Sunday, February 25, 2007

Did Tongues Cease?

If you gave a Bible to an unchurched, new convert - someone who doesn't have any denominational baggage - there is just no way he would come to the conclusion that tongues and miracles have already ceased from the Church.

So here's a suggestion. How about picking-up your Bible, and start wherever you want - either Genesis, Matthew, Acts or the Epistles - and read from there right through to the end of the Bible, and and say to God before you start, "I will believe everything I read - and I will act on it".

Take the Bible on face value - laying aside all denominational preconceptions - and then see what conclusion you arrive at with regard to tongues and miracles.

The underground church in China is an example of this. When Western missionaries were forced to leave the country when Communism started and many of the Chinese pastors were thrown in jail, the Chinese church was left with their Bibles and with God.

The result? The church grew to an estimated 100 million; the Chinese House Church movement years later issued a statement that they reject the doctrine that tongues and miracles have ceased. Their understanding of Scripture is that miracles remain with the church until the Second Coming. And their experience confirms it too.

That's the conclusion people come to regarding tongues and miracles, when you leave them alone with their Bibles!

I think we have to admit that most of the Church world has never approached the Scriptures with that degree of abandonment and integrity. Instead, we've viewed the Word of God through the paradigm of our own denominational preconceptions.

Some claim that tongues began to be phased-out towards the end of Paul's ministry because some of the later Epistles don't mention tongues - and they make a doctrine out of it.

In law, you can't present as evidence something that someone did not say. You can only present what they did say.

So when the whole of the New Testament gives the impression that tongues belong to the Church and will continue to until the Second Coming, I don't think it is responsible of anyone to now say that tongues don't belong to the Church anymore - just because some of the later Epistles don't mention tongues. That's not sufficient evidence in the light of the rest of the Bible's statements about tongues.

Let's say I wrote seven letters in my lifetime. Let's say in three of them, I taught about tongues; and in three, I didn't happen to mention tongues.

Then 2000 years later - in the year 4007 - someone reads my letters and concludes, "Tongues were evidently beginning to be phased out towards the end of John's career - because he didn't mention tongues in his later letters."

You and I both know this wouldn't be a commonsense conclusion for someone to come to about me! Because by the year 4007, someone wouldn't be able to say conclusively that tongues were beginning to be phased-out towards the end of my career, just because I didn't mention tongues in my last three letters. The only way they could know what I believed about tongues would be to look at actual statements made by me using the whole body of literature that I'd written.

Well the same thing is true of Paul. You can't say that tongues were beginning to be phased-out of the Church towards the end of his ministry, just because some of his later letters don't happen to mention tongues.

To know what Paul believed about tongues, you have to look at the sum-total of direct statements made by Paul on the subject - not infer things by their non-mention.

There is no indication anywhere by Jesus or by Paul that tongues would cease with the passing of the last of the twelve Apostles.

In fact, Christ's and Paul's teaching about tongues is always done in the same context as their teaching about the great commission and the second coming of Christ.

Well since the great commission still applies, and since Christ's second coming hasn't occurred yet, and since the context links them with tongues and miracles, then evidently they each must continue together for as long as any one of them still applies.

No trustee of a will has the authority to randomly nullify any part of the testator's will while at the same time enforcing the remainder of the will. If the trustee accepts one part of the will, then he must accept the whole of what has been bequeathed.

No reader has the authority to claim that a statement in a text will lapse with time - unless a statement exists in the text itself to give the reader the authority to make that claim.

In the absence of any such statement in the text itself, we can only assume that every part of the text remains relevant and interdependent for as long as any part of the text is still valid.

So long as the great commission still applies; so long as Christ has not yet returned, then these signs shall still follow those who believe: they shall cast out devils, they shall speak with new tongues, they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.

Some claim that historically, tongues and miracles did cease.

Well the gifts of the Spirit never entirely ceased in the Church.

But even if historically they had ceased entirely, that still isn't Biblical evidence that tongues were meant to cease with the last of the twelve Apostles.

Our faith isn't based on history alone. It is based first and foremost on the written Word of God.

You can't base a doctrine on experience (or on non-experience). Base it on the Word.

See, even if a whole bunch of people stop experiencing something, well that is no evidence at all that God withdrew it from the Church.

For example, if we ever stop preaching salvation by faith - then by-and-large people will stop getting saved - because if we stop preaching salvation, people will stop believing it; and if they stop believing it, it will stop happening, they'll stop receiving it.

Then if people stopped getting saved because we stopped preaching, that wouldn't indicate that God had withdrawn salvation from the world. It would stop only because we had something to do with it.

Well the same thing is true regarding healing, miracles and tongues.

Just because a whole bunch of people - in some church, or during some phase of history - didn't experience miracles or tongues very much, does not mean that God has withdrawn it from the Church.

It just means that the church stopped preaching about it, and because they stopped preaching about it, the people stopped believing it; and because people stopped believing it, they stopped receiving it.

For example, during the Dark Ages, there wasn't a lot of preaching about salvation by faith. There was a lot of preaching about salvation by belonging to the Church; or by God's sovereign will - but very little about salvation by being born again and by believing the Gospel.

But when God used Luther and Wesley and Whitefield and others to preach about justification by faith - the result was a revival of people getting saved all over Europe and America.

So we can't say, "When the church fathers died, God purposely withdrew the possibility of justification by faith from the Church".

No! The only reason why perhaps fewer people were being saved pre-Reformation, is because there was perhaps less true Gospel being preached.

See, we have something to do with it!

