"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Mega-Church Downsizing

Our College and Career Pastor, Leo Heppler, sent me an article about a church that sent letters to members saying they either needed to give and serve or move on to another church. I'm not sure how legitimate the article is (see the first comment by Bryan on this post), but the article did remind me of a story.

There was a woman who sat in her pew, without serving the church in any capacity, throughout the fifty five year ministry of Dr. John Gill. She did not even partake of communion.

She was in her seat when Gill (1697-1771) was called as Pastor of Horsleydown Church in London on March 22, 1720, and she was in her seat when Gill preached his last sermon as pastor of the church, 51 years later, on October 14, 1771 (the day of his death).

She was converted and baptized one month after Gill died.

I guess our church probably takes a similar position to that of Gill in believing that God works in mysterious ways, and the Holy Spirit moves in people using varous methods and different timetables.

Christians are not cut from cookie molds --- they are formed by the Hands of Sovereign God who loves variety. I kind of like it where a church is composed of different people, with varying gifts, and we don't demand everyone look the same, act the same, or even serve the same.

But maybe that's just me.

In His Grace,



Brian said...

Um... Wade, you *do* know that Lark News is pretty much The Onion for churches, right??? :)

Although, that article about a Church subsidizing Tivos has me thinking...

Wade Burleson said...


I did not know. Leave it to my College and Career guy to give me this article :).

Wes Kenney said...

Yes, Wade, you've been taken in. It's a satire site.

However, I saw that article earlier this morning and I was going to do a post on it; I thought the premise was quite in line with Tom Ascol's failed resolution on integrity in membership, and idea whose time has come, in my opinion.

The article quotes the fictional church's newly-hired (from Cingular Wireless!) executive pastor:

"Freeloading" Christians were straining the church's nursery and facility resources and harming the church's ability to reach the lost, says the pastor.
"When your bottom line is saving souls, you get impatient with people who interfere with that goal," he says.


You really didn't know it was satire? ;-)

Still praying for you and your church.

Alycelee said...

It may be a "satire" but it happens all the time.
In fact, I know of something recently in a local church along these very lines.
The very defination of religion is instituting rules and regulations instead of walking in the spirit.
Any of us ever "talked" anyone into taking a Sunday school class because there was a such a strong need there. I know I've done it out of duress and not out of calling.
I suggest that most of some of those "freeloading" Christians are just as I once was.. Lost! How in the world could I have participated in light, when I was in darkness.
I just think we forget our churches are full of lost people.
I have made a practice to ask people to give me their testimony. Amazing how many say, Oh, I've always gone to church, or I've always believed.
Ok I'll stop now. I'm preaching.
(But I want to hear- "Who do you say that I am"

Tim said...

"22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like." James 1: 22-24

This is a hard verse. When I look at it, it seems to say that people just sitting in the pews are deceiving themselves. Granted, it doesn't say how; and maybe that is the beauty of it.

In the case of the lady in your post, her self deception was that she probably thought she was saved for all of those years. Though, it could possibly be different in other circumstances.

I'm about to preach a sermon series on James. I hope that people come to a greater appreciation of service in the believer's life.

We'll see.


Tim said...

Oh, one more thing...

There is a church in our association in which the pastor called an business meeting. He got the people there to "vote out" all the members that weren't there. He then made people rejoin the church the next Sunday, even making some of them apologize publically for being against him. As you can guess, not everyone in the church was happy with him...but, he seems to have gotten away with it.


Wade Burleson said...


I overlooked the Cingular paragraph.

Hook in mouth.


P.S. I agree with AlyceLee, the satire is very close to the truth.

Paul said...


You would probably like Joe Myers' book The Search to Belong, Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups. It's a very interesting read.

irreverend fox said...

that was Larknews satire...

I had more than one person tell me about this article...and I laugh every time!

They pulled one on you Wade. You might also want to read in the latest edition of the charismatic pastor who will preach the very first message from outter space...that was a good one also!

Dorcas said...

I liked the Lark News story that Guy Muse referred me to about having a first class section of the children's ministry where people paid a fee each week for their kids to have better activities and get fancier snacks. Very funny.

And yet, there is truth in all satire. Don't people sometimes choose churches by how well their children are entertained and how many programs and services a church can offer?

Kevin Bussey said...

It may be satire, but I was @ Northpoint in Alpharetta a few years ago and Andy Stanley described three type of people in their church:

1. People who are members and actively serving. He thanked God for them.

2. People who were not members but were actively serving in their church. (they allow non-members to serve in non-teaching positions). He thanked God for them too!

