I have come to the end of my comments on the gifts of the Spirit.
Since November 5, I have written on the gifts that God gives us, gifts that are given through the Holy Spirit. Most of the gifts are skills and abilities that God has chosen to give us; skills and abilities that we can choose to use of not. But each gift He gives is His way of furthering His kingdom through us.
Some gifts are “sign” gifts, like healing, miracles and prophecy. The idea is that if you can heal a person, that is a “sign” that you have a special gift from God.
The last gift I will comment on is a sign gift; it is the sign gift of tongues.
This is a controversial gift; some Christians have strong doubts that people speaking glossolalia or speaking in tongues is real. I don’t know if it is meaningful, but Pastor Graham devotes more pages to this sign gift than any other gift in his book The Holy Spirit.
From my personal experiences, I have thought about this phenomenon for many years. When I gave my life to Christ, I had a pastor from a “non-denominational”* church reach out to me and counsel me. He never tried to get me to come to his church but I visited there quite a few times. Glossolalia was often a part of the worship service as the pastor [or visiting pastors] would drop into tongues as part of the sermon.
On one instance at that church, I was surrounded by several members as they were praying for me as a group. I listened to their words and some of their prayers were in a language I did not know [later finding out that several members were praying to the Lord in tongues].
I had a very good friend who belonged to an African-American congregation and her church has always had regular episodes of people speaking in tongues. Once I asked her if she ever had that experience and I found her answer enlightening: “I always was so aware of my communication that I never felt the gift. I was always too worried about not really feeling the Spirit. I always wondered if it would be real for me.”
I used to watch the television evangelist Joyce Meyer every morning. When I was a beginning Christian, her messages were appealing. She explained the basics of the Christian experience in language that was straight-forward, very easy to understand. I became a fan of her ministry. In the late nineteen-eighties, her ministry came to Nashville, Tennessee and my wife and I attended her evangelistic rally. I remember her talking about tongues as part of her presentation and I could tell that those in attendance were very familiar with this phenomenon. I will never forget one part of her presentation when she called on the audience to respond in tongues and many of them did. We were sitting on the upper deck of a large arena and as people began to speak, their sound was musical, like nothing I had ever heard before.
The church I attend is a Methodist Church, St. John United Methodist Church in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Since becoming a member about twenty-three years ago I have never heard anyone speak in tongues. That is not to say that admission of this religious practice is not acknowledged in the church. It is. The logo of the United Methodist Church was adopted shortly after the merger of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church; it relates The United Methodist church to God through Christ (cross) and the Holy Spirit (flame).**
The flame in the logo is a reminder of Pentecost when witnesses were unified by the power of the Holy Spirit and saw “tongues, as of fire” [Acts 2:3] but the two tongues of a single flame may represent the union of two denominations into the United Methodist Church.
The Methodist Church has a history of glossolalia in its worship service. In the mid-eighteenth century a “Great Awakening” occurred throughout Britain and the Thirteen Colonies. This series of revivals in protestant churches often resulted in many manifestations of the Holy Spirit [including tongues]. The Second Great Awakening occurred in America in the 19th century. Revival services were characterized as enthusiastic and emotional. This was in opposition to the rationalism of the period known as the “Enlightenment” which gripped learned society. Many denominations (including the Methodist Church) enrolled millions of members at this time. It is a well-known fact that the Holy Spirit fell on many worshippers at this time and they displayed speaking in tongues.
Before we get to the comments on the sign gift of tongues by Pastor Graham, I wanted to acknowledge that I have had experience and knowledge of speaking in tongues for many years.
As I wrote in the beginning of this post, many Christians have serious doubts about the authenticity of this. I am not one of those. I think some people have this gift, even though I don’t think I have ever manifested it in my life. Maybe I am like my African-American friend; I am too aware of my communication for it to come upon me. My mind gets in the way.
I do believe that God would not give man or woman something that would cause people to be excluded due to not having a gift. In my personal belief, some people have this gift while others do not. It is wonderful for those who have it and I take it on faith that this special gift from God is real.
For the rest of us, we don’t have it, but we should not be concerned.
God loves us all the same.
*Pentecostal or charismatic church…this denomination does not really identify their affiliation with any denomination.