I am preaching a series on Sunday mornings right now called Reach: The Acts Behind the Acts. I love the book of Acts and my appreciation for this book has only grown as I have been studying for this series. When you first think of Acts you don’t really think of anything controversial about the book do you? Yeh, that’s what I thought until I came to chapter 2. That’s right, just the second chapter! And right there, staring back at me, was the issue of tongues. Not one to shy away from any topic in the Bible, I chose to just dive right in.
Now I need to confess that I have never spoken in tongues myself. And I’m okay with that. My spiritual gift is prophecy. So I preach and proclaim the Word of God. I don’t look down on those who don’t have the gift of prophecy and I expect to not be looked down upon because I don’t have the gift of tongues. But it doesn’t always work that way. Especially where the gift of tongues is concerned.
I’ll never forget a young man that was in my Bible class at Shiloh Christian School about 15 years ago. His father was a Pentecostal preacher and his grandfather was a Pentecostal preacher. I spent many hours talking with this young man because he was in spiritual agony over the issue of tongues. He was a professed believer in Jesus Christ, but his father and grandfather told him that if he was truly saved, that the evidence of that would be that he would speak in tongues. He used to tell me with tears in his eyes, “Dr. Crawford, I have begged God to let me speak in tongues so that I would KNOW that I am saved, but He just won’t. I am afraid that God has not accepted me and that I am going to hell.” Wow. Somehow this wonderful young man, who loved Jesus with all of his heart had been told by his own family that if he did not speak in tongues then he wasn’t really a Christian. I worked very hard to encourage this young man that I believed he was, indeed, a believer based on his professing Jesus as Lord of his life. We looked at the Scripture together and studied the truth of God’s Word. But it was a huge uphill battle with his own father and grandfather, men he deeply loved and respected, telling him the opposite of what he was hearing from me. This young man eventually graduated with the tension unresolved. A sad story.
Now I, in no way, want to characterize all fellow believers who carry the name and tradition of Pentecostalism. What I shared above is one story involving one family. Not all Pentecostals would prescribe to what this one family believes about tongues. And I can just as easily point the finger back at my own Southern Baptist tradition. Our International Mission Board currently has a policy that excludes from missionary service anyone who admits to speaking in tongues via a private prayer language. I think this is wrong and I know many other Baptists who think so too.
All of this to say that the issue of tongues can be very confusing. But I don’t think it needs to be. In fact, I think the teaching in Scripture regarding the gift of tongues is quite clear and illustrates a profound miracle of God: the ability to deliver the Gospel message across the language barrier. And that is what we see in Acts, and it is very exciting!
In order to help me work through the biblical teaching on the gift of tongues, I enlisted the help of a fellow pastor in town, Marty Sloan. Marty is the lead pastor of Harvest Time Church, which is a non-denominational church, but with charismatic leanings. Marty is a wonderful brother in Christ. Oh, and he speaks in tongues too! Check out this video conversation we had last week about all of this.