April 14, 2003 Q & A

Speaking in tongues


I was looking at the decisions of the OPC General Assembly and noticed this quote on speaking in tongues: "In 1976 the Assembly upheld a presbytery's decision to discipline a pastor who practiced the private exercise of speaking in tongues."

I would like to know, based on the Bible, how and why this pastor was disciplined for speaking in tongues. Note carefully that St. Paul said, "Forbid not speaking in tongues." Furthermore, there is no Scripture that says that the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit are not for the church of today. Can you please tell me how the Assembly made that decision to discipline that pastor? Thanks.


I can speak from experience in the appeal of a minister who announced that he spoke in tongues. I was one of those prosecuting the case before General Assembly and Presbytery. You are right in saying that the Bible doesn't forbid speaking in tongues, and even commends it (1 Cor. 14:39), but not very highly.

Why our action in 1976? Because the special gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12) were limited to the times of the apostles which ceased at the end of the apostolic age. Hebrews 2:1 & 2 says "God has ... in these last days spoken to us in His Son ..." He is the living Word (John 1:1, 14) It is noteworthy that, after Jesus ascended, the apostles did the same miracles that Jesus did (e.g. Acts 3:1-9; 9:33-42). These miracles in the name of Jesus demonstrated that the power of Christ was given to the apostles and to some, not apostles, on whom they laid their hands.

But the main reason for the OPC's 1976 action was that 1 Corinthians 14 teaches that tongues could be interpreted by another special gift. So, when genuine tongues were interpreted to the edifying of the church, they became prophecy.

Now the New Testament gift of prophecy was for the purpose of guiding the infant Christian church while the N.T. Scriptures were non-existent or incomplete. It is interesting that there were two kinds of N.T. prophecy: those writings that were Holy Spirit inspired which made up the New Testament and those which were "ad hoc" revelations ( referred to in 1 Cor. 14). The latter were as inspired, and therefore without error, as any N.T. book, but they were not recorded because their purpose was temporary and therefore not preserved for posterity.

Now the New Testament brought to the final conclusion the revelations of God to His people throughout previous ages. With the death of the last apostle, there was no more prophecy, including tongues (which were prophecy in another language). We still get illumination from the Spirit through the Word, but no new revelations of the Spirit (see the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 1, paragraph 6).

Just one more reference to Scripture: Revelation 22:18, 19 is almost at the end of the Bible. And it was probably written somewhere near 95 AD. With the death of John shortly thereafter, the age of the apostles ended. These words warning of plagues to those who added to "this book" and damnation to those who took away from it are exceedingly solemn. I do not say that these literally apply to those who profess to speak in tongues (they are not intentionally adding to the Word of God), but the passage does speak to the absolute sufficiency of Scripture as we have it.

Just one more thing: we should not expect that, to satisfy us on a particular question, God must in His Word oblige us by spelling it out explicitly in plain words. There is such a thing as good and necessary inference which must apply to such questions as, "should we baptize infants, or only adults?" There's plenty by way of inference, yet no specific command or prohibition. It's this sort of reasoning that I have advanced in the above. I hope it helps. Feel free to come back if you have further questions.



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