Forbidding tongues.

When I told a friend my follow-up from my article on loud tongues would be a little something about Christians who forbid praying in tongues, he greatly approved. “Yeah! Let ’em have it. People have no business doing that.”

No they don’t. ’Cause Paul and Sosthenes said not to.

1 Corinthians 14.39 KWL
Therefore, my family, be zealous to prophesy. And as for speaking, don’t stop tongues!


Frequently when a church “forbids tongues,” what they actually forbid is loud tongues. Because whenever they get a tongues-speaker in their congregation, they get yet another immature Christian who can’t keep it down… who insists they have every right to make noise. After all, the Holy Spirit is empowering their ability to pray tongues! And since God’s behind it, how dare anyone tell ’em how and when and where to show off exercise their particular gift of the Spirit? How dare these churches quench the Spirit. Betcha they blaspheme the Spirit too.

So, like these outraged noisy tongues-speakers, my friend “got his angry up,” as they call it in the Bible Belt. Wants me to tear ’em a new one. Nope. I’m with them. Did we forget the verse which immediately follows the “don’t-stop-tongues” one?

1 Corinthians 14.40 KWL
Practice everything appropriately and in order.

Ah there it is.

You know how people are: We never give one another the benefit of the doubt. We just assume they’re sticking it to us. ’Cause human depravity and all that. But let’s not. Let’s practice a little basic discernment and find out why they “forbid tongues,” if that’s really what they’re doing: Have they absolutely forbidden prayer in tongues, both inside and outside the church building, in every single form? Or do they have no problem with tongues; they’re just exercising their prerogative to quiet noisy people? More often you’ll find it’s the second reason.

The first reason is of course contrary to scripture. So now let’s deal with it.

The fear of giving offense.

In some cases churches ban loud tongues because they worry about how tongues freak people out.

No really. I’ve seen it firsthand. Certain people are terrified of tongues. Afraid of other people speaking tongues, afraid of themselves speaking tongues, afraid of the very idea. For all sorts of reasons, but most of of the time it’s one of these four:

  • They think it’s devilish, and are afraid of evil spirits.
  • They think it’s madness, and are afraid of crazy people.
  • They think tongues-speakers are out of control, and don’t wanna surrender or lose control of themselves… nor of course be around out-of-control people.
  • They realize it’s the Holy Spirit… and of all people, they’re afraid of him.

All of them are false, and people need to be taught otherwise. But when someone starts speaking in tongues around them, their fight-or-flight instinct gets triggered, and at that point there’s no teaching them anything. They’re having a panic attack, or they’re getting out of the building as fast as they can, or they’re furious that someone’s put them in that situation.

So, reason the leaders of various churches, best to just hide or silence the tongues.

Sometimes the excuse is they’re just temporarily quieting the tongues. Just for now. Just till the people of their church can be properly educated. But in practice they never get round to properly educating anyone. Because tongues isn’t a pressing concern: Nobody in their church speaks tongues! (Not publicly, anyway. Secretly, privately, plenty.) And there are a billion other subjects they consider more pressing. Priorities. Tongues ain’t one of those priorities.

Meanwhile… their church is slowly filling up with people who are unfamiliar with tongues. Some of ’em are Christians who were looking to avoid tongues, found a church which has tongues on mute, and figured this is the church for them. Some of ’em, hoping to justify their discomfort and fears, have been listening to anti-tongues, anti-supernaturalist, anti-Holy-Spirit rhetoric from various false preachers. You don’t want your church full of such people… but if you never teach on tongues, I guarantee that’s what you’ll eventually have.

If the church leaders procrastinate long enough, they’ll reach a point where they fear to broach the subject of tongues: It’s gonna cause a church split! Worse, over an issue they kinda consider irrelevant… ’cause if they considered it relevant, they’d’ve taught on tongues long before now, right?

Me, I don’t see tongues as an irrelevant issue. (I am writing about it, y’notice.) Because tongues build up individual Christians, 1Co 14.4 and built-up Christians make for a better church. And a better prayer ministry: Churches which don’t do tongues tend to have really sucky prayer groups.

Yeah, churches which do tongues can have sucky prayer groups too. But that’s because of personality problems; not because the group members are forcibly limited in the ways they can pray—or because they have to hide their forbidden prayer practices. Churches without tongues suffer from both personality conflicts and people with limited prayer abilities. So if you wanna hamstring your church’s prayer, ban tongues.

If your church leaders don’t forbid, but don’t practice, tongues: They’re gonna have to grow a pair. To have a serious talk with the congregation. To preach, not just in the small groups but to the entire church, a sermon about what the scriptures teach about tongues. To describe how they understand tongues to be properly, biblically practiced. To remind everyone the apostles forbade the forbidding of tongues. To encourage everyone to responsibly, humbly, pursue and practice the gift.

As for the folks whom tongues terrifies: The leaders have to address that elephant in the room as kindly as possible. Clearly everyone who responds to tongues with fear or anger has some personal issues with the Holy Spirit they need to work out. Because both responses are works of the flesh, and a sign they’re resisting the Spirit.

And yeah, even if your leaders explain this as gently as they can, they’d better brace themselves for the fact many of these people have no interest whatsoever in submitting to the Spirit. Actually seeing his visible activity among us, like miracles and prophecies and tongues, makes him feel a little too real for their comfort. They wanted a church to hide from God in; you’re not that church; they’re outa there.

Resisting the Holy Spirit.

So I wrote on Christians who don’t know the Holy Spirit. Without his guidance to correct us, Christians are gonna go wrong—and do. If they figure he doesn’t empower miracles, including tongues, of course they’re not gonna pursue them. And fear them: They won’t know what enables tongues, won’t know the point of them, and figure it can’t be anything good. So they’ll just ban ’em.

They’ll figure any of us Christians who do pray in tongues are either nuts or devilish. Same as pagans and nontheists figure about Christians. Same as they figure about other religions. They’ll preach sermons and write books blaspheming the Spirit like nobody’s business; telling anyone who will listen—and a lot will—how continuationist Christians are being led astray by Satan, good fruit notwithstanding.

Not a lot we can do with them. The Holy Spirit has get through to them. So pray. In tongues if you gotta.