in tongues after the Holy Spirit fell on them, but that the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit. So, we can safely conclude that the initial outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost was followed by more manifestations of this gift not written about in the Acts narrative between chapter two and here in chapter ten. The second thing that jumps out is that there was no need here for the interpretation of tongues. When Peter was preaching, everyone understood his message; so everyone in attendance spoke and comprehended the same language. So in this setting, the manifestation of tongues was a sign. It served as verbal communication between man and God only. 

 

Farther along in the Acts narrative, we see the apostle Paul arriving in Ephesus. There he meets a group of men who were disciples but had only been baptized in John’s baptism of repentance. “And Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all” (Acts 19:4-7). 

 

Again in this instance, the outpouring of tongues was a sign, serving no communication purpose between men, only between man and God. It was visible evidence that “the Holy Spirit came on them” (v 6).

on tongues–the tower of Babel

In Genesis 11 we read the account of the tower of Babel. Verse 1 says, “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” As the chapter progresses, we see mankind communicating and producing bricks and mortar to build a city and a tower that they said would have “it’s top in the heavens” (v. 4). They desired to make a name for themselves so that they would not be dispersed throughout the whole earth. And then we have our Lord’s reaction to their endeavors. “And the LORD said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:6-9). 

 

Throughout the history of the Old Testament, nations and tongues were divided. Then Jesus, the Christ, came, bringing the promise of redemption to all mankind. After Jesus lived His sinless, obedient life and died His sacrificial death, then rose victorious from the grave, He ascended to the Father’s right hand. Then a new era of salvation and redemption was ushered in. When devout Jews from many tribes and nations came to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost, our Lord, through the apostles, miraculously spread the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, the curse of the tower of Babel was reversed. Our Lord miraculously proclaimed, in every dialect present that day, the truth of Jesus as the Messiah! Peter and the other apostles spoke, and the people understood. The nations were no longer divided by language. This message was clearly articulated to them in their own distinct language, adding 3,000 souls to the kingdom in one day. Our Lord gave His apostles this miraculous gift, so they could clearly articulate His salvation message in tongues that they never studied or learned. 

 

As we read through the New Testament, including the four gospels, there are numerous instances of miracles accompanied by evidence of Divine influence. There are narratives of these accounts, and there are portions of Scripture that lay the groundwork for how these gifts are to be exercised, “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). It is an indisputable fact that during the time of the New Testament, miraculous signs coincided with the dawning of the church. However, it is not as clearly spelled out in the New Testament how and when these miracles will cease to be a part of the church.

on tongues–my history

I was raised in a non-denominational, rather introverted church. When other churches or denominations were talked about, it was virtually always about doctrines or practices where we had it right and they had it wrong. These areas of deviation on their part were seen as a compromise that rendered them ineffective. We were the standard. Every other church was weighed in a balance against ours. And most of the time, in fact almost every time, the scale tipped in our favor. The word discernment was used a lot. It seemed as if our little group had been endowed with an extra dose of spiritual discernment, for we found fault in just about everyone else.

 

One of the areas of theology that our group was very strong about was the gift of tongues. It was made clear that they were a temporary gift given to the early church. They ceased upon the completion of the Canon. 

 

I actually did not become a Jesus-follower in that group. It was not their fault. They faithfully preached the Gospel message. I heard it literally my whole life, but I wanted nothing to do with Jesus. In my early twenties, after a series of foolish lifestyle choices I was led to seek help in Teen Challenge. Teen Challenge is a Christ-based drug and alcohol program that is affiliated with the Assemblies of God. It was in Teen Challenge that I met Jesus and surrendered my life to Him. And, it was in Teen Challenge that I was exposed to the gift of tongues for the first time. While there, the baptism of the Holy Spirit as evidenced by speaking in tongues was emphasized, and I was strongly encouraged to seek it out. However, I did not interpret the Bible as saying that everyone was supposed to have tongues and had no desire for them. Thankfully, tongues was never forced upon me and my salvation was never held in question. 

 

I graduated from Teen Challenge in October 1998, without ever speaking in tongues. Still, my experience there left me with a few nagging questions I could not shake about the teaching that the gift of tongues is not for today. All of the men who were counselors and pastors at Teen Challenge loved the Lord dearly. They loved His Word and were students of it. They loved the souls of the men in the program and interceded in prayer faithfully on our behalf. They gave their lives for the souls of the lost. And, all of them had a prayer language that was other-worldly. It was not gibberish. It had a supernatural ring to it. I had to file that somewhere. Either these men were deceived and possessed by some demonic influence, or there was some validity to the gift they possessed. 

 

I remember one incident, in particular, that influenced my perspective on tongues. There was a young man I met in the program named Troy. His life was a mess before he came to Teen Challenge, as were most of the lives of the men in the program. He had been a heavy cocaine user and lost his job, his wife and his little girl. And when Jesus got a hold of this man and saved him, he was fired up!

