So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. (1 Cor. 14:39)
1 Cor. 14:39 is one key text for reformed charismatics, who claim to be following the Scriptures when they promote the continuation of the charismata. Followers of the hyper-Calvinist Vincent Cheung likewise hold to this view, which is really interesting because here we have the quest for illegitimate religious experience (QIRE) meeting the quest for illegitimate religious certainty (QIRC), otherwise known as Rationalism.
The problem with the usage of verses like 1 Cor. 14:39 is that such usage of scripture texts are nothing more than mere acontextual proof-texting. There is nothing worse than trying to establish a doctrine with texts divorced from their contexts. Using the same hermeneutical principle, we could hold to the following:
- Christians should never take oaths (c.f. Mt. 5:34)
- Christians should not resist evil at all (c.f. Mt. 5:36-42)
- When sacked by your boss, a believer can take revenge by changing the record books to his boss' disadvantage in order to curry favor with others (c.f. Lk. 16:1-8)
- Believers cannot eat any food that was strangled or had even a bit of blood in it, i.e Kosher (c.f. Acts 15:20b)
- Christians ought to greet each other with a holy kiss every service (c.f. Rom. 16:16, 1 Cor. 16:20, 2 Cor. 13:12, 1 Thess. 5:26). And I think Paul meant it literally, not figuratively.
- Women who are believers must keep their heads covered at all times during the service, and not cut their heart short, for such is a disgrace (c.f. 1 Cor. 11: 2-16). Again, Paul meant it literally when he penned those words.
- If a believer is sick, he ought to confess his sins and pray for others, then he will be healed (Jas. 5:16). The word ὅπως is used followed by a subjunctive indicating a purpose or result clause. That means that a person who confesses his sins and pray for others ought to be healed.
My point should be evident by now. Merely citing Scripture without accounting for its context does not prove anything at all. In the case of the holy kiss and head coverings, understanding its historical situated-ness is the key to understanding the applicability of the commands for our time.
Likewise, when we deal with the sign-gifts, it is extremely simplistic to merely quote 1 Cor. 14:39, as if Cessationists have not read that text before or noticed it was there. Repeating 1 Cor. 14: 39 as a mantra over and over again is not an argument! One has to understand the text in its historical or rather redemptive-historical context before understanding how such an imperative applies to us. If we understand the sign-gifts to be revelatory, and as revelation it must end with the close of the canonical era (c.f. Heb. 1:1-2), then we understand the imperative of 1 Cor. 14:39 to be a past tensed imperative. In other words, through the passage of time, the command is applicable now NOT as "do not forbid the present speaking in tongues," but rather "do not forbid listening to the past speech of tongues and prophecy." No Reformed Cessationist have ignored this imperative, and thus none of us have violated 1 Cor. 14:39. On the contrary, it is the Charismatics who have violated 1 Cor. 14:39 in essence, by ignoring the clear revelation of the finality of New Testament revelation (Heb. 1:1-2).
Interestingly enough, reformed charismatics (mostly baptists) hone in to 1 Cor. 14:39, yet the much clearer commands in other parts of Scripture are ignored, like the following:
- Churches ought to have appointed (i.e. ordained) elders (c.f. Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5). The elders are appointed by someone else, not self-appointed. Neither are they merely asked to be an elder, but appointed to do so.
- Churches ought to have fraternal relations with other churches (cf Phm 1:1, 2 Jn 1:13), especially in diaconal assistance.
- In dealing with doctrinal controversies, it is right and proper to appeal to a church council, as we can see in Acts 15. Such a council has the authority to pass down binding decrees to the local churches.
It is surely illustrative how reformed charismatics are so enamored of the imperative of 1 Cor. 14:39, while ignoring the other clearer imperatives of Scripture on church polity. But back to the topic, do we forbid speaking in tongues? No, we do not forbid the continual validity of the past revelations (which included tongues) as inscribed in the Scriptures, so we have not forbidden the speech of tongues, and as such we have followed 1 Cor. 14:39.