Monday, March 24, 2014

Stop Speaking in Tongues

We are working through a sermon series based in 1 Corinthians at Pleasant Bay Church. Last Sunday we were in chapter 14. In a nutshell… the ancient church in Corinth appeared to misunderstand what it meant to be spiritual; one of the ways that demonstrated how misguided they were was that their public gatherings appeared to be dominated by a cacophony of speaking in tongues (chaotic, simultaneous, and uninterpreted). The Apostle worked to get them back on track by urging them to seek gifts of the Spirit that were intelligible so that the church would be built up, and unbelievers would hear and believe. 

This is not our problem. Nobody has ever come up to me and said “the problem with this church is that there is too much chaotic speaking in tongues!” If anything, criticism has come from the opposing bias. 

But what if we thought a bit more metaphorically? Now please don’t misunderstand me; the primary meaning of the text is not to be understood as a metaphor. But I think we can get at something very important, something directly tied to the big idea of the text, by thinking metaphorically. 

The big idea of the text is that we must be understood for the building up of the Church. Furthermore, we can understand building up to mean both:

  1. The edification of the Church (strengthening, encouraging, healing, teaching) and
  2. The growth of the Church.
It isn’t just about insiders. There is concern for those who do not yet believe too. Here is what it says starting with verse 23.
So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
Isn’t that what we want? What use is it if people don’t understand us, thinking that we are out of our minds? We want people to join us in worshiping God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
We may not be speaking in tongues… but are we understood? Are we speaking in a language that is easily understood? Or are we speaking our own language, metaphorically speaking in tongues?
Metaphorically speaking, do you know where I’ve encountered the most speaking in tongues? Microsoft. At least in the group that I contracted with for several months, all they did was speak in tongues. It seemed like it was all jargon and acronyms. This was a marketing group… a group charged with convincing and motivating customers and partners. As they were asking “how do we connect with customers so we can sell this stuff?” on a few occasions I mustered up the courage to suggest that they might try speaking English.
Truth is, speaking in technical jargon and acronyms is an important tactic. It helps differentiate between the insiders and the outsiders. Being able to speak in tongues (acronyms and jargons) makes it clear that you are qualified to be in the club. You know how seriously to take people when you hear them speak in tongues. It serves as a secret password or a secret handshake.
So when you are breaking in, you fake it until you make it. I’ve acquired some skills and can usually pickup and use jargon pretty quickly and effectively. It is handy, especially when working on deals. I can put people at ease when I’ve done my homework and can speak at least a bit of their language.
Now there is some risk involved; it can backfire if we get it wrong. Sometimes when trying to make ourselves sound smart, or like an insider, we make a fatal error and completely blow our credibility. Fake it until you make it only works when we successfully fake it… otherwise our cover is blown and rather than merely appearing ignorant, we appear pitiful or, even worse, deceitful.
My point is, in the Church I think it is easy for us to be speaking in tongues even when we are not speaking in tongues. We are metaphorically speaking in tongues when:  
  • We have our own jargon. In the songs we sing, and the words we pray, and the things we preach, and even in our casual conversation… Christians have our own jargon. We need to be on the lookout for Christianese and root it out of our vocabulary as much as possible. 
  • We assume prior knowledge. I worry about this here at Pleasant Bay. We tend to be an educated bunch with a high degree of Biblical literacy. A lot of us have been at this for a long time and it is too easy for us to leave people out who may not have a base of knowledge. 
  • We operate in familiarity. This is the sort of thing that keeps small churches like us small. It is truly wonderful that we find here at Pleasant Bay a group that knows one another; we have a history together that results in strong ties. But when that turns into cliques that cannot be penetrated by outsiders, then we are missing the mark. 
  • We make peripheral things the main thing. Because so many of us have been at this a while, and we have a sort of academic bias, and we love the Bible and theology and such… we could get so fascinated with the fine points and nuances of theology that we fail to keep the main thing the main thing. We want to be sure that we don’t become irrelevant Bible geeks who are so fascinated by some peripheral aspect of our faith that we fail to demonstrate the central message: the power of the Gospel to save and change lives. Being intelligible is more important than being perceived as intelligent.
What are some other ways that we metaphorically speak in tongues?
For more of what I had to say on the topic, check out the sermon, available at

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