More than a Gift: Speaking in Tongues

I’ll just come out and say it.  I believe in speaking in tongues.

I’m not talking about a miraculous gift. I’ve never experienced that, and I’m not convinced there is a Biblical basis for it continuing today.  But, still, I believe in speaking in tongues.  I believe in speaking in a language that people understand.  Let me explain.

In Acts 2, there were people gathered there from all over the world.   The only way to spread the good news was to speak to them in their languages.  So, the apostles were given a miraculous gift that enabled them to do that.

When I went to Peru this past summer, I was greeted by lovely people.  When I spoke Spanish, they lit up.  We had a connection, and they wanted to hear what I had to say.  Why?  Because I spoke their language.  Now, it wasn’t a miraculous gift.  It was a skill I had to develop.

If you’re in the USA, you probably know English speakers.  But, that doesn’t mean you all speak the same language.  Listen, we desperately need to learn to speak the following languages:

1.  The Language of the Unchurched

So many times I’ve talked about Jesus in a way that was like Greek to people who didn’t grow up in church.  I used words like baptism, justification, and acapella.  They didn’t understand it.  I was speaking a vocabulary that was foreign.

Our lessons and our songs need to be understandable.  The unchurched (and many church people) don’t know what an “ebon pinion” is nor why in the world it has been “brooded o’er the vale.”   Many of us churched folks in the Bible Belt are fluent in King James and Stamps Baxter.  The problem is that for the lost people we’re trying to reach…King James is as archaic as ancient Greek, and Stamp Baxter is a foreign as Celtic.

So, we need to learn to speak in an everyday, common way that connects to the common, unchurched people.  It turns out the best model for doing so is Jesus himself.  Did you ever notice that it was the common people that followed Jesus?  He could speak the language of the synagogue, but it’s interesting that he mostly spoke the language of the day laborers.  In fact, many of his stories were about working in the field.  He didn’t speak high church.  He spoke low country.  I have the feeling that we could all do that if we’d try.  And, by the way, the New Testament wasn’t written in King James, it was written in Koine or Common Greek.  It was written in the language of the everyday person.  There is a reason.

2.  Postmodern Language

We need to rethink the way we share our message.  It turns out that quoting many proof texts and presenting extremely well-rehearsed arguments doesn’t have the same effect it did in the 50’s.  Am I saying that we don’t need a “thus saith the Lord” or we can’t speak truth?  No.  We must speak truth, and we must be Biblical.  But, we must learn to do it in a way that connects with the postmodern mind.  Now, it turns out that the very best way to do that is to follow Jesus’ way.  What was his method?  He told stories!  He made the complex simple.  He made religion real.  He made the deep realities of life apparent in the everyday materials of life.  He told stories about the people’s everyday lives and brought out eternal truths.   We church folks call that the parables.  It turns out that that’s a very effective way to connect with postmodern people.   It’s very 21st/1st century.

3.  The Language of the Distracted

It seems like people are living with a constant fear.  The fear of missing out.  So, we are constantly checking our social media accounts and text messages.  If you don’t believe this applies to you, then try this:  Turn your phone off for 30 minutes.  No?  Leave it in the car during lunch.  No?  It’s not just young people.  We’re all distracted nowadays.  So, how do you speak the language of the distracted?

It turns out we have another great model from Jesus.  His disciples were distracted by many things.  They were distracted by fear.  They were distracted by power.  Some were distracted by hunger. Some were distracted by greed.  What did he do with them?  He was present.  He was present with them in the stormy sea.  He was present with them in the last Supper.  He was present when they doubted and present when they praised.  He was present in their darkest hour, even if they weren’t present with him.  So, we are reminded of some of the first words of the gospels.  When people wanted to know about him, whether he was the Messiah or not, he said, “Come and see.”  The distracted people of our day may not listen, but they might after they come and see.  We’ve got to be present enough with them and real enough in our lives that they will see something worth sharing.

So, there you have it.  I believe in speaking in tongues.

To the unchurched, we speak the words they understand.  To the postmodern, we speak stories that will connect. To the distracted, we invite them to come and see.  In doing so, we follow the model of Jesus who shows us how to speak the language of every century, every tribe, and every nation.

Since this gift isn’t a miraculous gift, we have some work to do.  So, let me encourage you to learn to speak these languages, but the most important language of all is the language of love.  Paul said something about that in I Corinthians 13.

There is no translation needed for tears.

All people of every nation understand sacrifice.

And, when we speak that language, then people will want to come and see, and they will want to hear about The Story.




P.S.    If you’d like to see an example of how I’m trying to put this in practice, check out this post:

More than Right:  Why I’m a Member of the Church of Christ

Can you think of other “languages” we need to learn?

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