3. People who just sit and enjoy the services and do nothing to further the Kingdom of God. He looked at the audience and said, "We can't afford you! There are many fine churches that would love to have you." ( I was actually there, this is not heresay)

I believe a lot of churches will be downsizing if we don't:

1. Evangelize and quit church swapping.

2. Change our methods to reach the community.

3. Actually seek God's guidance for what He wants His church to be.

I am talking about this Sunday--it is called, "Imagine what would happen if....."

Thanks Wade, you just gave me a great illustration!

Bob Cleveland said...

God became a Man and sacrificed Himself for lost mankind. Via the most horrible death we can imagine, especially since it was unearned.

He tells us that there will be folks claiming to have done wonderous things in His name, who will spend eternity in hell. I surmise that most of them would be sitting in church, this coming Sunday.

The net effect of what the article facetiously, and fictionally stated, was to tell folks "Shape up or ship out".

Wouldn't it be rich if God thought that was a good idea? Something like "Choose ye this day...."?

Alycelee said...

Did I think I was "saved?"
I did what everyone else did. I looked like them, acted like them and yes, I believed in an intellectual
sense that Jesus was God's son, but I had no relationship with Him and I knew something was bad wrong. That was 30+ years ago, and I believe there are many just like me sitting in church today.

This is why, today, I cannot do the ABC's simple Faith programs, yada yada.
When I preach Christ to someone, I preach what Jesus preached. (The cost to the rich young ruler) Non-compromising, pure gospel.
It sickens me that we have a diluted gospel, a diluted church and we wonder why the world doesn't come running to us.
Could it be, because we look just like they do?

In counseling women the first thing I ask is for them to give me their testimony. It's amazing what they say.

I think it's time we redefine "saved" for that term, for many means nothing more than walking the isle and joining the club. And what about when someone "transfers" their letter, do we ask then? I really don't know, you pastors have to advise me about this.

I'm sure I sound very passionate about this, because you see, the church I'm talking about earlier is now dead. In fact, 30 years ago, when my husband and I started having home Bible studies with people both inside and outside our church ( they hated that part) the pastor and deacons questioned what we were doing and why we were meeting so late. (Would most pastors enjoy that problem?)
That same church is now dead. They have been through 7 pastors. Ran them all off. They have 24 people left. Oh, they still have their building, they "own" it.
In my work, I see this every week. It is so painful.
I do believe that one thing we can do is not to be afraid to ask people about their relationship with God and ask them for their testimony.

I love to give mine, doesn't offend me at all, in fact I'm just waiting for the chance to talk about the love and grace God has given me :)

Joel Rainey said...

Even though this was satire, I think it brings up an important topic: maintaining balance between ministering to non-members and expecting members to minister.

I agree that where unbelievers are concerned, we should be patient. At the same time, membership in a local church ought to mean something, and regrettably, this is not the case in the vast majority of SBC churches.

In the SC church I started, it is still the general rule that if after three months they haven't seen you, have not had their calls returned when checking on you, and you are not providentially hindered from being there, you have automatically forfieted your membership. It is also still the rule (so far as I am aware) that if you are not contributing regularly and sacrificially from your finances (and the lack of giving isn't caused by a financial hardship), you are not allowed to serve as an elder, deacon, etc. The same goes for paid ministerial staff.
This all started when I was pastor, and it is introduced on the front end in our membership class.
But on another note, I've never heard of Lark News. Sounds entertaining.

David L. Miller said...

Everyone knows you can't believe anything you read on the internet.

Several IMB trustees have told me so.

*tongue firmly in cheek*

davidinflorida said...

Pastor Wade,....Although this is a satire, the thing that makes it a satire is because its so believable.........By the way , Does God really work in mysterious ways or are we just not understanding Him? Where did this phrase come from? Is it in the Bible?

irreverend fox said...


that is awesome! I'm gonna do that! What a creative way to discipline lazy members!

Oh wait, we're not congregational...err...I guess I just like the spirit of such a move.

irreverend fox said...

"If I can be serious for a second..."

If I were planting a congregational church I'd not allow the "walk the aisle" type of thing anyway. Only tithers active in a small group and a ministry could vote.

So, as you can see, things are just easier and less messy being council/elder led.

I admire Stanley if that is what he did. Most people are either converted or too offended to hang within 6 months. So the folks left are willing to serve cause we set the bar high, not low.

And we're growing, not by attracting churched folks looking for something trendy...but through personal and cooporate evangelism. We're not some fundy mean spirited irrelevant group. Most of our folks are under 40 with kids. We're stripped down yet passionate in worship (singing, preaching, giving, communion...)There is just the assumption in our preaching and activities that believers are ministers...missionaries. THAT is what being a follower of Jesus Christ IS, that is our understanding anyway.

