Tongues & Prophecy (Without Weirdness)

1 Corinthians 14:23-34 ESV - If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. 26 What then, brothers?  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. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints…

1 Corinthians 14:37-40 ESV - 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.

With 600 million Christians claiming some kind of Pentecostalism as their respective “tribe”… and with the Global South experiencing tremendous growth due primarily to Pentecostal expressions of the Christian faith… and with openness to spiritual gifts in non-Pentecostal church traditions… it is unavoidable that 21st Century Christianity has and will continue to grow largely in the direction of embracing and practicing the supernatural grace gifts that have been the hallmark of Pentecostal Christianity.  From music, worship, prayer, tongues, healings, and other typically “Pentecostal” expressions of Christianity, the influence of Pentecostalism is becoming dominant in global Christianity.  While this is good in many respects, those of us who identify ourselves with some expression of Pentecostal Christianity must do a better job of avoiding unbiblical excesses and flat-out spiritual weirdness that has often been an unfortunate byproduct of too many legitimate moves of God’s Spirit.  Even among the most extreme displays of oddness - from poisonous snake-handling to televangelist financial scams, from cultic/dictatorial legalism to turning God’s grace into a license to sin, from personal prophecies uprooted from the governor of Scripture to “speaking evangelistically” (lying) in order to build faith, Pentecostal Christianity must do a far better job of policing itself from abuses that bring our testimony of Christ into disrepute.  Tongues and other spiritual gifts are not a stamp of approval from God upon our doctrines, practices, or lifestyles.  Placing all those under the authority of Scripture is non-negotiable, yet often times our regard for the rightly-divided word of truth as a protection from error has been lacking.  In many cases, because there appears to be a genuine move of God despite abuses and weirdness, many well-meaning people tolerate foolishness out of fear of upsetting God in some way.  Fear of man - particularly those with a keen supernatural “anointing” - often related regard for God and our Christian witness.  Many Christians wrestle between tolerating weirdness and inviting people to church as a genuine witness.  Yet such spiritual weirdness is not new.  The Corinthian church struggled with this same self-indulgent and odd display of spirituality.  The apostolic response (under direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit) was not to forbid or discourage the exercise of the charismatic gifts of the Spirit but to use them properly.

  1. Pursue love.  The gifts of the Spirit are to be used with, for, and by love for God and others.  When Christians exercise gifts with other motives, destructive abuses and dishonorable weirdness may follow closely behind.

  2. Consider the outsider.  The Corinthians were not truly considering the evangelistic impact of their spiritual weirdness that likely included public worship gatherings with mass tongue-talking or bizarre prophecies.  While innocent people can make mistakes, the apostle corrects these errors and reminds them express genuine spirituality with an intentional mind to minister to the outsider who visits church.

  3. Evaluate the exercise of spiritual gifts honestly.  This is perhaps the most difficult apostolic instruction.  How many worship gatherings have seen those with the needed Biblical knowledge, spiritual authority, or respected experience actually get up publicly to evaluate whether or not a particular message or practice was of God or not?  We would consider it humiliating or even unloving, yet Paul commands the Corinthian church to evaluate the legitimacy of their prophetic messages.  Sadly, there have been far too many tongues and interpretations, direct prophecies, or even sermons that went unevaluated to the detriment of the church.  Those who were entrusted to evaluate were themselves those with the same gifts that had to be evaluated likewise, so it is not a free-for-all.  Unfortunately, many non-Pentecostals have seen the laundry list of spiritual oddities and take the critique to a level of hostility and disdain for their Pentecostal brethren.  The reason is often because we tolerated foolishness, at best ignoring certain weird expressions as an unfortunate byproduct.  This was not the apostolic method.  Peter gave two “prophetic” words to Jesus before the disciples, but only one was a revelation from God.  The other was from Satan.  Jesus evaluated both those messages publicly, and let it be known where Peter was right and wrong.  Despite his mistake, Peter’s ministry continued into its most productive days.  Correcting a wrong message need not discredit someone’s future ministry (unless false prophecy and false teaching is their chief practice).  Being unaccountable (even as an apostle) is un-apostolic. Those of us with the recognized authority or giftedness in the church must evaluate the operation of these gifts and do a better job of correcting the many unbiblical abuses that still occur worldwide.  

  4. Nobody is so “in the Spirit” that they are to be out of control.  The spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet.  Those who exercise any gift or manifestation of the Holy Spirit are perfectly capable of simultaneously exercising self-control and even receiving discipline and instruction.  Whether weird and unbiblical expressions of “worship” such as barking, howling, or some other aberrations, or delivering a message in tongues or a prophecy, nobody is too “lost in the Spirit” to control themselves or be corrected.

  5. The operation of God’s Spirit promotes peace and not confusion.  Spiritual goofiness masquerading as a move of the Spirit dishonors God and the witness of Christ in the church.

  6. Genuinely desire and exercise spiritual gifts…in love and in order!  Pray in tongues, sing in tongues, speak in tongues!   Pray for accurate use of the gifts of prophecy and interpretation of tongues!  Have a motive of love combined with an expectation that God will move supernaturally!  The same God who supernaturally and miraculously spoke the universe into existence, ordered the laws of physics and the operation of interstellar systems.  The God who miraculously brought Israel out of Egypt with signs and wonders gave them a written Law to govern them.  The God who carries along holy men by His Spirit, inspired many of them to write His word so that we have foundational authority to guide our beliefs and practices in Christ.  True spirituality does not sacrifice the supernatural, it simply expresses itself in a way that honors God and His word while loving others and building up the church in an orderly manner.

Which of the spiritual gifts do you eagerly desire to exercise and why?  (Examine your motives).  Will you pray for God to help you use those gifts to build up the church - both by the evangelism of unbelievers and by the encouragement of Christians?  Even though it’s Biblical to do so, how comfortable would you be having your spiritual gifts evaluated for accuracy by others in the church?  Are you able to Biblically differentiate between the genuine move of God’s Spirit from some of the weirdness that has been manifested in Pentecostal or Charismatic settings?  Are you able to embrace that which is true while being honest about some mistakes Christians may have made - all without losing your faith in Jesus?