Friday, April 15, 2011

Speaking in tongues

Here is how Ray Fairchild blew my mind yesterday. 

In the Thursday Bible study that I teach, we are currently studying Acts.  Sometimes called "The Acts of the Apostles," it should more aptly be named, "The Acts of the Holy Spirit."  Or since it is really Luke's Gospel Part 2, it might be called, "The Further Acts of Jesus Christ."   Anyway, it is clear that the main character in Luke's story is the Holy Spirit, who is Jesus Christ/God.  In Acts, the Holy Spirit is all over the place, taking the good news of the kingdom in all directions, using this apostle, then that apostle, bringing all kinds of formerly unlikely people to salvation.  And he is doing it without a set "template".  Meanwhile the apostles are scrambling to keep up and to figure out some criteria by which they can know for sure this is God at work, because it doesn't look like the ways they expected God to work.  Sound familiar?  Sounds like most of the Bible.  Sounds like my life.

Currently in our Thursday Bible study we have reached Acts 10-11, the conversion of Cornelius and his household.  In which Peter is taken so far outside his comfort zone and asked to rethink so many of his assumptions about God.  In which we see the Holy Spirit fall upon Cornelius and his household before they even confess and are baptized. In chapter 11, Peter gets hauled to Jerusalem by James and the other Jewish believers who are appalled by what they hear.  You can imagine them gasping at almost every sentence out of Peter's mouth as the story unfolds.  (He whaaat?  They whaaat?)  The big "whaaat?" comes when Peter tells them the Holy Spirit fell and it looked exactly like it did when it happened to them in the Upper Room at Pentecost. 

After Bible study, Kim and I were talking with Ray Fairchild, our evangelism minister, about the whole Pentecost experience, especially the speaking in many tongues.  Why don't Baptists do that?  Where do charismatics get their theology for the way they practice this?  I'm not getting into that here, so calm down.

Here is an interesting thing about speaking in tongues, though, that we've learned as we've studied Acts on Thursdays.  Note this:

Acts 2:1-11
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.  Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?  Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

When the Holy Spirit fell upon the believers, they weren't just babbling nonsense.  They were speaking in the languages and dialects of all the people who were in Jerusalem for Pentecost, the culminating day of the Jewish Feast of Weeks.  The gospel of Jesus Christ was being proclaimed in a language that each person could understand—something the disciples' weren't naturally capable of. 

This is exactly what Jesus said would happen:  "You will receive power [which you don't have] when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and [then] you will be my witnesses..." 

The whole book of Acts is about getting God's message—God's story—out to all people.  In a way they can understand it.  Using whatever means the Spirit needs to use in order to do it.  Overcoming any barrier.

And this is the part about how Ray Fairchild blew my mind.  He followed me into my office after our little discussion on speaking in tongues and asked me, "When is the first time in the Bible that someone speaks in tongues?" 

I'm thinking I'm supposed to know this, but I also know Ray, so this is a trick question. The answer is not what I think it is. 

Ray smiles.  He has a twinkle in his eye.  But I am still not prepared for what he says.

"It's when the snake speaks to Eve in the garden."


I am still contemplating this idea a day later.  Unless Eve spoke "snake" (Parseltongue, for all you Harry Potter fans), then the snake spoke Eve's language.  And that is very un-natural.

Could it be that Satan uses the same strategy to get his message out?  He speaks in the language you understand best to convey his gospel, which is a no-gospel.  It is not good news.

In our Thursday Bible study, we've been learning that the Bible can be read as a series of individual stories.  This is how we learned the Bible stories as kids in Sunday School.  Noah built an ark.  David killed a giant.  Mary had a baby.  I call these "me-stories."  These are great stories, and we can learn a lot about God and people by reading them.

But the Bible is really one really big story—the God-story.  It is the story of what God has been doing across history.  It reveals to us what God wants, what he is like, how he works and what he is working toward. We call this the "metanarrative."  All the me-stories fit into the God-story.  Every me-story has more value, more purpose, makes more sense when read through the lens of the God-story.

In any story, there are characters.  There is the protagonist, the hero of our story.  Who is the protagonist of the God-story?  God.  God is the hero;  he wants something, and he is willing to overcome obstacles to get it.  What does God want?  People.  Or more specifically, a relationship with people.  He wants our hearts.  We know this because in the beginning of the story, God creates people, and they have a relationship, a harmonious relationship.  And we know it's what God wants because at the end of the story, when he wins, there is relationship restored.  When God bursts into a song of happiness at the end of the story, this is what he sings:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God." (Revelation 21:2-3)

Every story also has an antagonist, the enemy of our hero.  He also wants something and is willing to overcome obstacles to get it.  Who is the enemy in the God-story?  Satan.  And what does Satan want?  He wants to be God.  He is working to have our hearts because he doesn't want God to have them.

But in every story there is also another category of characters:  the agonists.  The agonists are caught up in the struggle between the hero and the enemy.  They feel the tug-of-war;  they take the fall-out.  You recognize that feeling, don't you?  Because who are the agonists in the God-story?  We are.  We are caught up in the conflict between God and Satan. 

It's very important that we understand that the story we are living in is the story of God vs. Satan.  Because when we live at the me-story level, we are tempted to think the plot is God vs. me.  Or perhaps me vs. my circumstances. 

Circumstances are very powerful, and I think they are a "tongue" through which Satan speaks to us his no-gospel, getting us to believe that the true story is God vs. me—that God isn't trustworthy enough to have my heart.

It's so easy to read the Pentecost story and get distracted by all the fire and wind.  We miss the point that the disciples were suddenly able to speak in tongues so that they could say in a way that every person could best hear it the news that God wanted their hearts and had gone to great lengths to get them back.

So I do not doubt that Satan will go to great lengths to speak in any tongue that might cause me to doubt this.

If I find anything in the further study of Acts that changes my mind on this, I will let you know.

P.S.  Donald Miller goes into greater detail about protagonists, antagonists and agonists in his wonderful book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  You should read it.

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