Troy dearly loved Jesus for the new life He gave him, and he loved to pray for people. He was very passionate. If he started talking on a subject he was excited about, he gradually talked louder and louder, as he inched closer and closer to the edge of his seat. But the more excited Troy got, the harder it was for him to enunciate his words. He didn’t exactly stutter, but he had trouble articulating his thoughts. He would just stop talking with a slightly frustrated look on his face over his inability to express to us what was so clear in his head.  One day, a group of us got together to pray. We held hands as we stood in a circle outside. We began to intercede for others in the program; for our families and loved ones back home; for former friends who desperately needed Jesus. 

Troy was next to me. As he prayed, he got more and more fervent. Just about the time where he would normally start to lose his ability to clearly express himself, he began to pray in tongues. It was not the first time I heard tongues, but being so close to Troy I was able to pick up the distinct, yet subtle inflections of this language. It was too complex for Troy to make up. This lasted about 10 or 15 seconds, and then Troy was able to pray in English again.

 

Later on, I asked Troy what had happened. He told me that often when he prayed by himself, there were times he would not be able to utter the words necessary to pray how he wanted. And at those times, he would pray in tongues. He quoted the verse, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26 ESV). I had never interpreted that verse to mean praying in tongues. I always interpreted, and still believe, it quite literally to mean that when I don’t know how to pray, the Holy Spirit will intercede on my behalf. It is a comfort to me. This divine intercession does not have to manifest itself in an ecstatic language. But, I certainly could not tell Troy that he was possessed, and that he needed to stop praying in tongues. 

 

Since then, I have had various similar experiences with tongues. The few times I witnessed public tongues, I admit I was not impressed with the handling of it. An interpretation was given, but usually after an awkward silence, and a few times by the person who spoke the message in tongues. It was generally vague and non-specific, and could have been said just as easily in English or not at all.  But, I have had people whom I respect pray with me or for me. And at any given time during their intercession, there were interspersed sentences in a distinctly supernatural language.

on tongues–intro

Recently, both online and in my personal interaction with brothers and sisters in Christ, the issue of Spiritual gifts, primarily the gift of tongues, has been coming up.  So I did a study of the scriptures on this issue.  I am going to have to post it in sections, since it is too long to post just once.  So bear with me.  I welcome and encourage feedback on these few thoughts. 

“In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.”
Augustine (354-430 AD) 

The above quote is from a well-known saint who lived only a few hundred years after Christ. Even in his day, he saw divisions caused by different factions of Jesus’ followers. And he clearly articulated, in almost poetic form, the importance of unifying around the “essentials”—those biblical truths that cannot be compromised.

The simplicity of the Nicene Creed is a good place to start to understand these essentials: 

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds;

God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God;
begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men, for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man;

and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered and was buried;
and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures;
and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father;
and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son;

who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
Amen.
 

This creed is pretty basic theology. However, there are issues within Christendom that are not covered in this creed. Over the years, these issues have caused division within the church; within Christ’s body; within the Redeemed, who Jesus calls His pure and spotless Bride. One of the more obvious ones is the sign gifts, particularly tongues. In my opinion, this is a non-essential, and therefore, demands “liberty,” and so I have no desire to make a huge issue out of it. 

However, out of necessity, I have been compelled to study this matter. It has been thoroughly edifying and encouraging to delve into the Scriptures to seek out what the Word says. Tomorrow, before I get into what I found within Scripture, I’d like to recount a bit of my own history. 

my perception of myself

As most of you know, I’m a little behind the times.  Last night, we watched the first two episodes of season 1 of “The Office” after Michelle’s small group left and I came home.  I was struck by how Michael Scott, the Scranton, PA regional manager of Dunder-Mifflin, has no idea how other people view him.  He thinks he is cool.  He thinks he is funny.  He thinks he is respected.  He thinks people see him like he sees himself.  But he is wrong, so wrong.

How often I think others see me as I see myself.  My perception of myself is not always accurate with how others view me.

Many Christians are convinced the world sees them a certain way.  But the reality is not in line with their self-delusion.  Now, should we be concerned with what the world thinks of us?  Obviously, we are ultimately answerable to our Lord for our conduct, not to our fellow man.  But could it be that our Lord watches us interact with our co-worker, family member, neighbor, etc. and wishes we would just act like a normal person, not like a culture-stunted ignoramus?  Could it be that my conduct toward my fellow man is what my Lord is watching, and to which He is holding me accountable?

What am I trying to say?  Good question.  I’m just wondering if we stopped and considered what others thought of us, we might be more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful and gentle.

A few thoughts.
Shalom

spiritual eyesight

A few months ago, we were in a training session at work.  I was having trouble reading the power point slides.  So the guy that was running the training re-focused the projector.  I still couldn’t read it.  I made the comment that I needed to get glasses.  He handed me his.  I put them on, and the words on the screen popped into focus.  I said, “Wow, I really DO need glasses.”

 

Then my friend Dan Fisher pointed out that reason I could see so clearly when I put on the glasses was because I was seeing the image through the lenses of the man who focused the projector.  Of course it’s gonna be clear.

 

Isn’t that true of our dogma sometimes?  It’s so clear to us.  And we are amazed at how clearly we see things, and even more amazed that others just don’t see it as clearly as we do.  What’s wrong with them?  What’s wrong with their vision?  All the while, they are asking the same questions about us, about our spiritual eyesight.

