Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Is the Gift of Tongues THE Sign of a True Believer?

Some groups of Christians believe that every saved person speaks in tongues, and anyone who does not, isn’t really saved. Here’s an example of what I have been told by such a person:

When we receive the Holy Spirit or we are filled with the Holy Spirit after being born again, the initial evidence is speaking or praying in tongues. Anyone who cannot pray in tongues does not have the Holy Spirit within them. Acts 2:4, 10:45-46 and 1 Cor 12:28 list the ministry gifts. The last one is diversities of tongues. Praying in tongues is your own personal prayer time for your edification. Every Christian can do it at will (1Cor 14:4,14.). The other 3 gifts are done as the Holy Spirit wills.

But does the Bible really say that ALL Christians will speak in tongues, or even be able to? Is there any indication that this will be THE sign that a person is saved or has received the Holy Spirit? Let’s look at the passages cited and see what they say. This person (a Pentecostal) cites Acts 2:4, Acts 10:45-46, 1Cor 12:28 and 1Cor 14:4,14. I will use the KJV translation because it was the one referenced in the above quote. I will also use a broader citation of Scripture so that we have more of God’s Word to reference and to get a better idea of what God’s Word is actually saying. (I will use italics on the exact verse cited.)

In Acts 2:1-6 we have the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles at Pentecost. This passage says:

“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. [2] And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. [3] And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. [4] And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. [5] And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. [6] Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language” (Acts 2:1-6).

So, we see the Apostles and the disciples of Christ, gathered in one place, and the Holy Spirit coming upon them, and they speak in different tongues. But does it say that all Christians will do this? No, it doesn’t. There is no suggestion here that all Christians will speak in tongues upon receiving the Holy Spirit. It only says that these did on this occasion.

But look what else this passage says about speaking in tongues. It says that those who heard it could understand it in each one’s particular language. This was not a personal prayer for each of their own “edification”, and it wasn’t any gibberish or random sounds like I have heard from Pentecostals and others who claim to “speak in tongues”. These men and women were proclaiming the “works of God” to other people who spoke in different languages, and those people understood what was being proclaimed to them (cf. Acts 2:8-11, read the whole chapter).

What about Acts 10:45-46? Let’s see what it says.

“[44] While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. [45] And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. [46] For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, [47] Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? [48] And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days” (Acts 10:44-48).

Again, is this passage saying that all Christians will speak in tongues after receiving the Holy Spirit? No, it only says that these Christians did. And the context of the whole chapter gives us a clue as to why.
This was evidence that Christ had come also for the Gentiles, not only for “they of the circumcision”. And Peter, recognizing that Christ had come to save also the Gentiles, evidenced by the Holy Spirit coming upon them, orders them to be Baptized at once. This is definitely a great example of the Holy Spirit pouring out His gift of tongues on believers, but it is no indication that the Holy Spirit pours out this gift on every believer. And, as we are about to see from the next citation, we are actually told the exact opposite.

In 1 Cor 12:27-31, we read:

“[27] Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. [28] And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. [29] Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? [30] Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? [31] But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way” (1Cor 12:27-31).

This does not suggest that all will speak in tongues. It clearly says that “some” will, yet even among these it places them after Apostles, prophets, and teachers. In fact, speaking in tongues comes “after” miracles, healings, helps and governments. Shouldn’t the Pentecostals expect all believers to be able to perform miracles before speaking in tongues? If they are going to cite 1Cor 12:28, and they want to be Biblically consistent, then yes, they should. Why don’t they? Why do they claim that these other gifts are done at the Spirit’s Will, and only make the exception for tongues? Scripture clearly makes no exception here. Could it be that “tongues” is simply easier to pretend?

And look at what Paul says after listing these out. Paul asks the question with an obvious answer of "NO."  "...Do all speak in tongues [or do all have the other gifts]?” Obviously not is the answer. Paul clearly tells us that NOT all will be prophets, teachers, workers of miracles…and NOT all will speak in tongues.

What about 1 Cor 14:4, 14? After reading this passage, I wonder if this person (in the initial quote) has ever read this whole passage. If he’s using it to defend his claim, then I wager he has never read any of 1Cor 14 other than those two single verses…and not even the entire verse 14.
Here’s what those passages say:

“Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. [2] 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. [3] But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. [4] He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church” (1Cor 14:1-4).

Sure enough, a man can speak in tongues to God for his own edification. But what good is that for the Church as a whole? Speaking in unknown tongues doesn’t do anything as far as spreading the Gospel, because no man understandeth him”…he isn’t preaching the mysteries. Paul makes it sound like this is a private form of prayer, not something to showboat or to use as “evidence” of being saved. He also puts a higher emphasis on prophesy. So again, why do Pentecostals (and/or others) only make an exception for speaking in tongues? And why do they only focus on the private prayer of unknown tongues instead of the gift at Pentecost and with the Gentiles…the one that actually showed the evidence of the Spirit coming down upon those people…which other people could actually understand in their own respective languages?

