Is the Gift of Language for Today?
Yesterday I shared a quote from John Stott:
“Discussion about the nature of ‘glossolalia’ must not distract our attention from Luke’s understanding of its significance on the Day of Pentecost. It symbolized a new unity in the Spirit transcending racial, national, and linguistic barriers.”
The emphasis yesterday was on the second sentence. Today I want to go back to the first sentence, “Discussion about the nature of ‘glossolalia’ must not distract our attention from Luke’s understanding of its significance on the Day of Pentecost.” Glossolalia or speaking in tongues remains a contentious topic in Christianity today.
There are four viewpoints on the miraculous gifts like speaking in tongues. First, the people I callcharismaniacs, who often do weird and unbiblical things and attribute these things to the Holy Spirit. This is includes everything from holy laughter to barking (I’m not making this up), from being “slain in the Spirit” [falling over] to handling snakes.
Second are the charismatics, who believe the miraculous gifts are a normal part of the church today. I’m using charismatic as an umbrella term for a very large and diverse movement that includes churches like Assembly of God, Pentecostal, and Vineyard among others. There is a great deal of nuance within the movement, but in broad strokes charismatics believe that the book Acts describes not only what happened in the first century church but also what is normative for the church today. Christians should be speaking in tongues, and depending on which denomination or church we’re talking about, also casting out demons, healing the sick, and raising the dead.
Third, the continuationists believe the story in Acts was special, but they are open, if somewhat cautiously, to God continuing to work in powerful and even miraculous ways. Continuationisttheologians would argue that God can do anything he wants anytime he wants. But while Acts is a good accounting of the first-century church, not everything in it is normative for today’s church.
Finally, there are the cessationists, who believe the miraculous gifts ceased with the death of the apostles. Among the churches that hold this view are Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed churches, and fundamentalist Christians.
Wondering where I stand? Here’s what I think after much study and consideration. I think that the charismaniacs are in the left ditch while the cessationists are in the right ditch. I am in the right lane with continuationists like John Piper, Matt Chandler, and Sam Storms. It’s good company. My charismatic friends are in the left lane.
I think God will give his church whatever he thinks we need to get the Word out. That’s what he did in the first century. Luke records this event to tell us that on day one, God wanted the gospel to go out to absolutely everyone. And it makes that clear by giving the followers of the The Way the ability to speak in the languages of the festival-goers.