Dr Sam Storm's Comment
Wade and others,
I am not writing to address the denominational or political issues that are provoked by the recent decision of the IMB. My aim is simply to address what I perceive to be the theological naiveté and exegetical imprecision of the IMB statement posted on your blog.
Several points need to be made.
First, in its statement on Glossolalia the “Guideline” affirms that glossolalia “is considered to be a legitimate language.” This isn’t at all helpful, given the fact that most Continuationists acknowledge that all glossolalia is linguistic in nature. All tongues speech, whether exercised in public or private, is “language” that communicates cognitive content. The Apostle Paul makes this clear when he declares that the one who speaks in a tongue speaks “to God” (1 Cor. 14:2) and in doing so prays (1 Cor. 14:14), praises (1 Cor. 14:15), and gives thanks (1 Cor. 14:16). Praying, praising, and giving thanks are all meaningful, substantive communication between the believer and God. So yes, of course tongues is a “legitimate language.” But what this statement fails to address is whether the language is human, such as Russian or Chinese or English, or a language of heaven or an angelic dialect or a uniquely spiritual language constructed by God to constitute this particular spiritual gift.
Second, the Board refers to “ecstatic utterances” in spite of the fact that nowhere in the New Testament is this vocabulary used of tongues speech. Why is it so difficult for the IMB Board or Christians in general to recognize that tongues speech is not ecstatic? It never has been. It never will be. Nowhere in the NT portrayal of tongues speech, whether public or private, is it ever described as entailing the loss of control, loss of consciousness, loss of awareness of one’s surroundings, or loss of will on the part of the one speaking. Tongues speech in the NT never entails the individual experiencing some sort of altered state of consciousness or disengagement with his/her surroundings. May I ask that we all, once and for all, drop the adjective “ecstatic” from our descriptions of the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues. I make this appeal to Continuationists and Cessationists alike.
Third, the Board stated that according to the New Testament “prayer is to be made with understanding.” This also is ambiguous and misleading, and in one particular case, patently false. My first response is to ask, “Whose understanding?” Is the Board saying that the person praying must have understanding of what he is saying? In all instances of prayer, except for the gift of tongues, the biblical answer to that question is Yes! But the very nature of tongues as a spiritual gift is that one is enabled to pray and praise in a “language” (whether human, heavenly, or angelic) that one does NOT understand. That is why God graciously and appropriately provides the spiritual gift of interpretation. If the person praying always and automatically understands what he/she is praying via tongues, what would be the point or need for the gift of interpretation? What would be the point of Paul exhorting those who pray in tongues to pray also that they may interpret (1 Cor. 14:13)? If they necessarily always understand what they are praying, interpretation would be superfluous.
On the other hand, perhaps the Board was referring to the understanding of others, those who hear someone pray. If that is what they meant, then I agree. So does Paul, which is why he always insisted on interpretation if tongues is used in public. Without interpretation, no one understands, neither the speaker nor the listener. And without understanding there can be no edification (1 Cor. 14:2,5,27-28) for others in the body of Christ (although the person praying in tongues is still edified; see 1 Cor. 14:4). This is the reason for Paul’s meticulous regulation of the use of tongues in public. It is wonderful for tongues to be used in public IF and ONLY IF there is interpretation. In the absence of interpretation, it must be restricted to one’s private “prayer closet” (so to speak).
Look carefully at 1 Cor. 14:14-15. Paul says that when he prays in a tongue his s/Spirit prays but his mind is unfruitful. That is to say, he is praying well enough but neither he nor anyone who might be listening understands (this is what Paul means by the word “unfruitful”). What then should Paul (and we) do? According to the IMB, he should keep his mouth shut. Since there is no understanding, Paul should never again pray in tongues, either in public or private, and he should prohibit all others from the same. But that’s not what Paul concludes! Keep reading. He says: “What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit [i.e., in tongues], but I will pray with my mind also [i.e., in the vernacular, so that all can understand]; I will sing praise with my spirit [this is simply tongues speech put to music or melody], but I will sing with my mind also [as do we all when we sing hymns and psalms, etc.]” (v. 15).