Jesus was not affraid to loose a crowd, why are we? What do our 5 points teach us?

Wade Burleson said...

David Miller,

Thanks for the laugh.


At least in my life God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform :)

davidinflorida said...

Pastor Wade, I guess that you are right, at least it seems that way. That phrase has always made me search more for HIM and HIS WAYS...

Mark Spence said...


Did you know that gullible is not in the dictionary?


Wade Burleson said...


This Road said...

At first I got a little upset that this person was not serving. But that they just came to listen and be "entertained." I tend to be more of the Andy Stanley type and say "We can't afford you! There are many fine churches that would love to have you." But then I read the story again. The lady was converted only after Gill's death. She was doing what unconverted people are suppose to do. I do agree that God works in mysterious ways(thank William Cowper for that great poem), but I don't see where pew warming fits into that. I like Spurgeon's church idea, prove yourself to have fruit then we will let you become a member.

Mel said...

Although this story might be fiction, it is nonetheless true of many people in our pews each Sunday. But lest we be quick to judge, consider the person, non-member or member, who in the course of their daily lives are ministering to people and sharing God's love; and then comes to church on Sunday to be refreshed and renewed in the Word and in fellowship.

Just a thought.

kevin said...

Wade, in the example you gave at least the woman was attending. I'm not saying that pew warming is any good, but our (SBC) church's membership rolls are swelled with people who don't even attend.

craig from Georgia said...

Biblical Tongues*
In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, tongues of men refer to understandable human languages; the tongues of angels may refer to the medium by which angels communicate in heaven. Paul does not say that it is possible or desirable to speak with the tongues of angels; rather, he says that if such a thing were possible, it is not (nor is any other "gift") the mark of the Spirit of Christ--genuine love is that mark (1 Cor. 13 describes Christian love).
In 1 Corinthians 14:1-3, there are three New Testament words translated tongues in the KJV Bible: heterai, glossai, and glossa:
First, Heterais refers to specific dialects, or languages, other than what was known by the speaker, Acts 2:4, 6, 8; 10:46 & 19:6;
Second, Glossai, when used in the plural with a singular pronoun, refers to ethnic languages, Mark 16:17; 1 Cor. 12:10, 28, 30; 13:1, 8; 14:5, 6, 18, 22;
Third, Glossa, when used for "tongue" in the singular, refers to the Corinthian ecstatic utterance which had invaded the church from the pagan worship so prevalent in the city (1 Cor. 14:2, 4, 13, 14, 19, 26, 27, including all the verses having unknown added by the translators).
Moreover, 1 Corinthians 14:9 refers to the physical tongue of man; v. 23, plural with a plural pronoun, refers to the Corinthian ecstatic utterances (Spiros Zodhiates, The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, 1436, 1438). Observe that chapter 14 contains a mixture of the word tongues: vv. 2, 4, 13, 19, 26 & 27--pagan ecstatic utterances; and vv. 5, 6, 18 & 22--actual ethnic languages.
Therefore, Paul says that he desires that they would indeed be able to supernaturally speak with other ethnic languages as he can, but on the other hand, he is soundly renouncing and rebuking the ecstatic utterances which were actually taking place in this church.
Let us make a quick overview of three main points from 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14 (covered in more detail later in this report):
First, notice Paul anchors tongues firmly in the law of Moses by citing tongues' Old Testament foundation, their time-frame, and purpose, 14:21, 22, which we will develop shortly. Furthermore, Paul refers to Moses' command for women to remain silent in the church assembly and to learn from their own husbands, 14:34, 35. (A result of the fall is that the husband is commanded to instruct his wife, Gen. 3:16; Eph. 5:22; 1 Pet. 3:1. Thus, for a woman to instruct men in the church is a direct effort to overthrow God's word.) The command is followed immediately with, If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that these things that Paul writes to the church are the commandments of God, v. 37.
Second, notice Paul's list of "gifts," 12:8-10 and v. 28; tongues (ethnic languages) is listed last, showing that they were the least desirable of all the gifts (cf. 14:5). Whatever is done in the church is for one purpose only: to edify the church--the individual is to excel in building up the church, 14:12. Paul is quite clear in 14:4: The Corinthian ecstatic utterance was for self-edification, and was connected with the pride that Paul had to deal with in this letter. Paul makes a contrast--prophesying (preaching the whole counsel of God, Jesus Christ in His entirety, Ac. 20:27; Rev. 19:10) edifies the church, while ecstatic utterances edify the individual (it makes one feel good).
Third, we see that tongues (both ethnic languages and the Corinthian ecstatic utterance) had to be interpreted for the profit of the entire assembly, vv. 5, 13, 27, 28; thus, if there was no interpretation for what was spoken, neither ethnic languages nor ecstatic utterance was permitted. In addition, Paul clearly and absolutely forbids women from taking any part in the speaking or interpretation of tongues; it is confusion, 14:33-35. What is needed in the church is clear--distinct and easily understood speaking, 14:7-12. Therefore, Paul, without actually telling them to stop the ecstatic utterances, placed severe enough restriction on them that, if they would obey him, they would stop. Notice the connection that we will come back to, 14:8--he connects tongues with the trumpet that sounded the alarm as in the Old Testament, Ezekiel 3 and 33, etc. God's messenger is to sound the trumpet of warning midst sin and evil. If the trumpet cannot be understood, what good is it?
In Paul's first letter to Corinth, he dealt with situations that developed in this church with "the gifts." In chapter 12:1, Paul starts his address on the subject of spiritual gifts; thus, chapter 13 cannot be taken out of context from chapters 12 and 14. These three chapters (12-14) were written to deal with the outside influence of the ecstatic utterances flooding into the church from the pagan temple worship of Aphrodite. Paul made it clear to the Corinthians that their speech (glossa) had no spiritual significance before the Christian God (1 Cor. 14:6-11). Furthermore, in these three chapters, Paul points out the difference between the real tongues and the ecstatic utterances that were taking place. Obviously, what was going on at Corinth was causing problems because Paul, in 12-14, is not exhorting its practice; rather, he lists its restrictions and regulations.
Spirituality Defined
It is important to understand that these three chapters (12-14 of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians) are dealing with a problem: misunderstood spirituality. 1 Corinthians 12:1, spiritual--Paul follows the same line of thought as he did in Galatians 6:1; these Corinthians were misunderstanding what it meant to be spiritual. Because of the carry-over of the pagan idea of worship (and thus spirituality), they were associating the pagan ecstatic utterance with spirituality and communion with the heavenly Father. Notice that the word gifts is added by the translators; therefore, Paul writes the whole passage (chaps. 12-14) to clear up the misunderstanding associated with spirituality. (True spirituality is defined in chapter 13; see also 1 Jn. 3:14.)