By the same principle, even if miracles and tongues were in less manifestation during the Dark Ages - this doens't mean God purposely withdrew miracles and tongues from the Church. It means people stopped receiving it because they stopped believing it; and they stopped believing it because they stopped hearing it; and they stopped hearing it because it wasn't being preached.

But as soon as people starting hearing about it and believing it - then it happens again.

The same thing is true whether we're talking about salvation by faith, or tongues, or healing, or anything.

God works through faith because God works through His Word.

Paul never said that tongues will cease after the last of the twelve Apostles dies or after the New Testament canon has been compiled.

But he did warn that in the near future, the church will have a "form of godliness but denying the power thereof".

Paul didn't mention that God was to withdraw tongues at that time - but he did mention that the churches would deny the power aspect of the Gospel.

That certainly came true. But it wasn't God's will. Man had something to do with it.

And we can recover the promises of God today by rediscovering His Word.

Here's a parable to illustrate that we have something to do with it:

Imagine if the Church stopped sending missionaries to, let's say India, for the next 500 years.

And then in 2000 years time, in the year 4007, historians look back and say, "Well evidently God withdrew salvation from the Indians - because we know historically that Indians stopped converting to Christ from the year 2007 onwards".

Well in that scenario, it would be wrong of them to conclude that God had purposely stopped saving Indians, wouldn't it?

The right explanation why Indians stopped getting saved would be because the faith-producing Word was no-longer being preached to them. Because we had something to do with it.

Now let's say at the end of the 500 years - in the year 2507 - people say to themselves, "Hey, let's start sending missionaries to India again". And for the first time in 500 years, and from that point on, Indians start getting saved again.

And then in the year 4007 some critic who knows a bit of history says, "Well all of these salvations that are happening today in India must be counterfeit salvation - because we know God withdrew salvation from India 1500 years ago".

Do you see my point?

If something stops, we can't automatically conclude that God purposely withdrew it at that moment in history. We must have biblical evidence.

Salvation by faith wasn't being preached as much before the Reformation as it was during.

Without any clear statements in the Bible that salvation by faith was to be withdrawn from the Church during the Dark Ages, we have no choice but to admit that many people failed to experience free salvation not because of God, but because of man. If someone in the Middle Ages didn't receive free salvation, it was because they didn't believe it; and if they didn't believe it, it's because they didn't hear about it; and if they didn't hear about it, it's because it wasn't being preached.

But if we get back to preaching what Paul preached, then we'll start experiencing everything Paul experienced. This applies whether it is salvation, or the gifts of the Spirit, or anything.

So in the absence of any clear statments in the bible that tongues were to cease with the passing of the last Apostle - we can't conclude on the basis of history alone that God withdrew tongues at that point.

To do so would be to base our doctrine on experience (or non-experience) rather than fairly and squarely on the Bible as the revealed Word of God.

The Bible says that one day, tongues and prophecies will cease. But nowhere does the Bible say that tongues and prophecies will cease with the passing of the last Apostle.

Contrariwise, the Bible places tongues, healing, prophecy, miracles and all the gifts of the Spirit inseparably and interdependently in the same context as the great commission, the functioning of the church, faith and the second coming of Christ.

Without a statement in the text indicating otherwise, the whole context either stands or falls together.

So if tongues have already ceased, then so has faith, and so has the great commission.

But if the great commission is still relevant, then so is casting out demons, speaking with new tongues, and healing the sick.

However, "when that which is perfect has come" then tongues and prophecies will cease. Paul said, "and then shall I know even as I am known".

If that which is perfect has already come, then we don't need Evangelists, Pastors or Teachers anymore either - because Paul said that these gifts remain until the perfecting of the Church (Eph.4:11). I've never heard anyone say the Church is so perfect that we don't need evangelists, pastors and teachers anymore!

If that which is perfect refers to the completion of the New Testament canon, why did Paul say, "and then shall I know even as I am known"?

See, Paul wrote most of the New Testament. Paul already knew what is revealed in the New Testament. So why would Paul now say that he is waiting for that which is perfect to come so that he can also know?

Paul wasn't waiting for the New Testament canon to be decided upon by the Church Council in AD325, before he could say, "Now I know". Paul already knew. He wrote most of the New Testament, so I think he knew it!

Paul also said, whilst we are waiting for that which is perfect to come, that faith, hope and love now abide. He singles love out, by saying that even after that which is perfect has come, love will remain.

Well if that which is perfect has come, then faith and hope are no longer relevant - because Paul said with the exception of love which is eternal, that faith, hope and love remain in the meantime. And if faith and hope are no longer relevant, then Christ must have already come.

Hope that is seen is no more hope. Faith is the evidence of things unseen. When Christ comes, faith and hope won't be needed. They will be realized, actualized. But love always remains, for God is love.

When will hope no longer be hope?

When will faith no longer be unseen?

When will the church be perfect?

When will we (and Paul) know even as we are known?

When Christ comes again.

But until then - until the return of Christ - we continue to hope, believe, love, preach and teach.

And until then, the same commission that applied to the early church still applies in its entirety to the church today. The instructions given in the Epistles still apply in their entirety to the church today.

Until Jesus comes, we still preach the word everywhere, and Jesus still confirms the word with signs following.

And He gave some apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, healings, miracles, faith, tongues, interpretations, prophecies, words of wisdom, words of knowledge, discerning of spirits, visions.


Anonymous said...

I was searching for a way to help a friend to see that tongues are still alive and well. The power thereof really helps so much.


Anonymous said...

Do you have anything posted that speaks of praying in tongues? How is that different than tongues with interpretations?

Thank You

Anonymous said...

Great post, I am almost 100% in agreement with you