The IMB is under the mistaken assumption that for any experience to be beneficial it must occur via the cerebral cortex of the brain. They seem to believe any experience that transcends the rational comprehension of the person in whom it is happening is useless. Paul disagrees! He obviously believed that it was possible for the human spirit to commune and communicate with the Divine Spirit in a way that transcends rational comprehension. However, he also believed that if no one is present to interpret such “speech” for the edification of other believers that the person with tongues should keep silent in the corporate assembly.
So, as you can see, I don’t think the IMB is going to progress very far in this matter until they come to grips with the actual language of Paul concerning tongues in 1 Corinthians 14. Blessings to all!
Dr. Boyd Luter's Comment
Wade and others,
Sam had a lot of solid exegetical insight to offer, but it is not going to change the decision of the IMB BoT. They do not appear to be willing to listen to a critique of their supposed exegetical basis at this time. Rather, they are comfortable in the fact that those who have been their behind the scenes advisors in this process are curently willing to sign off on what is now commonly called 'Semi-cessationism' (see my further explanation below), if for no other reason than they believe that they can make the same stand over Charismatic Continuationist candidates as they could with a full Cessationist position.
But, I honestly believe that there is a "the glass if half full perspective" that is worth noting here, to at least partly balance the large number of "the glass is half empty" opinions that have been expressed. Here it is: for the first time, there is an official statement that recognizes that some kind of "tongues" (i.e., glossalalia) do in fact exist.
Yes, the way things are worded in point 3 and the applicational angles are highly skeptical. But, points 1 and 2 add up to the recognition that there is, in fact, biblical reason to believe that there is a legitimate form of tongues at work in the world today.
What does that mean from a "glass is half full" perspective? Even though, in the IMB BoT's view, there is much out there that is not legit. tongues, THERE IS AlSO SOME THAT IS. In other words, the wording of their statement can be just as accurately described as "Semi-Continuationist" as it is "Semi-Cessationist" (since the prefixed 'semi-' means "having some of the characteristics of"). That is why, when I did my presentation in Arlington, even though I used the common term "Semi-Cessationist," I also put in parentheses "Skeptical Continuationist?". You see, the view reflected in the IMB BoT decision is at least as much akin to the Continuationist side of the aisle as it is to Cessationist side EXEGETICALLY, though not ATTITUDINALY. The door has been opened to some degree from an exegetical standpoint (i.e., mild Continuationism), but there is skepticism attitudinally (i.e., practical Cessationism).
Think about this and gain perspective: the Conservative Resurgence saw conservatives calling the other bunch Liberals, which they felt was MORE ACCURATE, when they wanted to be called Moderates and the broader group calling their opponents Fundamentalists, which they felt was MORE ACCURATE, when the other bunch insisted on calling themselves Evangelicals. Similarly, is it really in any way inaccurate to call the newly expressed IMB BoT position Semi-Continuationism (or Skeptical Continuationism)? After all, their statement clearly allows for the continuation of tongues, though the application quibbles about the legitimacy of its its manifestations.
What an amazing thing? To be able to construct what they fell is a safe 'fall-back position' biblically, the IMB BoT had to slide across to a view that, exegetically, is at least equally Continuationist as it is Cessationist. Their application of their exegesis is indeed inconsistent (and tragically so for certain missions candidates). But, even if unintentionally, the exegetical ground beneath the controversy within the SBC has clearly shifted in a positive direction, just not far enough (yet).
Call me an "optimist" if you like, but I'm not a "blind optimist"--I'm a "see the big picture" optimist." Something of a significant incremental nature happened right under our eyes and, because it wasn't all some people wanted to see, they missed it completely.
Good insight from two brilliant Southern Baptist theologians.
Have a Great Weekend!