Pastoral Perspectives

A Time To Respond

Today’s text on Acts 2 records the first occurrence of speaking in tongues by the apostles. And it so happened that a YAMer had also asked me something along the line and wanted to know my view. Usually when someone asks such questions, few thoughts come to mind. I suppose he may want to know if tongues really refer to heavenly languages that the Spirit endows supernaturally so that either God alone will understand what is being uttered (i.e. when praying in tongues) or those who have the benefit of an interpreter (i.e. someone who has been gifted to interpret). And I am sure no one can deny that this phenomenon is occurring in churches all across the world. I suppose he may also want to know if such phenomenon is really of the Holy Spirit because some churches like True Way seems so devoid of it. So are we lacking the power and perhaps the presence of the Spirit? And finally I suppose he may be concerned that he is not saved yet because he cannot speak in tongues and hence lacks the gift of the Holy Spirit. And I guess some of you may also be asking such questions as well.

Now most people agree that this phenomenon was an outcome of the Pentecostal revival in the early 20th century. Along with speaking in tongues (i.e. heavenly language), divine healings, prophecies, dreams and visions are also stressed. The thrust is that we are now entering the last days as prophesied by Joel and so the Holy Spirit is being poured out and these things are signs of it. And it so happens that this prophecy by Joel is also quoted in Acts 2. So I guess this is a good time for a pastor to respond. But since this is just a perspective, allow me to share my own personal views as simply as possible given the space constraint.

First, it should be clear after my sermon that I believe the tongues in Acts 2 were really human languages that were supposedly the native tongues of those hearing the words but foreign to the ones uttering them. So they weren’t heavenly languages, as if heavens speak in various languages too! And it only served to draw people to hear Peter and not to authenticate the faith of the apostles. The rest of the other disciples (remember that there were about 120 of them gathered in Acts 1) did not speak in tongues but were still genuine disciples. Subsequently, speaking in tongues occurred only twice, in Acts 10 and Acts 19. In both cases, it was the recipients of the gospel who spoke in tongues. Now what’s so special about these two incidents when Acts also records many other incidents of people coming to faith but did not speak in tongues? I shall leave it as BS homework for you. What is obvious is that we cannot therefore insist that speaking in tongues is an indication of a person having the Spirit. Remember that the 3000 who received the gift of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost did not speak in tongues as well.

Nevertheless, we are talking about tongues as human languages here while those who insist on tongues as sign of the person having the Spirit will insist on heavenly languages and 1 Corinthians as the proof text. I will only say that it remains debatable whether the tongues in 1 Corinthians refer to heavenly languages or not. But it is obvious from the context in the epistle that Paul was talking about different spiritual gifts that people would receive accordingly and so not everyone would have the gift of tongues (1 Cor 12:30). Therefore the epistle would also fail as proof text to insist on heavenly tongues as sign of the Spirit’s presence (or baptism as they would call it). Furthermore Paul considers prophesy a better gift.

So we are now left with Joel’s prophecy. Joel was a prophet in the OT at a time when the southern kingdom would soon face God’s judgment. As with his contemporaries, Joel also preaches a time of restoration afterward, except that he did not know when it would happen. But when it happens, sons and daughters shall prophesy, old men shall dream dreams, young men shall see visions and even servants shall receive the Spirit. Yet no where did Joel say that they shall speak in heavenly languages. Then there will be the usual apocalyptic events that will lead to the Lord’s return. So when did Joel’s prophecy come to pass?

We have two options, i.e. on the Day of Pentecost or the Pentecostal revival. Which will you choose? I trust you can guess mine. What about the things that Joel says would happen? Well, if we continue with Acts, we will encounter Philips’ daughters who were prophets, Ananias who saw visions and healed Saul, and servants like the jailer in Philippi who received the Spirit. These things were already happening following Pentecost and thereafter as faithful disciples obeyed the Lord and spread the gospel far and wide and until he returns. However, it does not mean that every believer in every generation will encounter it but as the Lord wills. Furthermore, if we find ourselves busy with career and are content with just Sunday Services, I sincerely wonder whether we can witness the power of the Spirit through these things. We may have to create the ambience to experience it.

Therefore there is no need to fear that True Way is void of the Spirit just because tongues, dreams, visions and divine healings are rare here. Jesus says that we are to love one another and by this all men will know that we are his disciples. Paul says that the greatest of all is love. If love is lacking in us and in True Way, then we should indeed fear because we may be void of the Spirit after all.

And finally, what do I think of this heavenly language that started in the early 20th century? Is it of the Holy Spirit when it is now obvious that I do not find biblical support for it? I do not speak in tongues and struggle even with Mandarin. So I am not the best person to answer it. But I have known godly people who fear God, admit to having the tongues and yet speak in plain human languages. I have no problem accepting that their gift is truly of the Spirit. I have also encountered others who claim to speak in tongues, have no qualms about using it even when there’s no interpretation, wonder why others are not doing so and having an air of superiority. Well, I usually leave them alone.

So here is my personal perspective to a very tricky and sensitive topic. I suppose I might have calmed the fear of some and stir up a storm in others. Like the ‘mystical’ art of contemplation or even the ‘explosive’ style of worship that some may have issues with, let us remember that it is not a core fundamental of the Christian faith, unlike repentance and faith in Jesus that determines a person’s eternal standing before God. Therefore I trust that we can respectfully and lovingly agree to disagree.

Pastor Ronnie Ang

January 13, 2013