By Spencer D Gear
Have you ever heard Christians say things like: (1) I’m not interested in those Pentecostal-charismatics because all I hear when I enter their meetings is that hokus pokus of raving on in that tongues nonsense. (2) Those Pentecostals are into gibberish and I want nothing to do with that subjective garbage. (3) I’ve moved beyond that immature stuff to grown-up Christianity.
As John MacArthur began his exposition of 1 Corinthians 14, he stated:
I was listening to a well-known charismatic preacher this week who was saying that to receive the Spirit of God, you must receive, you must receive tongues. And he was saying, “It isn’t like you’re seeking tongues. It’s that you’re seeking this fullness of the Spirit, and tongues comes with it.” And he said, “The way to illustrate this,” and it was interesting because he didn’t really use Scripture, but he said is, “When you go to a shoe store, and you look in the window, you don’t say, ‘I’d like to buy those tongues.’ You just want to buy those shoes, and the tongues come with them.” And so he was saying that, “What you really want is to buy or to purchase or to gain the power of the Spirit of God, your spiritual walking shoes, and tongues come along with them” (MacArthur 1977).
John MacArthur (public domain)
MacArthur then gets into what he thinks is an elevation of spiritual superiority among charismatics. He wrote (remember that this is back in 1977 when he preached on this):
‘Well, what happens in this thing is you divide the church into the spiritual haves and the spiritual have-nots. And this is the tragedy of the thing; the haves cannot help but feel a sense of superiority over the have-nots. It’s just kind of built in. And even though they may resist it and fight it and some may succeed, the vast majority of folks cannot help but feel that everybody else is missing something that they’re not missing. I guess I would have to say that I’m among the have-nots, and even once in a while, I get a little intimidated about that. But I’ve wondered if the intimidation doesn’t even reach right into the charismatic ranks. I’m afraid that maybe some of them are intimidated. Some of them perhaps tempted to exaggerate or dramatize or fabricate miracles because of peer pressure or the desire to also belong in the group that’s sharing rather strange and bizarre things’ (MacArthur 1977).
Miracles, tongues and spiritual maturity
Rev Frank Hughes Jr (public domain)
I met some of MacArthur’s kind of sentiments on a Christian forum in 2015. I had been defending a continuation of gifts of the Spirit for today and stated that in church gatherings I have heard the genuine gift of tongues with the required accompanying gift of interpretation. I have been edified and to call it ‘mad raving babbling’ is insulting to those whom God uses to manifest the genuine gifts of tongues and interpretation.
The biblical mandate is: (1) ‘Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy’ (1 Cor 14:5 ESV). (2) ‘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 Cor 14:39-49 ESV).
I asked another person, ‘So was Paul contradicting himself because he also said: ‘Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy’ (1 Cor 14:5 ESV)?’ His response was, ‘Not at all. He was speaking to the Corinthians. He said, “I want you all’. Then he went on to say that ‘Not at all. He was speaking to the Corinthians. He said, “I want you all”’.
After this kind of interaction I encountered the reaction regarding
The test of spiritual maturity
It was not my intention to say that miracles indicate poor spiritual maturity. It is my intention to say that miracles or tongues are not a test of strong spiritual maturity. My point is that there is nothing in the Scriptures that indicate these gifts have anything to do with maturity. If anything, Paul says these gifts do not aid in the maturity or building up of others. This is why he encouraged prophesy. So again, I am not saying these gifts are a sign of immaturity (if they are legitimately taking place today), but I just don’t see any evidence that they have anything to do with maturity. That is the claim many Charismatics often make and I find it to be entirely baseless. This brings me to a couple thoughts about these gifts:
My retort was that I did not know why he placed this emphasis on maturity vs immaturity when God has clearly told us this about the spiritual gifts: ‘All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills’ (1 Cor 12:11 ESV). Are we open to the Holy Spirit giving us the full range of charismata that the Spirit gives? His general emphasis in his post indicates that he is not interested in the gift of tongues being manifest by the Spirit in his life. Have I gained a correct understanding of your view?
It’s not a matter of maturity vs immaturity. It’s based on a biblical, spiritual answer to this question: Am I open to the Holy Spirit apportioning to me whatever gifts he chooses, including tongues and interpretation? I’m not hearing that he is open to the latter. He continued:
There is no indication in the NT that miracles or tongues were gifts that were given for those who sought them passionately enough. In fact, we see tongues simply falling on people without any coaching, expectation or desire for this gift. To say that someone does not have the gift because they don’t seek it enough tor because they do not have enough faith (which is a constant theme in charismatic circles I am aware of) finds no validation in Scripture whatsoever. Yes, Paul wished that they all spoke in tongues, but he preferred they all prophesy. So why are we so focused on tongues as such a meaningful gift when Paul not only indicates that not all would have this gift, but that there are other gifts to be much preferred. Again, Paul makes it clear that not all have the gift of tongues. And we see from the issues in the Corinthian church, that tongues is certainly not a barometer for one’s spiritual maturity. If anything, it has nothing to do whatsoever with maturity or faith. I find no basis in the argument that all Christians should have a “prayer language” or should seek to speak in tongues.