Tongues & God's Law
Paul firmly anchored tongues (ethnic languages, not ecstatic speech) in the law, as clearly revealed in the Old Testament; therefore, we must do the same. Tongues were a warning to unbelieving Jews of God's soon coming, and even present, national judgment; tongues were a sign for those who knew God's Old Testament law; tongues were a call to the nation that had forsaken its God, a call to repent and turn from its sin and back to the Lord God through Christ, 14: 21, 22--Tongues were for a sign not to them that believe already the truth of God's Word, but to those who believed not. The clear preaching of God's Word, prophesying, was for believers.
Here, as in all places, our final authority for all that is believed, said, and practiced must be God's Word (2 Tim. 3:16). Christ Himself commanded us to search the Scriptures that we might find the truth of a matter (Jn. 5:39, 46, 47). Both Paul and Christ were referring to searching the Old Testament Scriptures to confirm any and every doctrine, because there were no New Testament Scriptures when Christ spoke and Paul wrote. The Old Testament was safely kept in the Synagogues. The Bereans were commended as being more noble than those in Thessalonica, because they searched the Old Testament Scriptures daily to confirm what they were being taught by Paul (Ac. 17:11). Should we not do the same? Therefore, we must reach back to the Old Testament, as Paul does here, to find the truth about tongues.

Isaiah & Tongues
Isaiah says that if anyone speaks not according to the law and to the testimony (of the prophets), there is no light in him (Is. 8:20; see also Lk. 24:44-48). Paul, by quoting Isaiah 28:11-12 in 1 Corinthians 14:20-22, rebukes the Corinthians for not understanding the Old Testament Scriptures in their use of "the gift of tongues." Charismatic "Christians" today should tremble in fear of the Lord as they read the passage Paul used to instruct the first generation of Christians.
Isaiah 28 takes place in the latter years of Hezekiah, King of Judah, 705-701 BC. Before his rule (722 BC), Assyria invaded Palestine and the Northern Kingdom. Ephraim was destroyed. Now, many years later, Isaiah warns the people of the Southern Kingdom, Judah, that the same thing will happen to them (cf. Jer. 3:7-10). But instead of trusting in the Lord for their deliverance from Assyria, Judah makes a deal with Egypt. Their unity with pagan Egypt brings an influx of heathen practices into the congregation of the Lord, and their hearts turn from Him. In vv. 7-8, God's prophet points to the leaders of Judah, and tells the world that they are involved in wicked, evil practices--a drunken party. The leaders mock Isaiah and his warning concerning their spiritual condition. Not liking to be addressed as irresponsible children, even though they are childish, they call his teaching childishly simple. As far as they are concerned, Isaiah, a legalist preacher, speaks down to them as one would to a minor, and, considering themselves "free adults," they resent Isaiah, and sneer at his warning.
The prophet, in vv. 11-13, deals with them in the very point of their sarcasm (he continues to speak to them as children, using their scorn for God's Word against them) as he makes his prophetic announcement of coming judgment, vv. 14ff. Since the people will not listen to God as He speaks to draw them back to His Word with plain and simple words that they understand and use daily (including the weather, v. 2 & Dt. 28:24), He will speak to them in a language they cannot understand, Assyrian. Now they will need an interpreter to understand the other "tongues," languages (Is. 10:5-6). When they hear the stammering lips and another tongue on the streets of Jerusalem, as well as throughout the land (i.e., the Assyrian language which they understood not), they will know that God's judgment is upon them according to Isaiah's warning. The another tongue was a sure sign pointing them directly back to Isaiah's warning of the coming judgment at which they had mocked and sneered.

