Forbidding tongues.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 September 2021

Certain Christians 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 empowered by the Holy Spirit… and of all people, they’re afraid of him.

All of them are wrong ideas and false views, and people need to be taught otherwise. But whenever 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 uncomfortable situation.

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

Now, those of us who do speak in tongues, tend to get our dander up at the idea. Hey, didn’t the apostles forbid this kind of behavior?

1 Corinthians 14.39 KJV
Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.

But what I’ve found are two types of churches: The cessationist sort which bans ’em outright, and the soft continuationist sort which believes miracles are still for today, but what they’re really banning are loud tongues. Speak in tongues all you please, but just as most prayers are better off done in private, so are tongues.

Because too often, when they get a tongues-speaker in their congregation, they get yet another immature Christian who can’t keep the volume down. Who insists they have every right to make noise. After all, Holy Spirit! And since God’s enabling their tongues, how dare anyone stifle them? How dare anyone declare 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. Et cetera, ad nauseam.

I told a friend I was gonna write about Christians who forbid tongues, and this was largely his attitude too. He “got his angry up,” as they call it in the Bible Belt. Wants me to tear those Spirit-quenchers 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 KJV
Let all things be done decently 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? Unless they’re dark Christians who fear our tongues are calling down demons, you’ll find it’s typically the second reason.

The fear of giving offense.

Though in a few cases, churches ban tongues because they worry about how tongues terrify people, as I said earlier. Rather than have people flee the building, they figure it’s best to hide or silence the tongues.

Sometimes their excuse is they’re temporarily quieting tongues. Just for now. Just till the scaredy-cats in the church can be properly educated. But in practice they never do get round to properly educating anyone. Because tongues isn’t a pressing concern: There are a billion other priorities, like educating newbies on the basics of Christianity, helping the needy, finding teachers for Sunday school, and that one church lady who only attends prayer meetings for the gossip. Because they’ve “temporarily” quieted tongues, they don’t see how often it’s practiced… nor know how often it’s malpracticed, and don’t realize they might need to instruct the tongues-speakers on how to do it right, 1 Corinthians 14 style.

Because when tongues go into hiding, a church rapidly fills up with people unfamiliar with tongues. Some of ’em are Christians who were looking to avoid tongues, found a church which has tongues on mute, and figure 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 it’s what you’ll eventually have.

When 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 more often from the personality conflicts, not from group members who are forcibly limited in the ways they can pray, or who have to hide their forbidden practices. Churches without tongues suffer from both personality conflicts and stifled petitioners. 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 backbone. 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 aren’t just resisting the Spirit, but don’t even know him.

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.

When Christians don’t know the Spirit, and figure they need to read the bible instead of listen to him (and they don’t read the bible), Christians are gonna go wrong. If they believe he no longer empowers miracles, including tongues, of course they’re not gonna pursue them, nor any of the other supernatural gifts. Even fear them. And ban them.

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 supernaturalist 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.