Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Gifts of the Spirit: The Gift of Tongues (part 6)

[continued from here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here]


We have looked at the Gift of tongues from many angles to determine what it is, how it should function in the apostolic times, and the purpose of which it was sent. Also, it has been seen how Scripture itself is not explicit on whether the Gift of Tongues (or any Gift in fact) continues into our non-apostolic age or it has ceases and therefore the question must be answered through deduction from various parts of Scripture and Systematic Theology, not just by demanding a specific text to settle the question once and for all. We have also looked at 1 Cor. 13 and see that the text cannot bear the burden of the Cessationist argument on the topic, though it must be stated that the "leaky canon" charge must be answered for nothing must be allowed to undermine the explicit teaching of the sufficiency of Scripture.

Looking though all the facts, descriptions of the Gift, and the Scriptural evidences, I am of the opinion that neither the Classical Cessationist case nor the Continuationist case is proven. Scripture does not state that the Gifts and the Gift of Tongues would cease as Cessationists typically think that 1 Cor. 13:8-13 teaches. Yet the Continuationists are not better off however.

Knowing the purpose of the Gift of Tongues, that they are to function as a sign for unbelievers to show the global scope of the Kingdom of God in reaching rapidly across languages and cultures, the purpose of the Gift of Tongues have been fulfiled for the most part already during the apostolic times. Also, the knowledge of languages have progressed to such a stage that we can just learn the language without the need of tongues, and God will most definitely not reward laziness on our part. And no, the Bible does not differentiate between different groups of Gentiles in its missiology, so there is no neccessity for God to manifest tongues to show the global scope of His Kingdom to unreached people groups. A related issue is that with the progress in the knowledge of languages, speaing in tongues cannot exactly function as a sign to unbelievers nowdays since people will think you have learned the language and that you have lied if you claim otherwise. So for all these reasons, it can be seen that the purpose of the Gift of Tongues seem to be fulfilled already, and God does not give a Gift just to satisfy our curiosity over the Gift.

Having shown the weakness of both sides, what then should be the biblical answer to the question of the cessation or continuation of the Gift of Tongues? I am of the opinion that the biblical answer is that the Gift of Tongues has by far fulfilled its purpose and therefore is generally not present today. Yet there are still situations whereby the Gifts still retain their purposes, for example an in-promptu evangelistic conversation with a foreigner, especially when they come from one of the unreached people groups. My view therefore can be called the Concentric Cessationist view, which is defined as

Miraculous gifts have indeed ceased in the mainstream church and evangelized areas, but appear in unreached areas as an aid to spreading the Gospel. (Source)

This view therefore is consistent with the text of Scripture as it relates to the purpose of the Sign-Gift, and especially the Gift of Tongues. As it will be seen later, this is my view for all the Sign-Gifts, and therefore it is to be expected that such Gifts are much more operational in the mission field; in places such as the 10/40 window than in 'Christianized' areas. Note that although such gifts are more common in those areas, they still must abide by the biblical definition of the Gifts like tongues, and not just refer to any ecstatic gibberish even in such areas. Also, since the Sign-Gifts are an aid in such regions, they would diminish in frequency and magnitude as the Gospel progresses through the region and people's lives are transformed, and thus not to be celebrated as superior permanant Gifts. (In fact, this could very well explain the decrease in the frequency of such Sign-Gifts during the history of the early Church.) As always, God is supreme in giving the Gifts and we are not to seek such Sign-Gifts, which God will give when they are required.

With the question of tongues answered, let us continue on in looking at the other gifts.

[to be continued]

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