Moses & Tongues
The warning goes back well before Isaiah. We find the basic law for Isaiah's warning (and Paul's) in Deuteronomy 28:15-68 (36, 49). There Moses points out to the congregation of the Lord (the seed of Israel) that one result of God's people rejecting the Lord as their King would be servitude to a people whose tongue (language) they would not understand, which is genuine, lawful, Biblical tongues. If God's people will not serve the Biblical God as their King, whose Word is easily understood (Dt. 30:14, Rom. 10:8), they will serve the heathen, whose words they cannot understand, 47-49. Therefore, let us not suppose for a moment that the rebellious Jews who Isaiah and Paul spoke to, did not make the connection of Deuteronomy 28:45-68. There is no way they could have missed the connection, but knowing human nature as we do (we have it), they ignored the facts. "Other tongues" was the result of rejecting God's rule (total authority) over them (cf. 1 Sam. 8). This fact is well established in the Word of God, and will not change.
Deuteronomy 28:15-68 was fulfilled at least three times: First, it was fulfilled when Assyria moved against God's people in fulfillment of Isaiah's warning (2 Kg. 15:5, 23, 24; 18:11; 1 Chr. 5:26. One of the symbols of Assyria was a winged lion--see Dt. 28:49); Second, it was fulfilled when God moved his servant's army, Babylon, against His people (Jer. 25:9); Third, it was fulfilled when God sent Titus against Jerusalem in AD 70.
The stammering lips and another tongue was/is God's judicial sign of judgment upon his people because they harden their hearts against the simple truths of which Moses and the prophet Isaiah spoke.
In Isaiah's day, the judgment came in the form of Assyria, and the speaking of the Assyrian language on the streets of Judah pointed to Isaiah's prophecy being fulfilled--they could not understand the language without an interpreter. In Jeremiah's day, the tongues were Chaldean. In Paul's day, God's people had again degenerated into an apostate nation, and had rejected the true Prophet, Christ the Messiah, and His warnings. No doubt, if He had come as a worldly king with military might or as an elite man of some kind, they might have listened to Him, but He did not. He came as a humble servant of God; He came with a simple and plain message that the common man could readily understand, identify with, and accept, and the elite rejected and killed Him. Christ warned of the horrible judgment that would come as the result of their rejection of the Son (Mt. 21-24). In fact, He said that the former judgments would be nothing compared to the one that was coming, 24:21, 22. Assyria, as terrible as it was, would pale compared to the punishment in store for the rejection and crucifixion of Christ.
Signs & Tongues
After the crucifixion of the Son of God, and before the final destruction of the Jewish nation, the sign of tongues re-appeared. To the Jews who knew the law (Dt. 28) and the prophets (Is. 28), it meant only one thing--judgment. Other tongues (ethnic languages) were not new to them; it had happened in the past. In the middle of Paul's significant warning concerning the proper use of tongues (1 Cor. 14), we have his reference to Isaiah, 14:21. Paul clearly identifies tongues in the same context as did Isaiah--a sure sign of judgment for rejecting God's warning. The Roman language that would be spoken on the streets of Jerusalem would not be understood without an interpreter.
Thus, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish came upon the Jews first, in the form of Assyria, Babylon, and Rome for their refusal to glorify God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, with their personal, religious, social, and national lives. Paul clearly tells us that God, being no respecter of persons, will also send indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish against the Gentiles for the same offense.
Something that is quite amazing in the passage we are considering is the context in which Paul quotes Isaiah's warning, and the resistance (even anger) exhibited by the Jewish leaders against Isaiah, accusing him of treating them like children (cf. Isaiah 28). Both Isaiah and Paul are dealing with immature people who claimed to be God's people; however, they were children whose pride and rebellion caused them to harden against being treated like and spoken to as children.