 

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love”

(attributed to Augustine 354-430 AD)

extra weight

This past weekend, on our hike, Jon told us a story about some of his coworkers.  One of them was going to leave for a hiking trip right from work, so he brought his gear and pack into work with him.  One of his friends got a rock weighing about 20 pounds, emptied the contents of the pack, put the rock at the bottom, and then placed everything back in on top of it.  The poor guy carrying the pack had no idea until he got home from his hike and unpacked that it was not his normal load.  He said he felt like he was so out of shape during the whole hike.

 

Isn’t that how religion can be?  We add extra weight to people’s packs, weight that our Lord doesn’t require them to bear.  Yet we tend to force them to carry heavy theological issues that have nothing to do with their salvation or sanctification or eternal standing with God.  Are we making disciples?  Or are we more concerned with making followers of our creeds?  Of our dogma?

 

When someone first comes to Christ, they sometimes get a new list of rules, not love.  Even nonbelievers have an expectation placed upon them that they should concede to truths or adhere to doctrine of our choosing.  Are we daft?  Have we missed the truth that the whole point of the gospel is to set people free?

the snare of needing to be right

I just read this article, How Did Christianity Become an Excuse to Be Mean? by Helen Mildenhall.

And I found myself asking these questions:
“Why do I need to be right?” 
“What is it in me that always needs you to be wrong?”

In my early days of walking with the Lord, there was a simple concept that impacted my life.  I believe it was from The Calvary Road by the late Roy Hession, but I’m having trouble locating it right now in the book to quote it.  Anyway, the author (perhaps Mr. Hession) equated righteousness with “being right with God.”  And the only way I can ever be right with God is through the perfect life, sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Righteousness equals being right with God.

So if I’m counted righteous, or right with God, then it’s okay if I appear wrong to you, isn’t it?

And yet there is this snare that I fall into, and many other Christians fall into, of needing to be right in the eyes of our fellow man.  Rather than rolling up my sleeves to kneel and serve you, I find I’m rolling up my sleeves and putting my fists up so we can duke it out.  How quickly I forget that my Lord did not jump to His own defense.  Our Lord, as a silent Lamb, allowed Himself to be blasphemed and lied about without needing to be seen as being right.  The only time He spoke up against the false accusations of those who opposed Him was when their words defied the glory of His Father.  He did not come to His own defense.  He let His love defend His honor.  He allowed His grace and compassion and mercy and healing touch speak for Him.

Does love win or doesn’t it?

they don’t care about my creed

Do I see the ones who Jesus noticed?

The outcasts with their hands outstretched,

With hurt in their eyes and scars on their wrists,

Scars from wounds more than knives have etched.

 

They don’t care about my creed

Written in ink on paper.

They share my desperate need

For a slain and risen Savior.

 

Do I hear the cries that Jesus heard?

Some said out loud, most left unspoken.

Can I hear the heart behind the words?

Do I share in the pain of the broken?

 

They don’t care about my creed

Written in ink on paper.

They share my desperate need

For a slain and risen Savior.

 

Do I touch the ones who Jesus touched?

The leper, the whore, the unclean.

Or is it overwhelming and too much?

Do I find them repulsive and obscene?

 

They don’t care about my creed

Written in ink on paper.

They share my desperate need

For a slain and risen Savior.

 

Do I forgive as Jesus forgives me?

Do I love with the love I’ve been shown?

Am I free enough to set others free?
Do I live like my life’s not my own?

 

You don’t care about my creed

Written in ink on paper.

You share my desperate need

For a slain and risen Savior.

follow the script

Is it just me, or does Christianity often seem like a play?  We have lines we say.  We react to things a certain way.  Many times, my spirituality seems memorized and rehearsed. 

We have pat answers for situations and questions.  I hate pat answers when they are given to me.  So what gives me the right to force them on others? 

To a lot of people, Christianity seems shallow.  Perhaps that’s only because our religion is shallow.  Why am I afraid to be real?  Why do I insist on sticking to the script? 

Is this life no more than a well-written play
With lines I pore over and rehearse?
Do the cue cards spell out the words I should say
With clever answers in preconceived verse? 

Am I just an actor who’s playing a part?
Is this world a set on a lighted stage?
Are the lines in my head?  Do they come from my heart?
Was I cast as a fool or a sage? 

Can I ad-lib or make it up as I go?
Do I fear the director’s dreaded “Cut!”?
What will the critics think of the show?
What if I miss my lines and clam up? 

My most dreaded fears have come to past.
I forget my lines and flounder around.
I see the disappointment of the cast.
I’m afraid I’ve let everyone down. 

I stand in the spotlight and stammer and stutter,
Embarrassed, I wish I could exit stage right.
My eloquence is reduced to a mutter.
I’m making an ass of myself on opening night. 

The spotlight dims, the house lights come on.
The theater’s empty except for you.
You stand to your feet and holler, “Well done!”
At least my audience of one approves.  

Who are we trying to please?  Man or God?