Not the Fundamentals: Signs, Wonders, Tongues of Angels


Gentle Reader,

Two-for-one today! I’m slightly behind in my posting schedule, and this piece goes well with the one just before.

I am not a cessasionist. I believe that miracles happen today, because God is involved in our world and answers the prayers of His people. In fact, I believe that we in the West see few miracles because a) we do not recognize them as such and b) we rely on ourselves and our resources often to the exclusion of seeking God’s intervention.

That said, I am also not a “signs and wonders” person, and that is also because I believe that God is involved in our world. He graced His people with the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. While there are many instances when a burning bush would be awesome, such a thing is usually not necessary. The quiet voice of the Lord is enough.

I see a divide between how God chose to operate before Christ and how He has chosen to operate after. In the Old Testament, great signs and wonders were a means of drawing people to examine their inner selves and repent. In the New (and into today), the great sign and wonder is found in the changed life, set free by the power of the Cross. And so believers today walk within the mightily supernatural – rain at the right moment, a mysteriously disappearing tumor and demons put to flight at the name of Jesus – and within the daily supernatural – a word fitly spoken, a sense of peace, the ability to turn from an addiction.

A congregation’s stance on signs and wonders and, specifically, speaking in tongues, makes for some of the greatest argument within the Body of Christ.

There is a constant battle within each of us between hunger for God and hunger for what He can do.

I do not question, in any way, the salvation of those who adhere to the charismatic end of the spectrum, but I do wonder at the chaos found in many such circles. Every miracle, every sign recorded in Scripture reveals not only that the Lord is powerful, but that He is orderly. Everything that He does serves a purpose. The point is never the miracle, but the Source of the miracle. Jesus refused to behave like a performing monkey and dole out miracles willy-nilly (John 6:26b – “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled”). Having been exposed to several charismatic streams throughout my teen years at the private school I attended, the lack of order and purpose bothers me. We should not walk this life of faith in expectation of a constant “high.” We should not be looking for God to put on a “show.”

At this point we hone in on the example of speaking in tongues. I do believe that the ability to miraculously speak in a real foreign language, as happened in Acts 2, is legitimate and continues to happen today in the mission field.  It would not make sense in my context, so I have never this experience. As for the “tongues of angels,” what I have been exposed to has…well, it has freaked me out. I can only characterize it as screaming, high-pitched giggling, spittle-filled gibberish. Again, I’m not at all saying that those who do such things are not saved. I am simply uncomfortable with what I have seen. I have found this “speaking” to be distracting and focused on the speaker, rather than the Lord.

Most bothersome is that each time I have been exposed to this, the participants have, without exception, completely ignored these directives:

How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.  For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. – 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 (NKJV)

The last sentence says it all for me, especially because I deal with anxiety. God is not the author of confusion, but of peace. 

So, perhaps it is not the use of the “tongues of angels” that troubles me, but rather the lack of order. What can anyone gain from the ecstatic utterances of a dozen people, none of whom can rightly explain what they have been saying? If the spiritual gifts are for the equipping of the Body for ministry (Ephesians 4:12), then they had better be exercised to that end.

Ultimately, it is not a fellow believer’s swimming in the charismatic stream and others not that brings trouble. I have no problem with the laying on of hands. I have no problem with praying for miracles. But do not tell me that I must speak in tongues as evidence of my salvation. Do not tell me that I must be able to heal people. There isn’t a thing in Scripture that stands as evidence of belief other than a sincere devotion to Christ. Faith is found in the minute-by-minute decision making. It does not live only in the grandiose gesture.

Unfortunately, we all-too-quickly lose sight of that. At a youth conference I attended at age 16, the speaker asked for each person who had never spoken in tongues to stand a ask God to give them the gift. I remember thinking that such a thing was crazy. The idea of every believer demanding a certain something from God, whether it is tongues or not, is galling. How presumptuous can we get! We would to well to remember that:

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” – 1 Corinthians 12:15-21 (NKJV)

We’re not all supposed to be the same. We don’t all get the same gifts at the same time for use in the same way. God desires our interdependency on each other and our utter dependency upon Him.

So, if you speak in tongues and that deepens your relationship with God, that’s great. I’m happy for you. I don’t do that. I won’t demand that God give me the ability to do that. And we’re both saved.

My journey to faith. (15)

 For all the posts in the Not the Fundamentals series, go here.