Our Lord said, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Mk. 10:15). It is not hard at all to follow this call to humility and conversion, as the gospel of the kingdom goes out from the very first day that Christ taught it, to the last days of Paul as he taught i. (Mt. 3:2; Ac. 28:31). The idea of becoming as little children
would have struck at the very heart of the rebellious nation, as once again the religious leaders became hostile at the thought of being treated like children. In fact, having to put on the spirit of a child is enough to make any "natural man" hostile. But not only is childishness required in order to enter into the kingdom of heaven, but it is required to advance in His kingdom. Stephen told the religious leaders (as did every other preacher of the gospel, including Christ) that they were the same pious, rebellious, stiff-necked, proud, hardhearted, hypocritical men as were their fathers who mocked and sneered at Isaiah's instruction (Ac. 7:51-60).
Moving to the middle of Paul's instruction in chp. 14, v. 20, we see that his warning against childishness fits in with the situation in which Isaiah spoke (1 Cor. 14:21 & Is. 28:11). Isaiah was rejected by the Jewish leaders because he was treating them like children; Paul tells the folks at Corinth, "Don't continue in your childish attitudes as your fathers did in Isaiah's time. Grow up! Remember, the reason for other tongues is to speak to a rebellious, stubborn, stiff-necked people who will not hear the plain, easily understood Word of God. When your fathers rejected the clear, plain message of repentance toward God and faith in Christ, they had to listen to other tongues: an ethnic and unintelligible language of a foreign invader. Your fathers needed an interpreter to understand what was being said." Paul's thought continues: "The another tongue Isaiah referred to had nothing to do with salvation or with being spiritual; rather, it is a sign of judgment which is either already here or is coming."
Also, notice Paul's indictment against this church for being childish (1 Cor. 13:11, 14:20). The supernatural ability to speak an unknown (to the speaker) foreign language was being used with pride, as a child would be lifted up with pride over abilities he had and he considered superior to another's abilities. Paul points out that childishness is only commendable in the matter of malice, not in understanding. He tells them to grow up. Again, the connection is significant as he moves from this exhortation into the quote from Isaiah. The context of both Paul and Isaiah has to do with childishness and maturity.
Paul's 13 Guidelines
Note some significant points made by Paul as he tries to instruct this worldly, immature, and childish church concerning the proper use of tongues. Remember, the ecstatic utterances from the pagan worship had infiltrated this church, and was being mistaken for something godly and spiritual. We have already noted Paul's distinction between their ecstatic speech and true spirituality. We will not cover the whole chapter (1 Cor. 14) but will quickly mention thirteen guidelines which Paul establishes for the proper use of tongues:
1) The other tongues, as used in chapter 14, is the power given by the Holy Spirit to speak in a literal, foreign language, unknown to the speaker--an obvious fact from the passage. Referring back to either the situation with the Assyrians or with the Romans, the context of chapter 14 would be something like this: The people did not understand Rome's language, for it was unknown. A person not knowing Rome's language has the supernatural ability from God to speak it. Those around him do not understand Rome's language either, so the speaker needs an interpreter to translate his words into a common language, so his hearers can understand him. Paul says it is crazy to speak in a language that requires an interpreter when one can speak in the common language and present a message easily understood by all (1 Cor. 14:1-12).
In all three cases, Assyrian, Chaldean, and Roman, tongues were a foreign language for which the hearers needed an interpreter to understand (Dt. 28:49; Is. 28:11; cf. all of Acts, esp. chap. 2). Anything other than this scenario of an actual foreign language would have to be the ecstatic speech carried over from paganism, which Paul vehemently stands against. He tells the immature Christians at Corinth to quit seeking the childish things and grow up, e.g., "Sure, it makes one feel good to be able to supernaturally speak in a foreign language not understood by others, but what good is it to speak in mysteries that only God can understand? It's so much better to speak in the common language of those present." Paul says that he would rather speak five words in easily understood language than ten thousand words unintelligible to his hearers (1 Cor. 14:19).
If it were not so obviously fraud against their hearers, we could find it amusing that those who claim supernatural gifts of speaking in tongues must have interpreters when they go to foreign countries to speak. How can they claim the supernatural gift of tongues is from God if they cannot even preach the gospel in an unknown (to them) native tongue? In other words, their tongues are not foreign languages, but are ecstatic utterances, a hold-over from the ecstatic utterance that had invaded the Corinthian church from the pagan worship so prevalent in that city.
2) Prophecy, not tongues, was to be desired, 14:1-5. The desirable thing is the ability to explain the practical applications of God's Word, which alone will build God's people. Everything done within the church is to be for the benefit of the body of believers. The purpose of the public assembly is to admonish one another, to build up and strengthen one another, and to be an encouragement and help (Heb. 10:25). When we consider the true purpose of tongues (warning of God's wrath upon the rebellious Jewish nation), we can see how tongues would not "edify" a church. They would edify an individual and lead to vast amounts of pride, e.g., "I'm special because God is using me to speak to that person about God's judgment to come." (Yes, I see 14:5, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. We will see more of this as we continue.)
3) Tongues were not spontaneous, 14:2, 28, 32, etc. There were several conditions that had to be met.