This is not so. First Corinthians 14:1 (ESV) makes it very clear that spiritual gifts (a range has been given in 1 Cor 12-14) must be desired: ‘Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophecy’.
I am not here to validate what he considers is ‘a constant theme in charismatic circles’. When does he visit charismatic churches? How many has he attended in the last 12 months?
I’m here to discuss what the Scriptures state and I’m hearing from him a denigration of the scriptural gifts, especially of tongues. Tongues fell on people on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) but we have a different manner of manifestation given in 1 Cor 12-14 where there ‘are varieties of gifts’ (1 Cor 12:4 ESV) manifest in the local church. Speaking of the range of the gifts of the Spirit (including tongues and interpretation), Paul stated, ‘All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills’ (1 Cor 12:11 ESV). Someone does not have the gift because God has not given it to that person. However, his opposition to these supernatural gifts is a fair indication that he is providing a block in his own life that prevents such manifestations coming through him. Paul’s command to us is: ‘Earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues‘ (1 Cor 14:39 ESV).
There is no such coaching for spiritual gifts but I tell you what is needed more and that is careful exegesis of the text and exposition of passages such as 1 Cor 12-14.
He says, ‘So why are we so focused on tongues as such a meaningful gift when Paul not only indicates that not all would have this gift, but that there are other gifts to be much preferred’. Simply put, ‘One who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God’, uttering ‘mysteries in the Spirit’ (1 Cor 14:2 ESV). Surely everyone should want to speak to God in the Spirit? Well, I do. I praise God using the gift of tongues when he gives it to me. Non-charismatic churches will not allow me to do that, so I do it in my prayer time at home. ‘The one who prophecies [another spiritual gift given by the Spirit] speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation’ (1 Cor 14:3 ESV). So the gift of prophecy is clearly a manifestation among the people of God for spiritual edification. This is surely not to call such people immature but is to ‘build up the church’ (1 Cor 14:4 ESV). What does the person do who speaks in tongues? He or she ‘builds up himself/herself’ (1 Cor 14:4), which is not an egotistical ministry but one that is perfectly legitimate according to Paul.
He states, ‘And we see from the issues in the Corinthian church, that tongues is certainly not a barometer for one’s spiritual maturity. If anything, it has nothing to do whatsoever with maturity or faith.’ That’s his perspective. It’s not what 1 Corinthians teaches. It teaches that what was happening in Corinth was disorder (which is also in some charismatic-Pentecostal churches in my region) and they needed to get back to this emphasis: ‘But all things should be done decently and in order’ (1 Cor 14:40 ESV). That emphasis is one that should be taught to many in the charismatic-Pentecostal ranks. But the problem is not with the nature of tongues and interpretation, but with how they are being exercised in the church. Extreme examples should not deter us from biblical emphases. I don’t allow the Mormon view of prophecy to interfere with a biblical understanding of prophecy.
He said of the gift of tongues: ‘If anything, it has nothing to do whatsoever with maturity or faith. I find no basis in the argument that all Christians should have a “prayer language” or should seek to speak in tongues’. His is not a biblical emphasis. Speaking in tongues has everything to do with maturity or faith because when a person has the genuine gift of tongues, he or she ‘speaks not to men but to God’ (1 Cor 14:2 ESV). Is that what he wants to do – speak to God?
He could possibly respond, ‘But I can do that in English’. He can, but the Holy Spirit comes upon people with the gift of tongues so that they speak to God through ‘mysteries in the Spirit’ (1 Cor 14:2). I never knew anything about such an understanding when I was a cessationist Baptist who did not believe in the charismata, including tongues and interpretation. That changed drastically for me in the early 1970s when God came upon me through a genuine manifestation of the gift of tongues where I was able to speak to God in a way that brought edification that I previously did not know.
Why are tongues and miracles not in every church?
You still did not answer the question about your view on tongues and miracles. If these gifts exist for the purpose of building up the local body, as you assert, why do we not see them in every local body? Does God not want most churches to be edified? Isn’t it the Spirit who gives these gifts freely? Why is it that only those congregations that are coached to expect and desire these manifestations have them when this is not what we see in the NT? Again, I am not going to try to discount any supposed prophet and his miracles. I don’t know the man and I am not in a position to claim you or this prophet are being false. I just simply think that if these gifts are for the purpose of the body being built up and not functional (they have a very specific function and should not be expected as a regular part of the Christian experience) then we should see them in most churches…and not just hear about them in remote places as very unusual circumstances.
