"1I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue."
Personal Worship and Tailored Christianity
Christianity is interesting because of the wide variety of ways that people express their faith. This varies from denomination to denomination, and individual to individual, sometimes simply for no more reason than we are comfortable with expressing worship in different ways. I, as an often unusually quiet and contemplative person, prefer old hymns to modern Christian songs, whilst others are quite the opposite. Some prefer expositional preaching, others topical.
Unfortunately however these differences are all too often the cause of great dispute, with modern Christians often expecting a 'tailored' Christianity. However, these disputes based upon this expectation rarely lead to anything that really benefits the kingdom of God.
Speaking in Tongues is Good
As an example, one particular issue I have been exposed to throughout my life is speaking in tongues. Some see it as essential to the faith, others as redundant, with many more sitting somewhere in between. I have even been aware of some people leaving churches in recent days because they did not believe there was sufficient speaking in tongues. These kinds of debates were also apparent in the early Church, as shown by Paul's teachings in 1 Corinthians 14 verses 2-5.
"For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified."
Here Paul makes it clear that speaking in tongues is one way that we can speak to God, and that it brings personal edification. Paul himself is grateful that he speaks in tongues, "I thank God that I speak in tongues more than any of you." (v18). He is quick to point out however that there are things greater than speaking in tongues, in this case prophecy.
In verses 23-25 Paul gives a relevant example: if a whole church is filled with everyone speaking in tongues, what would be the benefit to a visiting unbeliever? But if a church is filled with prophecy "...they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare."
Loving Another is More Important
Here Paul emphasises something that churches should really focus on: edification of the church, and the conviction of unbelievers. Prophecy is an inspired word of God to believers and unbelievers alike. The difference here between speaking in tongues and prophesy obviously is not about right or wrong (they are both right). The difference lies in that speaking in tongues is personal, and prophesy is relational. The essentialness of relationship over personal preference or ability is emphasised in 1 Corinthians 13 verses 1 – 3.
"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing."
The Most Important of All
As members of the Church we should focus on activities that best to help the body grow, rather than enter into debate and distractions that create division. We should never let personal preferences or beliefs get in the way of our or the churches ability to love others.
The issue isn't really about speaking in tongues, or what kind of worship is best however. The crux of the issue is: are we loving each other? Are our debates self-focused, or focused on the greater glorification of Christ, or loving others? For without love for others we have nothing.
Nathanael Yates from Perth, Western Australia, is an award winning young scientist completing a PhD in the neurobiology of schizophrenia
Nathanael Yates' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/nathanael-yates.html