The Great “battle” between Christians of opposing views with regard to the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit has raged on since Lord knows when exactly. The gifts in question include miracles, healings, prophecy (bringing new revelations, not proclaiming already revealed ones), speaking in
tongues unlearned foreign languages, the interpretation of tongues unlearned foreign languages, and the foundational offices of the Apostle and Prophet.
The two main camps into which Christians are divided are.
Continuationists – Christians who believe that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit have continued unabated since the time of the early Church, including the revelatory and miraculous gifts. Admittedly, it is a spectrum, having different shades to it.
Cessationists – Christians who believe that some gifts of the Spirit ceased during or shortly after the early Church age, specifically the revelation-bearing and miraculous gifts. This is the camp yours truly helplessly finds himself. This camp too, is also a bit of a spectrum, with some within the camp holding to rather extremist views like denying miracles altogether.
There seems to be no end in sight to the hostilities. The matter has proven itself unyielding to countless spirited efforts at diplomacy and reconciliation at various levels and at different times and places. Many articles and books have been written, with several live and virtual debates held. Denominations and even local Church assemblies sometimes find they have to deal with this issue to some degree. Individual Christians are divided and cannot fellowship as fully as they should. It appears to be a most dreadful stalemate, a hopelessly hopeless one. Perhaps this is one of those issues that will never be resolved until the Lord Jesus returns and sets the records straight. Surely, then, all disputes will be resolved.
But we may not have to wait until the second coming to have a working, practical, and Biblical solution which allows us to live, worship, fellowship, and work together. There just might be a Biblical solution which many, if not most of us have ignored or missed out altogether. A solution that makes it possible for Christians on either side of the debate to exist together in true peace, whether in the context of a local Church, a denomination, or across different Church traditions. A solution that has been right there in the Bible, the whole time.
Below is my feeble effort at breaking it down to three simple and actionable points which I trust are Biblical enough for all reasonable Believers on both sides to agree on and implement, and we can all get along without compromising on Biblical truth:
- Do not forbid speaking in tongues
So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. – 1 Corinthians 14:39 (emphasis mine)
This would go to those of us in the Cessationist camp, which I think are far more likely to lean in the direction of forbidding the use of the gift of languages altogether. The Apostle Paul states plainly that the exercise of this gift of languages must never be forbidden or outlawed outrightly. Although, in all fairness, I never heard of a Church with a Cessationist position on the charismatic gifts that officially forbids speaking in unknown languages in their services. But methinks we Cessationists would be the ones with this tendency anyway, so I’d apply it to us. We can never outlaw the use of this gift in our meetings. It is a line we cannot cross without running afoul of a distinct, divine command.
In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that all churches, Cessationist inclusive, must publicize, educate or make it clearly known to everyone in their local assemblies, as well as visitors, that the use of this charismatic gift is in fact allowed, and even encouraged. That would be how to squarely fall in line with the Biblical injunction.
- Insist upon the Biblical Description of what “tongues” is
To the glory of God Almighty, the only wise one who lives forever and ever, the gift of “tongues” is one for which the Bible provides crystal clear, incontrovertible evidence which spells out to us what the gift is, in the form of a high-definition description of the gift in operation, beautifully recorded in Acts Chapter 2.
We learn from there that it was real human languages that could naturally and easily be understood by native speakers. What made it miraculous was that the speakers had never learned or previously known the language, but instantly received the ability to speak in that language, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
All true Christian Assemblies, Cessationist or Continuationist alike, must exercise discernment in what passes for or is accepted as the gift of “tongues.” It must always match the Biblical description – real, human languages, which can be interpreted by either a native speaker or a Believer who has been gifted with the ability to interpret languages supernaturally.
Although, Paul does indicate that people gifted with the ability to speak in unknown languages may also receive the ability to interpret- if the Lord granted this in answer to prayer (1Corinthians 14:13).
- Implement and uphold the Apostle Paul’s regulatory instructions in 1 Corinthians 14
Once again, thanks be to God, we are not left without any clear-cut instructions as to how this gift is to be deployed or managed in a Church setting, as the Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul, provides this in no ambiguous terms.
