I found a book in the garage attic today: Pat Boone’s: Pray to Win: God wants you to succeed.
If not quite a classic, it was still one of the first Christian books I ever read as a new believer, and aside from teaching me about prayer, it also made me wonder if I was missing out on a practice the Bible calls “speaking in tongues.”
I was familiar with the idea long before I had come to Christ. Growing up, we spent Thanksgivings with my mom’s sister’s family in Decatur, Illinois, and they went to a church that spoke in tongues during the service: Waterstreet Christian Fellowship. In the days before any of us Knowltons were Christians, my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Jack Fleener and their kids, my cousins, seemed perfectly normal except for the church they went to.
My dad always bristled at visiting Waterstreet, but since we ourselves were regular churchgoers, if we were in Decatur for the weekend, we went along. When Dad walked in once, the greeter called him “brother”, and I remember hearing him grumbling about that: “Who’s he calling brother? I’m not his brother.” No, Dad, you weren’t, but your day would come.
And so it was that as a boy at Waterstreet, I was first exposed to this practice of speaking in other tongues, or glossolalia, as the theologians call it. And then, shortly after my conversion at age 18, I picked up Pat’s book, and who was I to argue with the old crooner? Pat spoke in tongues, and he said I could too. Moreover, it sure seemed biblical, at least as far as I could tell. So I’m sure that over thirty years ago, I asked the Lord to give me the gift of tongues.
He never did, but like He’s done for every other believer, He graciously gave me other gifts, and today I wouldn’t trade any of them for speaking in tongues, as wonderful as that gift undoubtedly is.
And interestingly, along my pilgrimage through the years, I have off and on heard people say that God wants all Christians to speak in tongues. Hmmm…apparently not. And then, of course, even worse is the United Pentecostal doctrine that you’re not a believer if you don’t have the gift; I ran across a student touting this teaching when I was in college, and it shook me for a brief time…and then I read the Bible. For among other places in the Scriptures, Paul made it ultra-clear in 1 Corinthians 12 that not all Christians speak in tongues…
And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. 1 Corinthians 12:28-31 (ESV)
The questions assume a negative answer. Are all apostles? (Of course not.) Are all prophets? (No.)…Do all speak with tongues (No.), etc.
This is so important to understand, because I recently heard of a wonderful long-time Christian who was disappointed not to have yet spoken in tongues. What a bummer…and what a lie. I suppose the disappointment largely stems from the idea that somehow it’s impossible to experience God in the fullest apart from this gift.
But speaking as one who along the way in life has known the heights of joyous and rapturous fellowship with our Heavenly Father, I can testify that while having this gift may indeed be a very wonderful thing, it is absolutely not necessary to a deep knowledge of God and a glorious experience of His love. In His wise providence, He gives each of His children different gifts…for His different purposes.
For Thursday, May 21st: 1 Corinthians 13