4) 14:8 is an interesting comparison--speech is compared to a trumpet that sounds an alarm (Num. 10:5; Jer. 4:19; 6:17; 42:14). Paul calls tongues an uncertain trumpet, an uncertain alarm for battle. In fact, anything not easily understood would leave the people unprepared for battle--the battle was a spiritual one, as well as one against personal, social, religious, and national evil and wickedness.
5) [T]ongues were for a sign ... to them which believe not. When the hardened, unbelieving Jew heard the tongues (supernatural speaking in a foreign language that was not his native tongue), the tongues would speak to him of the coming judgment against his hardness and rebellion (because he would know the lesson taught by both Moses and Isaiah, v. 22).
6) However, to the unlearned (those not knowing the law of Moses) and to the unbelieving Gentile (who also would not know the law), tongues would be madness, v. 23.
7) It was to be the preaching of the gospel of Christ and of eternal judgment to come that would cause the visitor to believe, v. 24. It is the clear, easily understood presentation of the gospel that reveals the heart, causing conviction and conversion, vv. 24, 25 (1 Cor. 1:21; Heb. 4:12, 13).
Looking through Acts, we see that in every instance of tongues there were unbelieving Jews present--that is, unbelieving in the gospel (Ac. 2), unbelieving in the Holy Spirit (we have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost, Ac. 19:2), or unbelieving that the gospel should go to the Gentiles (Ac. 10).
1 Corinthians 12-14: The purpose of Paul's instruction is to clear up the misunderstanding of what is spiritual. The Corinthians were under the delusion that the ecstatic utterances from pagan worship were a sign of being in close fellowship with the Holy God of heaven and earth. First, Paul said the supernatural ability to speak in an unlearned and unknown foreign language was the least important of all the gifts. Why do we need to speak in a foreign tongue when our message can be so much more effective in the common language? Paul's second guideline was to only use what will edify the complete body of believers within the church--the ability to speak in a foreign tongue edified only the speaker. Third, tongues (ethnic languages) must be interpreted by a man who speaks them--a message in a foreign language that cannot be understood by the hearers is useless. It would be absurd to use a supernatural ability to speak in another language that the hearers cannot comprehend, 14:5. Fourth, the ability to speak in an unknown foreign language was to warn the hardened unbelieving Jews that judgment was on its way--soon he would witness on the streets of his own hometown an invading army whose language he would need an interpreter to understand. This was backed up by the law and the prophets. Judgment was coming upon the Jewish nation for rejecting the plain, clear, child-like message of God (the Messiah), which had been in their own language and easily understood. Obviously then, there had to be an unbelieving Jew present for supernatural tongues (ethnic languages) to be of God (see Mt. 23:34-39).
Continuing with Paul's instructions:
8) Speaking in a foreign language could not be uncontrolled, for it always had to be planned, orderly, and subject to the speaker, 14:32-34, 40.
9) At the most, there could only be three speakers, and then only one at a time could speak, vv. 2, 27.
10) Furthermore, there had to be a person present who could translate what was said into the common language of the assembly, v. 28. If there was no one who could translate (explain) what was said, then either the speaker had to do it (v. 5), or he had to keep quiet.
11) As already mentioned, there had to be an unbelieving Jew present because when the speaker spoke in the foreign language of that Jew's birth, that unbelieving Jew would understand and know from the law and the prophets about the judgment to come against his unbelief, v. 22. As the speaker spoke in the unbelieving Jew's language, for the rest of the church to understand, either an interpreter or the speaker himself must explain what was said.
12) Probably one of the more important restrictions placed by Paul on the use of tongues is found in vv. 34-35: tongues were, without exception, absolutely forbidden to women in the churches. The purpose of tongues was to "preach" to the unbelieving (yet knowledgeable of Moses) Jew, and he would know that women were forbidden to take any speaking or leadership authority in the assembly of God's people; they were required to be under subjection to their own husbands in their homes (Eph. 5:22-24; 1 Tim. 2:11-12). The situation at the city of Corinth makes this a very important point: Corinth was famous for its immorality with its temple prostitutes (one thousand were kept in the temple). One of the signs that these prostitutes (priestesses) were in close communion with their gods was their ecstatic utterances during the temple rituals of sexual orgies. Thus, we have Paul's firm statement, for it is a shame for women to speak in church, v. 35, referring to either preaching or usurping authority over the men of the church (of course, preaching is the exercise of authority based upon God's Word). The ability to speak in the foreign language of that unbelieving Jew's birth was a sign to him; however, to an unbelieving Jew, a woman was little better than a slave. (Only Christianity elevates women to the status of respect and honor, 1 Pet. 3:7.) Under no circumstances would an unbelieving Jew in Paul's day have listened to a woman speak from any position in a Christian assembly--a woman speaking would completely destroy the purpose of tongues. (The Jewish man thanked God for three things every day: that he wasn't a publican, that he wasn't a Gentile, and that he wasn't a woman.)
13) Tongues were not to be forbidden, 14:39. In Paul's day, before the judgment against Jerusalem of which tongues spoke, tongues were needed, and to forbid them would be to forbid the Spirit of God from expressing his warning message of judgment through his chosen vessel. Judgment was at the door; Jerusalem was on the very threshold of being completely overturned, heaped up in a pile, burned, and, as Josephus says, her foundations plowed with a yoke of oxen. The Israelite/Jewish race, as known in the Old Testament, was on the verge of extinction, so God continued to send warnings to that race right up to the day Jerusalem was sealed by Rome with millions inside.

