Strange Fire: to be or not to be?


Tongues as FireWell, today begins the Strange Fire Conference that many, including myself, have been waiting for over the last several months. In fact, if you are reading this post, it probably means that either you are a very dedicated reader of ParkingSpace23, or you are not at the Strange Fire Conference. I think I’ll assume the latter, but no worries! You can still benefit greatly from the conference by watching all the sessions online at the link above. Even better, you can do this from the comfort of your home without the inconvenience of joining the 4000+ attendees here on campus at Grace Community Church in sunny, Sun Valley, CA (yes… I say that with humor)! In all seriousness though, GCC and TMS staff have been working hard for months to make this conference as beneficial as possible. It will be theologically rich, pointed, truthful, and honest. Pastor John MacArthur, with the rest of his staff, have laboriously studied the Word to be sure that it’s rightly interpreted and applied as they approach this issue. But not all think so.

Michael Brown has been protesting the Strange Fire Conference since it was announced last year, and has been frequently blogging for Charisma News in response. In fact, back in July of this year, Brown wrote an article entitled, “An Appeal to John MacArthur to Embrace God’s True Fire.” There were many false accusations Brown made, but one thing Brown said I found particularly ironic, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” I found that funny… because it assumes that there is a baby in the bathwater!

So I responded to Brown, tracing the absurdities of the Charismatic Movement since its beginnings here in America. By doing so, you can easily identify how contradictory the modern Charismatic movement is to Scripture. What they call “prophecy,” is not Scripture’s use of prophecy at all. What they call “the gift of healing,” is not Scripture’s use of the gift at all. What they call “tongues,” again, is not Scripture’s use of “tongues.” I won’t even begin to address the so-called gifts of laughter, sleighing in the spirit, and so on. If you don’t believe me that this is all so absurd, watch the linked YouTube clips, and if you’re really highly motivated, you can read my previous article on the subject.

Now… Michael Brown makes a final plea for MacArthur to cancel his conference. I really won’t take the time to go point by point through his post. I don’t think it’s helpful. Brown accuses MacArthur as the one being on the fringe, poorly representing the Charismatic movement and the Holy Spirit. Of course I disagree, and would instead turn the tables. It is Brown, and the whole of the Charismatic movement that fails to represent Scripture, including the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. But here is the problem, since it seems that Charismatics generally value their personal experience rather than an honest interpretation of Scripture. For that reason, I think the most helpful approach in confronting Charismatics is by pointing out their inconsistencies with Scripture – how they twist the miraculous gifts to conform to their practice of them, rather than how Scripture describes them.

what does the bible say

That was sort of a long introduction, but in this article, I just want to address just one of the gifts and describe how it’s used in Scripture. I’ll leave you to be the one to determine if modern Charismatics are being faithful to use this gift how it’s Biblically described.


How does the Bible describe the gift of tongues? 

Many have questioned whether or not this gift has really ceased. They have been confused by the many who claim practice this gift. It’s important to know though that most of those who use the “gift” believe tongues to be merely a prayer language (like John Piper), or an angelic language. BUT, this isn’t how Scripture describes this gift, and this distortion has been the catalyst for rampant confusion and abuse of the gift in the church. As a result, the credibility of the Holy Spirit’s work is diminished as continuationist churches often contribute their ecstatic behavior to Him. So what are we to do with these gifts? What are we to say about them?

If it can be shown that the guidelines set in Scripture for tongues is not followed in the church, then the usage of this gift should be rejected. However, if there are churches that do practice the guidelines set in Scripture for the church service (and there are some that do), then rejection of this gift must be made on other grounds. In fact, 1 Corinthians 12-14 show us how all gifts are to be used by the assembly.

All gifts are for the common good – In 1 Cor. 12, Paul teaches that the purpose for spiritual gifts are for the benefit of the assembly of the body of Christ (12:7). It is the same Spirit who gives the various spiritual gifts, and each gift has a certain and important function in the church (12:12-26).