- First off, no more than two or at the most three people can be allowed to speak in “tongues” at any Church gathering. Selah.
27 “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret.” – 1 Corinthians 14 (ESV, emphasis added)
This means the upper limit for people “ministering” or praying in “tongues” per Church service or meeting, is three – 3 people. This applies to all forms of Christian programs. Each session of a Church cannot have more than 3 “tongues” speakers. This also implies not even a tongues-speaking conference, contest or marathon gets a pass. The maximum number of tongues-speakers per sitting (or standing), is three (3). Selah.
- Secondly, they (these 2 or three individuals) must speak one after another and never at the same time, so that there is no confusion and everyone present can listen to what they have to say without distraction. This also, is drawn from the same verse 27:
27” If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret.” – 1 Corinthians 14 (ESV, emphasis added)
This tells us plainly that God, who gave the gift (the original gift of languages) desires for it to be used responsibly and sensibly, not to mention for the benefit and edification of all the Believers present, who must all be able to hear what is being said by the Speaker. And this can only happen when they speak, one person at a time. Selah.
- Thirdly, there MUST be someone to interpret what each speaker is saying. Selah.
27” If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret.” – 1 Corinthians 14 (emphasis added)
According to the Bible, there are three ways this can happen. Either there is a native speaker of that language present who can identify the language and translate, so everyone present can understand what is being said, like the situation in Acts chapter 2, or someone who has the different (but companion) gift of interpretation of languages can step up to do the needful.
A third way would be if someone with the gift of languages also has the gift of interpretation.
13 “Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret.” (emphasis added)
Whatever the case, what is being said MUST BE INTERPRETED to the congregation, which is the only way they can be edified by the message, which is in turn, the whole point of the Church gathering to minister to one another in the power of the Spirit. When people do not understand something, they cannot be edified by it. Selah.
- Fourthly, at no time must those speaking in unknown languages or prophesying in a Church service even so much as give the impression that they are not in control of their faculties, for the spirit of the Prophets, is subject to the Prophets. The fruit of the Spirit called self-control, does not get suspended when true Believers are being moved by the Holy Spirit to speak. Selah.
32 “and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.” (emphasis added)
It appears that in some twisted way, we have been led or conditioned over time to think that the more helpless or out of control a person “under the power” or “anointing” is, the better; the more intense the “possession” of the person- by whatever spirit stirring him or her- the better. But the Bible teaches the opposite.
While the Holy Spirit is definitely capable of overwhelming and knocking anyone out, we never see him operate this way. He always operates such that the prophet or speaker still has his or her wits about him or her, and can choose to hold back and keep quiet, or wait to speak at the right time, when it is his or her turn, which is what Paul instructs in 1 Corinthians 14.
All this is bearing in mind that all those who claim to have a prophetic word or language they wish to get up and speak in front of the whole church must observe the Biblical instructions. They can only speak when they are one of two or three people who have been allowed to speak to the Church, and that is, with an interpreter at hand to translate.
And if all these conditions are not met, for example a Speaker who feels strongly he or she has a word in a foreign language to share with the Church sees that he or she is the fourth, fifth or nth number of persons waiting their turns to speak, they are to hold their peace and go speak to God in private at home or someplace else. Paul’s point is that even while “under the unction” as we would refer to it today, the Speakers can and are required to maintain their self-control, except it is not the Holy Spirit inspiring them, but their flesh or some other spirit.
Lord willing when the Bible is obeyed in how the charismatic gifts – the originals- are used in the Church, we will have peace, and all believing Continuationists and Cessationists, and everyone in-between, can all have peaceful, orderly, Biblical, dignified, edifying and God-glorifying church meetings.
Anything apart from this is confusion and cannot be traced back to God but to the flesh and perhaps, the evil one.
33” For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints.” 1 Corinthians 14:33 (ESV, emphasis added))
And just in case, Paul makes it abundantly clear that his instructions here are not his personal suggestion, but a Divine command which nobody claiming to be a Believer, no church, denomination, or movement passing itself off as “Christian,” cannot but obey.
I’ll let him have the last word:
37” If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order. “ 1 Corinthians 14 (ESV, emphasis added)
All things should be done in a decent and orderly manner. Selah.