Paul goes even further to say that such a person (speaking in unknown tongues) should pray that he will interpret instead, because his understanding is unfruitful" who prays in unknown tongues:

“[13] Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. [14] For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful” (1Cor 14:13-14).

Paul continues in the very same chapter: "[19] 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...[22] Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not...[23] 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? [24] But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: [25] And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth...[27] If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. [28] But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God" (1Cor 14:19-28, emphasis mine, click previous link to read the whole chapter in context).

How many of these people speaking in tongues have interpreters to tell others what is being said, for the edification of the Church? How many obey the Scriptural command given by Paul to keep silent in the Church (speaking only to himself) if there is no interpreter of his "tongue"?

1 Cor 14 is directly in line with what Paul just got finished teaching in 1Cor 12 about the various gifts of the Holy Spirit; that not everyone will necessarily have them in common. There is nothing in those passages that suggests that all who receive the Holy Spirit will speak in tongues; only that some do. In fact, if the whole of Chapters are read in context, Paul is actually saying NOT all will speak in tongues, nor is it preferable.

So, what do these passages really say? They say that 1) some Christians will speak in tongues, 2) the people who hear it will be able to understand what is being said except in the less preferred instance of private tongues, and 3) not everyone will have the same gifts or be given the same office/duty in God’s Church.

Speak in tongues if the Spirit has gifted you in such a way. But don't use that as the litmus test for whether someone has received the Spirit or not. Scripture doesn't support such a test and I’m certain you won't find any other early Christian writings that support it either.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A World Better Off Without Religion?

I once had a discussion with a friend of mine who believed that the world would be better off without any religion.  I think I figured it out, he said.  “[The one thing humans can] do away with that would make the world a much safer, brighter, happier, more progressive and innovative, and loving world [is religion]”. 

 Going with my own understanding of “religion”, I asked, How could the world be safer, brighter, happier, more progressive/innovative/loving by doing away with a relationship with our Creator? Seems like that would be a step in the opposite direction.

 We ended up talking about several different topics at once (whether we really know our Creator; whether He created evil/sin; the nature of free will; the state of humanity; etc.) but the main focus was religion, and whether the world would be better off without it. 

 I said, Let’s make sure we are talking about the same thing:

 ‘Religion’:  from the root word ‘relgio’ which means ‘to bind oneself’ or to enter into ‘relationship with’.   It is also the means by which we express our bond to our Creator. 

 So, when you say we are better off without religion, or that we should abolish it, I hear you saying that we are better off without a relationship with our Creator and should abolish that relationship.  Is that what you mean? 

Or are you referring to having “rules” and “systems”…that we are better off without those things and should abolish all rules and systems?  What do you mean by “religion”?”

 By “Religion” , he clarified, “I refer to all belief systems from all cultures throughout history.”  He wasn’t so much saying we should do away with a relationship, per se.  He didn’t actually believe we had such a relationship with Him to begin with.  Even so, I wanted to make sure he really meant “ALL” belief systems, or just certain ones.

 “Something tells me that you don’t really believe that, but that you have specific systems in mind.  For example:  the cultural belief system that tells people that slavery and pedophilia are morally wrong, or that we should not steal/murder/etc., and that we should help those in need.  You would not say that humanity is better off without that belief system, would you?  Surely you are referring to a specific set of beliefs, and not ALL of them?

 “No I mean all”, he replied.  His belief was that, without any religion/belief system, “morality and humanity would remain and grow in some cases.”  He brought up a contention that some belief systems which condemn certain acts had also condoned those same acts at one time or another.   “Don’t forget that some of the popular cultural belief systems that condemn some of the things you talk about also once condoned them.”  As an analogy, he offered the comparison to a cancer:   “…when cutting out cancer, you don’t cut away 80% of it and hope things get better. You get it all.”  In other words, certain religions/belief systems had led to some evils in the world and so proved the need to do away them all.  At the heart of this, I believe, was the fact that he believed religion to be a man-made construct.

 I understood what he meant from that perspective, but I was a bit puzzled.  He was promoting the disposal of belief systems for the purpose of a better world because he was blaming religions for the evils done in the world.  But at the exact same time, a belief system would be absolutely necessary in order to determine that those “evils” were actually evil in the first place.  You can’t very well say something is either “good” or “bad” without some objective belief that something is good or bad.

 It was his understanding that, without any belief system in place at all, people would naturally do “good”…that “morality and humanity” could only remain and grow.  It sounded really nice in a utopian sort of way, but not realistic.  The proverbial elephant in the room stomped loudly:  without a “belief system”, how does anyone decide what is “moral” or not?

  I pointed out the fact that some people who reject religion/belief systems ALSO commit acts which he and I would consider immoral, and they use the same argument he was using (abolish religion for increased happiness) to defend their immoral behavior.  “Pedophilia Chic and the Man-Boy Love Association, for example, say that their adult-child sexual relationships are not immoral…USA Today summarized that adult-child sex is a “grey area”.  I also pointed out the sad, but real consequence of having no accepted belief system:  “If you condemn the pedophile, all you are doing is enforcing your own moral belief system/religion on someone who thinks pedophilia is okay.  Without a belief system/religion in place (which has objective Truth), you have no basis upon which to claim that something is moral or not, and your only remaining option (if you are logically consistent) is accommodation.