All gifts aren’t given to every believer – By this, it is not meant that some believers are without spiritual gifts, but simply that while one believer may have a certain gift, another believer may not. While it is okay to desire other gifts, this does not mean that they will be granted (12:27-31).

loveAll gifts are subject to love – Paul states that love is better than even the “desirable” gifts that were noticeably miraculous (12:31-13:7). Additionally, Paul notes that the gifts of prophecy and knowledge will be done away, while the gift of tongues will cease (13:8). Therefore, it is not a matter of if the gift of tongues will cease, but when. It’s interesting to note how this practice is applied by Paul in chapter 14:

3 But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. 4 One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.

6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching? 7 Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? 8 For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? 9 So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. 11 If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me. 12 So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.

Did you catch that? The standard by which the gift of tongues must be practiced is love, and love is practiced by not speaking in tongues unless there is an interpreter! Already we have eliminated the great majority of churches who claim to use this gift.

But what about churches who do? What about churches who claim that they use the gift lovingly and for the benefit of every believer, for the common good? What if they claim to have an interpreter? Does tongues become legitimate? The answer is, “no.” There is another reason we would reject it.

“Tongues” (in context to the spiritual gift) always referred to real, spoken languages in the New Testament. 

language-learningIt is necessary to study the word typically translated “tongue” in the New Testament. If it can be proven that this word does not refer to utterances or as a special angelic prayer language to God, but rather to real spoken languages, then this would eliminate the small remainder of charismatic churches that follow Paul’s guidelines set in 1 Cor. 12-14. In large part, much of the confusion over tongues is due to the KJV translation of the glossalalia as “tongues” instead of “languages.” Tradition, setting the precedence for the translations that would follow, would continue with this translation in keeping with the 1611’s version. Undoubtedly, if modern translations would instead translate glossalalia as “language” as they should, this would have probably eliminated virtually all defense of the gift’s usage today. For this reason, it is probably best that the “gift of tongues” should no longer be referred to as such. Instead, it should be referred to as the “gift of languages,” to avoid confusion. This is more precise anyway. Observation of the Scripture’s references to this gift support the “language” translation.

Acts 2 describes the first instance of the gift of speaking in languages. On the Day of Pentecost, the fiery languages came down and rested on the believers (2:1-4). After they began speaking to one another, a crowd gathered and was amazed since people from every nation of the earth came and were able to hear their native language being spoken (2:5-7). The argument that glossalalia should not be considered “languages” becomes even more difficult in verses 8-11, which Luke even records a list of some of the different languages that were spoken. This makes it very difficult to argue that the gift of “tongues” does not have to refer to a real language. 1 Cor. 12-14 also supports this, since many of its references imply real language as well. Some continuationists point out, however, that 1 Cor. 14:2 states that tongues is a language not “to men but to God; for no one understands, but in His spirit He speaks mysteries.” However, in this text, Paul is clearly not teaching some sort of angelic language. Instead, he’s emphasizing the lack of edifying quality because of the practice of this gift without an interpreter in the Corinthian church.

So, since those who practice “tongues” in accordance with Paul’s exhortation in 1 Cor. 12-14 do not speak real human languages, their gift should not be accepted either.

To sum up, most charismatic churches do not practice the guidelines for speaking in tongues that he sets in 1 Corinthians. For that reason, their “practice” of this gift should be discredited because it does not conform to Scripture.

However, there are a few who do attempt to follow these guidelines, but they can also be discredited since they are not speaking in real human languages (in these cases, Charismatics will agree that they do not speak in real human languages). This does not mean that no one can speak in another language by the power of the Holy Spirit today. In fact, it should be accepted that God is still free to perform miracles whenever and wherever He pleases. However, such rare circumstances should be understood to be miracles rather than the gift of speaking in languages.

So, we come back to the question Dr. Brown, if what you do is clearly in contradiction to God’s Word, why do you insist that the movement is from God? It would seem to me that you would be the one needing to make the defense for your position, and using Scripture as your authority, rather than wrongly accusing cessationists of limiting the power of the Holy Spirit’s work. We make no such claim, but we believe that the Holy Spirit works in the way the New Testament describes, not in the way our experience describes Him.