I think he should now have some understanding of my view on tongues. However, why are these gifts not in every local body? Simply put, if tongues were to be manifest in the evangelical Presbyterian Church my wife and I currently attend, the person would be quickly ushered out of this cessationist church by the elders. It would cause such a ruckus that the person would be told never ever to engage in that kind of thing again. Frankly, it is NOT WANTED so it is never likely to happen in that church. I’m of the view that the Holy Spirit’s ministry is frustrated, even grieved or blasphemed, when something like this happens. So, people who are open to the full range of gifts of the Spirit go to charismatic-Pentecostal churches where they will have the opportunity for the Spirit’s manifestation through the gifts.
I think he is excessively harsh with his statement: ‘Why is it that only those congregations that are coached to expect and desire these manifestations have them when this is not what we see in the NT’? That might be what he has seen or heard about in his region, but I have never ever been part of a charismatic-Pentecostal church that has engaged in ‘coaching’ (I find that to be pejorative language). I have been part of churches that have pursued the biblical mandate, ‘Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts…. Do not forbid speaking in tongues’ (1 Cor 14:1, 40 ESV).
He will not see the gifts in churches that are denying that these supernatural charismata should be happening. I know from personal experience that cessationist churches would censor a person who wants the supernatural gifts to function. I attend a mid-week Bible study of another denomination and the pastor has come from a South African Pentecostal denomination. He has been told by the denominational leaders here in Australia that he MUST NOT ALLOW THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS – especially tongues – TO HAPPEN IN THAT CHURCH.
Tongues as ‘ecstatic utterances’
This forum poster wanted to place tongues with ‘ecstatic utterances’.
You also did not answer my question as to your Scriptural validation that tongues is merely an ecstatic utterance and not a miraculous speaking in another human language. If tongues does exist today, I am still not convinced that what is happening in most charismatic circles meets the NT definition of this gift.
I’ll start with his last comment. What I have seen in some charismatic-Pentecostal churches (not all of them that I have attended) is not consistent with the biblical manifestation of tongues and interpretation. For example, if tongues are manifest (aloud so all can hear) in a congregation, there MUST BE the accompanying gift of interpretation. Otherwise, ‘I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me’ (1 Cor 14:11 ESV). The biblical emphasis with the gifts is to ‘strive to excel in building up the church’ (1 Cor 14:12 ESV). That means there must be intelligibility – English in Australia, Spanish in Spain, Arabic in Saudi Arabia, etc. ‘Building up the church’ is a ministry of edification. Surely that cannot be described as an immature ministry!!!
I would not use the language that tongues is ‘an ecstatic utterance’ because that is not a biblical emphasis. Tongues is a divine gift of the Spirit that needs the accompanying gift of interpretation.
Tongues may be a miraculous gift in another human language, but who am I to tell God what he should do when he gives the gift of tongues? He has told us what he does: The one speaking with the Spirit’s gift of tongues – given in love – ‘utters mysteries in the Spirit’. I would never ever be so brazen as to tell God that he MUST DO IT with human languages that are spoken on this earth? I would be foolish to tell the omnipotent Trinitarian God what he must do to satisfy my inability to understand all he does through ‘mysteries in the Spirit’.
For this I pray that it will happen in more and more churches: ‘When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up’ (I Cor 14:26 ESV). One of the great tragedies of the contemporary church is that the people of God are convinced that only a handful of people – pastors, elders, teachers, etc – have gifts and most of God’s people are not allowed to function when the church gathers.
‘Crazy dog’ behaviour
I can understand some of the objections to charismatic excesses. See an example of the ‘Crazy dog man’ behaviour of the Toronto Blessing on YouTube. This pandemonium is not only shameful, but in direct conflict with the exhortation of Scripture – in the context of teaching on the gifts: ‘But be sure that everything is done properly and in order’ (1 Cor 14:40 NLT).
You might be interested in my explanation of a bad experience I had in a charismatic house church. See: Charismatic chaos in a Brisbane house church.
MacArthur, J 1977. Where does the Bible end? Part 1, February 13. Grace to You. Available at: http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/1364/where-does-the-bible-end-part-1 (Accessed 1 July 2015).
 OzSpen#9, Christianity Board, Christian Theology Forum, ‘The Administration of Tongues’, 19 June 2015. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/21597-the-administration-of-tongues/ (Accessed 1 July 2015).
 Ibid., OzSpen#10.
 Ibid., Butch5#12
 Ibid., Butch5#13.
 Ibid., Wormwood#59.
 Ibid., OzSpen#61.
 Ibid., Wormwood #59.
 Ibid., OzSpen#61.
 Ibid., Wormwood#59.
 Ibid., Wormwood#59.
Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 8 June 2016.