 Then there was the issue of his analogy, comparing religion to a cancer, begging the question because it wrongly presumed that ALL religion is bad.  The better [analogy]”, I continued, “would be:  ‘…when removing the cancerous cells from the otherwise healthy cells, you don’t destroy the entire person/organ, you only remove the cells that are cancerous, or those which pose a danger, and preserve and protect the remaining cells in that person/organ.’  Likewise in religion, you don’t abolish all religion/belief systems, or even an entire single one, just because there are ‘cancerous cells’ within one.”

 I then asked several pointed questions, only two of which were pertinent to this particular part of the discussion:

- By what objective moral standard, which also isn’t part of a belief system, can you say something is moral or immoral?

- Do you honestly believe that a life without religion/belief systems has led anyone to more happiness?  Are there any cultures or people in the history of the world who truly found happiness (with progress, innovation, increased love, etc.) without a belief system/religion?

 He made sure I understood that, when we talk about religion in general terms, we are talking about many religions, not just mine.  “It seems to me when I say religion you hear “Just your religion” and you argue or defend your side, which is fine but I want you to know that when I speak to the abolishment of all religion I speak to many Religions such as Scientology, Christianity, Zionism, Islam and so on. So when you defend Religion…you are also standing up for those as well.”  This was a fair point, and one I had considered.  But my goal at that point was not to determine which belief systems were evil, just that not all of them are, and that some of them have good and bad aspects, and that it is only the bad parts that need to be removed…not “religion” as a whole. 

 He then made a comment which I took to be ad hominem, but perhaps he didn’t mean it that way.  In the context of my mention of specific examples of evils, and my Catholic identity, this sounded like a jab at the Church:  “You are basing morality off of Religion which saturated in sins and hypocrisy. Are these the morals you talk about?  I’m sorry, but doesn’t the Catholic Church have a history here? Along with a few other religious faith cultures, they just don’t make it public. Poor example man.”  His point here was only a superficial one.  Yes, there were Priests in the Catholic Church who sexually abused children and these evils were handled improperly.  (I actually wrote an in-depth and well-researched article on this topic some months back.)  But his comment missed two very much larger points:

 1)  Those Priests were acting against Church teaching (against their religion]; the Church has never condoned such evil; in fact, it was only because the Church taught it to be sinful that it was so scandalous.  The religion wasn’t the problem, sin was.

2)   Without a belief system/religion in place to call this act evil, there would be no logical basis to claim that those Priests did anything wrong.  [Recall that it was ALL belief systems he wanted to abolish.] 

 The morals I am talking about, I clarified, “are what YOU would consider “right” or “wrong”, “good” or “evil”.” It was right back to that looming question:  By what objective moral standard, which also isn’t part of a belief system, can you say something is moral or immoral?”

 While he didn’t address the facts regarding “Pedophilia Chic” and the “Man-Boy Love Association”, he did comment on the USA today article.  “USA Today is a magazine trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator for ratings while balancing key highbrow topics to bring in the most revenue. The words they print are for sheep-people to keep them entertained. If they can mix one side up to make more magazines sale then that’s what they are going to do.”

 I agreed with him 100% about that.  But that wasn’t the question at hand.  The question was whether they were right or wrong to call adult-child sex a “grey area”.  Was the Man-Boy Love Association, who thinks that adult-child sex is okay, right or wrong?  And by what moral standard, which also isn’t part of a belief system, were we measuring this morality?  Those questions were not answered.

 He summed up with a “perfect scenario” that might naturally occur without religion:  Tomorrow’s here: Religion is gone, the wars, the feuds, the church rivals, the hate, the hate of indifferences begin to melt away. Logic steps in, people come together to celebrate that which was once though so hateful. Wars fade, countries become one, nations become brothers, and people look after one another and thrive together. A world unity taking us into the future safely and harmoniously.”

 It sounded great, but it wasn’t reflective of the reality.  I pointed out that “a recent sociological study published in “Criminology” shows that people who identify as “not religious” are more likely to commit crimes.  Why?  This goes back to another question:  Are there any cultures or people in the history of the world who truly found happiness (with progress, innovation, increased love, etc.) without a belief system/religion?  Nope.  Your futurist scenario sounds great, but it’s not realistic.”  

 All the moral evils of the world are not a religion/belief system problem, they are a sin problem; and it is God’s Church which He gave us that helps us recognize sin and root it out from our lives.  God gave us “religion”.  It’s how we bind ourselves to Him and it’s the means by which we express our bond to our Creator.  We don’t need to do away with religion in order to be happy; quite the contrary.  What we need to do is our level best to root out sin from our societies.  Without a belief system/religion in place to say what is “good” or “evil”, we have no other logical choice but to accommodate every act as nothing more or less than “neutral”.