03 July 2024

“I don’t speak in tongues. Therefore nobody does.”

I have an acquaintance, whom I’ll call Themistocles, who describes himself as a “soft cessationist.” That’s a term which means a lot of different things to the various people who use it.

For some of them it means regular ol’ cessationism—they believe God turned off the miracles in bible times, and he’s not turning ’em back on till the End Times. Why they call it “soft” is because they’re not deists—they don’t believe God created the universe to run (and run down) on its own, without his involvement or presence; that he’s left to pursue other interests. They accept there’s a God in the universe who hears their prayers… and sometimes even answers them. But he doesn’t do miracle-miracles. Doesn’t raise the dead, doesn’t let us Christians feed 5,000 people with only one person’s lunch, doesn’t cure cancer unless it’s through natural processes. He’ll empower “miraculous” fortunate coincidences, like having a ministry sent a check at just the time the bill came due, and for the precise amount of the bill. Or someone will offer us a job just as we’re praying for one, or we’ll bump into a friend whom we can help just as they’re asking God for help. Stuff like that, which you’ll have a difficult time convincing skeptics are literal act-of-God miracles.

For others, they believe sometimes God does actual, just-like-in-the-bible miracles. Yep, even though it’s not the End Times yet. The sick cured, the dead raised, multiplied resources, rain despite a drought, water turned to gasoline, crazy-large crops and crop yields, prophetic dreams, and so forth. They believe this stuff because they recognize it’s foolish to say “God doesn’t and won’t” when the scriptures not only say no such thing, but bluntly instruct us Christians about how to deal with such things when they happen. But what makes ’em still call themselves cessationist instead of continuationist is they believe these legit miracles are rare. Profoundly rare. Almost never happen. And most miracle stories are exaggerations, fraud, or fiction.

In Themistocles’s case, he’s “soft cessationist” because he’s cessationist… but knows cessationism has no valid biblical basis, and doesn’t wanna believe in it. It’s just that cessationism is what he grew up with; it’s what his church still teaches; he’s still surrounded by cessationists; he’s pretty sure he’s never seen a miracle. He’d sure like to see one. Till he does, he’s gonna fall back on the belief he grew up with: Cessationism. It’s “soft” in that it’s the comfortable cushion he’s currently resting on, till a real live miracle brings him to his feet.

Themistocles would likewise like to believe in speaking in tongues. But he’s got his doubts about the people who currently do it. Plus it’s never happened to him. And he’s asked God for the power to do it! But thus far, he’s pretty sure God hasn’t empowered him to do it, and he’s been praying for it for years. So the longer time goes on, the less and less he believes God even empowers it anymore.

Of course the way he first expressed this to me was by saying, “Well I’ve never spoken in tongues. I’m not even sure it’s a gift for today.”

Your experience doesn’t set the norm.

Themistocles immediately realized what he did wrong, though: He made the false assumption his experience is the norm; he’s the baseline for a typical Christian experience.

Which he’s not. None of us is. Everybody’s different. God intentionally made us that way. Yes God deals with people on a collective basis, but he also deals with us on an individual basis, and my relationship with him is gonna be customized for me—based on my past, my willingness to obey and follow him, my willingness to take steps and leaps of faith, my habitual sins and hangups and prejudices which I need to overcome, and my interactions with fellow Christians. Your relationship will likewise be customized for you. Same as everyone!

While Themistocles is wise enough to realize his error, you’re gonna find a whole lot of Christians won’t. Miracles—as far as they can tell—never happened to them; therefore they never happen to anyone, not since the very instant John finished writing the last line of Revelation. Kinda embarrassing, too; one of the apostles was coincidentally trying to cure a blind man while John was writing, and only got one eye partway, and for the rest of his life the poor guy had to turn his head in order to read. Okay, kidding, but still.

If you’re like Themistocles—if you wanna speak in tongues, and you’ve been asking God for a good long time, and he’s never blessed you with ’em, and now you’re not so sure tongues are even real: Yeah, I get it. You’re frustrated. You’re wondering what on earth is holding God up. You’re wondering if you’re doing anything wrong. You’re wondering if tongues are even a thing. You’re wondering if maybe, just maybe, the millions of Christians who regularly speak in tongues… aren’t just faking it. After all, your cessationist friends say so!

But lemme repeat one of the words in that last paragraph: Millions. Millions of Christians regularly speak in tongues. I won’t venture to say billions ’cause I don’t know the worldwide stats, but I do know we can comfortably and confidently say millions. Millions throughout Christian history, from the apostles’ time to now. And that it’s a bit arrogant and egotistical to claim all these millions of Christians are faking it (or, if you have no qualms about blaspheming the Holy Spirit, that Satan’s empowering ’em to do it), just because you don’t do it.

So… don’t claim that!

No, I’m not gonna diagnose your problem.

I’ve had various Christians who wanna speak in tongues, ask me why thus far they can’t. I don’t know why they can’t. There’s not a formula! I can’t say, “Well, you skipped steps 4, 17, 22, 23, and 74 of the formula, so start again.” Tongues is a gift from God, and same as every gift, it’s granted because of God’s grace, not because we jumped through all the right hoops and earned it.

What I will say is: You remember how I said everybody’s different, and therefore everybody’s relationship with God is gonna be customized for each one of us? Here’s one of the ways it gets customized: God will grant you the ability to speak in tongues when he’s good ’n ready. You might be ready (or certainly think you are!), but he’s not, and who’s Lord in this relationship again?

I will remind you the purpose of God’s supernatural gifts is ministry. He grants us the power to cure the sick, not because it’s a cool power to have and we really want it, not because we wanna save healthcare bills (or even open a clinic!), not even because there’s someone specific we wanna cure… and certainly not because we just want some proof God still does miracles. He grants the power because sick people need curing—and that our act of curing ’em will cause one or more people to turn to Jesus.

So… is your newfound ability to speak in tongues gonna do that?

Is it gonna do anything? What’s your motive for tongues, anyway? Themistocles straight-up admitted he wanted to experience it because he wanted to know tongues are real. I pointed out he’s one of those “Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” types, and the bible actually does say tongues are real… so shouldn’t that be enough for him? What else does he need confirmation about before he’ll trust the scriptures? Does Jesus need to appear to him?

Thing is, it actually doesn’t matter if your motive for pursuing tongues isn’t all that pure. I can tell you from personal experience: God has granted it to a lot of lousy Christians! Including me. I was not a good Christian when I first spoke in tongues. (Wasn’t even seeking tongues!) I got better. Tongues helped: I prayed more.

So if you thought goodness and holiness was part of the formula, I repeat: There’s not a formula. It’ll happen when God decides it’s time. Till then, follow Jesus. And don’t lose faith… and don’t start falling for faithless cessationist rhetoric instead of faith.