Wherein I lament the failure to practice what good theology and biblical interpretation ought to have taught us: tongues-for-show only shows one thing: lunacy.
Surely, by now, everybody’s seen or at least heard of the WashingtonPost.com political cartoon by equal-opportunity skewer-artist Pat Oliphant that was automatically posted to the WP’s cartoon site on September 9 last. If you haven’t seen it, and if you are Pentecostal or charismatic, viewing it may make you angry. But if you feel so inclined, do check it out. (For coverage, check out the official A/G response, Christianity Today’s blog post, and the WorldNet Daily post quoting George O. Wood’s response.)
In it, governor Sarah Palin is lampooned as a typical kooky Pentecostal, hot-line to God in hand, standing before an appreciative audience, gibbering:
“Argle bargle glooka slobber blartogger gniff blerft gennikt klepwoop madurta wonka burble and like that …”
The Washington Post has apologized, of course, though not for accepting Oliphant’s cartoon (which they’re probably contractually obligated to do) but for its automatic posting to the newspaper’s comics Website.
Readers were right to complain … Political cartoons and comics aren’t selected at WashingtonPost.com the way they are for The Post in print; they are automatically posted.
Naturally, the religious right are furious — and none more so than my fellow Pentecostals. My own response upon first seeing it was disgusted disbelief that an intelligent political commentator/cartoonist could be so clueless about something so core to Pentecostal faith and practice.
But, then …
Now I’ve had a few days to mull it over, I think those of us inside the tongues-talking camp might benefit from a step back. Let us and breathe deeply for a moment, and consider: Oliphant’s political cartoon states nothing more than the truth from an outsider’s perspective — one that we should not only understand but expect. Especially when it’s our fault.
Yes, that’s right, I say it’s our fault.
I’m not saying that liberal angst over Palin is our fault, nor am I saying that the Democratic reaction against Palin is our fault. I’m simply saying that the public’s perception of Pentecostals as crazy wing-nuts babbling in tongues is entirely due to our undisciplined failure to practice church the way Paul recommended.
For years I’ve cringed every time I’ve heard one or another fired-up Pentecostal preacher literally demonstrate his or her ability to pray in tongues on command by shooting forth a nonsensical string of syllables and consonants recognizable as that peculiar Pentecostal patois of tongues and glossolalia. Public tongues and the abuse of tongues (and dare I say … the faking of tongues) has become so commonplace that we even joke about it in our inner circles. Once, my alma mater’s basketball team was on the road playing against a rival Pentecostal university. As legend had it, our travelling fans leaped to their feet with the rally, “We got the Spirit, yes we do! A-didi-a-didi how ’bout you?” Similarly, I’ve heard the wordplay bandied about, making fun of how clichÃ© some of the sounds have become: “See me tie, see me tie my tie, see me tie my bow-tie,” or “Who stola my Honda?”
If we, ourselves, are taking tongues lightly, how can we be surprised when outsiders are dismissive as well?
Further, this is exactly the scenario Paul had in mind when he wrote this to the Corinthians:
“So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?” (1 Corinthians 14:24)
Yes, yes they will. And some of us will exclaim, “But of course they’ll think we’re crazy! They don’t get it! We’re being persecuted for righteousness’ sake!” But this is not Paul’s point, here. Being wronged for being right is one thing. Being wronged because you’re, well, wrong, is something else entirely.
Paul gave very clear direction on the the exercise of tongues as both a spiritual gift for the edification of the church but also as a private prayer language useful for personal edification. Our failure to recognize and heed those guidelines leads us to the situation we see with Oliphant and his cartoon: we have abused the gift of tongues, and the unbelievers think us mad.
Paul says tongues are for private use for personal edification and that any public exercise of tongues must be accompanied by an interpretation so that the listener may be edified and say “Amen.” Tongues, Paul says, are of no public use without an interpretation.
Tongues are not for public display of “religiosity” or to show off that one has favor with God. Tongues do not prove that one is divinely endowed or that one has special access to God. Tongues do not prove one’s holiness or spiritual “attainment.” But too often, they have become exactly that. A badge of honor and approval. If you have tongues, you’ve got “it.”
What’s worse, though — if you needed further demonstration that our current practice has strayed from the Biblical ideal — in typical Pentecostal congregations today, whenever someone speaks out loudly in tongues, the interpretation that follows (if there is one) is almost invariably is addressed to the church. It’s a message to the congregation. But, Paul clearly and plainly teaches in 1 Corinthians 14 that tongues are prayers directed toward God and that the interpretation, correctly given, will also be directed toward God. Tongues, when interpreted, are not identical to a prophecy. However, in our churches today, they are. (The tongues in Acts 2 required no interpretation because they were delivered in the hearers’ receptor language. The interpretation? “we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” See Acts 2:5-13.)
If you disagree with me on these points, please read 1 Corinthians 12-14. Paul’s meaning is quite clear, and his words quite pointed.
I’m not angry at Pat Oliphant, the Washington Post, or their cartoon. I’m saddened, because that ‘toon is a mirror reflecting our failure to heed Scripture.
(PS: For an excellent discussion of the role of tongues, a defense of tongues, and the proper exercise of tongues with interpretation in the church, see “Biblical Glossolalia” William Graham MacDonald (Enrichment Journal).)
[tags]1-corinthians-12, 1-corinthians-13, 1-corinthians-14, aog, Assemblies-of-God, assembly-of-god, blogrodent, charismatic, glossolalia, palin, pat-olilphant, paul, pentecostal, political-cartoon, prayer, rich-tatum, sara-palin, speaking-in-tongues, spiritual-gifts, tongues, washington-post, washingtonpost, george-o-wood, general-superintendent, enrichment-journal, william-graham-macdonald, controversy[/tags]