12 May 2008

Does the Church Still Speak in Tongues?

I am convinced that what often passes for "speaking in tongues," especially from Pentecostal/Charismatic circles, goes far afield from what actually happens in Acts 2, the Pentecost story when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles. It seems to me that the true miracle of Pentecost is not so much the mighty, rushing wind, nor is it the tongues of fire upon the Apostles, nor is it necessarily the phenomenon of different languages - "tongues" such as Greek, Latin, Aramaic, etc. - being spoken and heard. The real miracle of Pentecost is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for us sinners - the mighty works of God - is proclaimed so that we can hear it, understand it, believe it, and speak it ourselves ... in our own native tongues.

In other words, what the Tower of Babel painfully reveals in the dividing of humankind based on language, the Pentecost story reverses and heals. Pentecost shows how our gracious, life-giving Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, unites all peoples in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. While the various human languages - think "native tongues" - may not unite us fallen creatures around the globe, the Gospel of Jesus Christ does.

And yet the "speaking in tongues" still occurs - not in the chaotic, divisive way of the Pentecostals/Charismatics, but in the way of the Holy Spirit, the Gospel proclaimed in various "normal" languages, and the Church spread through and among all nations.

Here's a great treasure from an "unknown African" of the 6th century (according to For All the Saints, vol. II, p. 187-88). Yes, the speaking in tongues of the Gospel of Jesus Christ still happens ... in the ordinary life of the Church in the various nations around the globe!
They speak in every tongue. It was God's will to demonstrate the presence of the Holy Spirit at that moment by enabling those who had received him to speak in every tongue. For we must understand, my dear brethren, that it is through the Holy Spirit that love is poured out in our hearts.

Now the love of God was to gather together the Church all over the world. Consequently, while a single man, if he received the Holy Spirit, could speak in every tongue, now the one Church in its unity, which is established by the Holy Spirit, speaks in every tongue.

And so if anyone says to one of us: "You have received the Holy Spirit; why do you not speak in tongues?" he should reply: "I do speak in every tongue. For I am in the body of Christ, the Church, which speaks in every tongue. For what did God signify by the presence of the Holy Spirit if it was not that his Church would speak in every tongue?"

In this way the Lord's promise was fulfilled: "No one puts new wine into old wine-skins, but new wine is put into fresh wine-skins, and so both will be preserved."

It was with good reason, then, that some people, when they heard the apostles speaking in every tongue, said: "They are filled with new wine." For they had become fresh wine-skins, they had been renewed by the grace of holiness, so that when they were filled with the new wine, that is, the Holy Spirit, they spoke with fervour in every tongue; and by this spectacular miracle they foreshadowed the spread of the Catholic Church through all nations speaking every tongue.

Celebrate, then, this day as members of the one body of Christ. Your celebration will not be in vain if you are what you celebrate, if you hold fast to the Church with the Lord filled with his Holy Spirit; he acknowledges it as his own as it grows all over the world, and is himself acknowledged by his Church. The bridegroom has not lost his bride or been tricked into receiving a stranger.

For to you who are established in every nation as Christ's Church, Christ's members, Christ's body, Christ's bride, Saint Paul says: "Forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

Notice, that, while bidding us to forbear one another, Saint Paul speaks of love; when speaking of the hope of unity, he points to the bond of peace. This is the house of God, built with living stones, in which so great a householder loves to dwell: his eyes must not be shocked by the disaster of schism.

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