In addition, notice these two points about v. 14: first, pray in this verse does not mean "addressed to God" as in Matthew 21:22, etc.; rather, it means "to offer prayers, to pray, (everywhere of prayers to the gods, or to God)" as in Matthew 6:5, where the Pharisees depended on their loud, long public prayers to be heard by the Lord (cf. Mk. 12:40). The word pray (1 Cor. 14:14) can refer to either empty words spoken into the air, or meaningful words. It is used twice in Matthew 6:5, once for proper and once for improper prayer ( The New Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, 545). Therefore, claiming that pray (ecstatic utterance) in v. 14 is words spoken to the Father stretches the context beyond Scriptural recognition. Scripture is clear: there is no direct approach to the Father through words or any other means. All who come to the Father must come through Christ (Jn. 14:6, 13, etc.). Therefore, the only prayer which the Father hears is through Christ. Second, my spirit, not the Holy Spirit--in other words, "My spirit can, by some circumstance, be moved to an utterance." (Many leaders know how to use emotions to produce their desired effects, e.g., ecstatic utterances and/or large "gifts." Note Paul's final remark on this subject, vv. 37, 38.)
The best thing is to testify of Christ, preach the gospel, apply his Word to the whole of life and thought, and do not forbid tongues, as long as they meet the conditions established by Paul to prevent their misuse (chaps. 12-14). Of course, those conditions cannot be met today, but if tongues were "active" today, they no doubt would be something like Paul laid out in 1 Cor. 14:18.
Ecstatic utterances at Corinth were a carry-over from the pagan temple worship. Biblical tongues was the supernatural ability to speak an unknown foreign language: As God's warning message was delivered in the Christian assemblies in tongues, it spoke to the hearts of the unbelieving Jewish hearers. The result was to be their repentance of sin and turning to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul said, "You are proud of your spirituality, but let me show you what true spirituality really is." Then he moves into chapter 13: True spirituality is defined as humility and love for one another shown by actions, not by any "supernatural ability" one might think he has (see all of 1 Jn.). Love is shown by rejoicing over someone's conversion, by encouraging others when the person takes a stand for Christ, by unity among the body of Christ, by a willingness to do for one another, by Biblical rebuke and correction when required, and by a genuine family spirit among the body of believers (1 Cor. 12:12-31; 13:1-13).
The pagan's definition of close, spiritual contact with their gods (ecstatic utterances) had crept into the Corinthian church, and the people claimed spirituality and love for God because they could imitate the pagans. Paul points out that what they had was not true spirituality, chapter 13.
American "Christianity," as a whole, is as paganized as was Corinth's and Israel's of old. America's religious leaders, as Israel's of old, have ignored God's warnings, united with pagans, and have mocked and are mocking God's Word and God's men. Judgment is surely coming

Greg Hicks said...

Hi Wade,

The story you quoted may be fictional, but when Doug Murren, former pastor of Eastside Foursquare church in Kirkland, Washington (at that time, one of the fastest growing churches in America) told the story during a church growth conference over a decade ago, he indicated he told the church the following: "If you are not serving, giving, praying in a significant way, find another church home" - and he wasn't joking. Attendance dropped the following Sunday, but giving, serving, praying went up every Sunday that followed.