Wednesday, February 16, 2005

speaking in tongues

Some of the best worship services I've ever been a part of were at Easton Assembly of God while I was a member there.

The preaching was excellent under the first pastor there too. I stuck around for about four more years after we hired a new pastor, but eventually the lackluster preaching, particularly the wrongheaded messages like "Christians should smile all the time if they have the joy of the Lord!", combined with increased dissatisfaction with the church's lack of interest in the community around it, eventually started to really get at me.

One of the reasons I left was an overemphasis on glossolalia. I never heard anyone in authority claim that people who didn't speak in tongues weren't really Christians, although someone did tell me how mortified she was that I would presume to teach children's church without that gift.

Just nutty.

I guess I'm a skeptical believer in the gift of tongues; that is, I believe the Holy Spirit can inspire people to speak either in a human language they don't know or in a heavenly language, but I can only think of one instance where I believe I might have witnessed it. In that particular case, the utterance had a lot of repetition, enough so that there was a recognizable structure to the linguage. The interpretation came out with the same manner of repetition.

Other times I've heard alleged messages in tongues, the interpretations were incomprehensible mishmashes of contemporary and King James English; they were so vague that they were meaningless; and so on. Usually, when I've heard people praying in tongues in church, it goes against what Paul sets down for guidelines about speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians.

I'd wager that most ecstatic utterances in tongues are just that -- ecstatic utterances born entirely of the human spirit, with nothing divine about them. Spoken tongues like that are found in other religions, notably at least one sect of Islam, and have been practiced by heretics throughout church history.

I've yet to hear a reasonable biblical argument against the continued existence of glossolalia as a gift of the Holy Spirit, which is why I'd have to say I still believe it can happen.

As to an utterance in a language unknown to the speaker but known to a listener, I've heard stories about that happening, but I have no way of knowing if there's any truth to them, so I don't bother to enter them as evidence one way or the other.

On the other hand, I've heard some people actually claim spouting nonsense sounds like "untie my bowtie" can jumpstart the real gift. (!) As I said, I don't particularly disbelieve in glossolalia, but I don't believe I've seen more than one legitimate instance of it in my life. I do believe I've seen enough error, confused doctrine, abuse and misuse of the gift, and just muddled thinking to convince someone who's already skeptical that the whole thing is a fraud.

I will say that I've been tempted to use my knowledge of Haitian Creole during a worship service to order a large pepperoni pizza with an order of breadsticks and a bottle of Coke, and wait for the interpretation, but that's something that's amusing only in concept. It would be incredibly disrespectful to actually do it.

Ah well. That was years ago. I went to visit the church about 2½ years ago, when my foster son was with us, because I needed to get away for a little. The worship is almost all done on an organ now and has none of the brilliance that made it work before, and the pastor's preaching is just as awful as ever. A lot of the church leaders from when I was a member have gone (not all), and it seemed a duller place than ever.

Since I left the AoG, I've belonged to a nondenominational church, attended regularly an Evangelical Free Church, attended semi-regularly at an American Baptist church, and most recently have been attending a Methodist Church that serves at the mother church for Pillar of Fire. I don't know how much longer I'll be going to it, though.

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