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What is speaking in tongues? Does it happen today? What is the purpose?

Tongues is one of the spiritual gifts referred to in the New Testament.  It is the God-given ability to speak in a human language that is unknown to the speaker. Unquestionably the first occurrence of tongues in Acts 2:4-11 was languages. Tongues can also be a special language that some use for private worship and prayer (1 Corinthians 14:14-15).

The spiritual gift of tongues is not a common practice in our tradition, but we are open to the possibility that it still exists. We are cautiously open however because this gift was obviously misused in the first century among the Corinthian believers and it is misused today. Only two or three are to speak in tongues during a service and it must always be interpreted ( 1 Corinthians 14:27-28). This is often violated today. As a spiritual gift, God gives the gift of tongues to whoever he chooses ( 1 Corinthians 12:11) and not everyone will receive the gift of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:30) and yet today there are many churches that hold classes to learn how to speak in tongues. This again is a violation of God’s word.

Its purpose was to enable people from another language and culture to hear that God was doing something special and they were able to hear about it in their own language. It was a sign to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22) in that they realized something miraculous was taking place (they were hearing people who couldn’t speak their language speak their language) and they clearly understood the message of the gospel. Tongues and the interpretation of tongues are two of the four “sign gifts,” primarily used to establish that the message and the messenger were from God (Hebrews 2:4). As the gospel spread from Jews to Gentiles, tongues also acted as a sign that people from different groups had received the Holy Spirit and were saved (Acts 10:44-47, 19:1-6).  This has led to another significant misunderstanding and misuse of tongues today – a common teaching among churches that promote tongues is that tongues indicate that you have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Paul told the Corinthian believers that they all had been baptized in the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13)  but not all of them spoke in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:30).

Anyone who feels that they have a sign gift should know that we do not actively practice the sign gifts at Calvary. Those who do, lovingly practice them quietly and privately, for the purpose of self-edification and in a non-divisive manner.