Sunday, 23 May 2010


An interesting thought from "an unknown African writer from the sixth century" yesterday. Why is the gift of tongues not common among Christians as it was in the early days of the Church? Or, put another way, why do Pentecostals spout gibberish rather than becoming missionaries and speaking spontaneous Swahili?

The answer of this writer is that tongues is not just a private prayer language, much less a cool party trick, but a sign of the Church's catholicity. At the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Church was catholic and spoke all the languages of the nations. But at that point its membership was quite small, entirely Jewish and all native to Palestine. Yet that group, even given their particularity, was catholic and, through the Holy Spirit, not bound by that particularity. On Pentecost morning, a small group of Palestinian Jews encompassed the nations. In an instant, they were made participants in the divine nature, the love and life of very God roared into them and the new human race, whose head is Christ, was confected and begun. And that race is much bigger than Palestine or the Jewish people or any language and culture. It includes and enfolds them all and may be expressed equally in any.

Here is why the other instance of the gift of tongues in the Acts comes precisely at that moment when the full extent of the Church is made clear, and Gentiles are welcomed into the kingdom. Once again, tongues serves as a sign of the Church's catholicity, vindicating the faith of Cornelius and demonstrating to Peter how truly universal the Lord intends His Church to be, beyond anything that Peter himself had expected.

So why does no one speak in tongues now? This unknown African tells us. "While a single man [then], if he received the Holy Spirit, could speak in every tongue, now the one Church in its unity, which is established by the Holy Spirit, speaks in every tongue. So if anyone says to one of us, 'You have received the Holy Spirit; why do you not speak in tongues?', he should reply, 'I do speak in every tongue. For I am in the Body of Christ, the Church, which speaks in every tongue. For what did God signify by the presence of the Holy Spirit if it was not that His Church would speak in every tongue?'"

No comments: