The Gift of Tongues
the Great Commission
What if the gift of tongues, used by millions of Christians, has a much deeper purpose related to God's desire for a church from every nation (ethne)? The gift of tongues is useful for prayer, sure. But perhaps there is much more...
I had considered this theory years ago. But it wasn't until I recently started listening to some other languages that I realized that this is a very real possibility.
A Strategic Possibility
If you happen to speak in tongues as a prayer language, have you considered the possibility that is a "real" language spoken somewhere in the world? You may just find a close language match in the audio files referenced further down this page. Wouldn't that be cool?
It is no coincidence that Pentecost was when people from all over the world were gathered in Jerusalem. And then people spoke in tongues (unknown languages) so everyone there could understand the message. Perhaps you are already partially equipped to minister in an unfamiliar language and culture. Now wouldn't that put a twist in your plans?!!
It is a rather mind-boggling concept that all these people speaking in tongues have that gift for a much bigger purpose (in addition to being a prayer language). Does it sound too far-fetched? Have you tried it?
This actually happened at the famous Azusa Street Revival. People spoke in Chinese, Hebrew, Russian, Armenian and other languages on that occasion.
Imagine a Rather Intriguing Scenario
What if you match your "tongues" language with a language spoken somewhere in the world. You can go and share a message with them. The listeners will understand it. The "interpreter" or translator may be needed to let the speaker know what they just said. You would know God is in it because there is no way you could make it up. Now wouldn't that be an interesting story to write home about?
Perhaps the Bible verses in First Corinthians related to publicly using tongues in certain circumstances have a different meaning than the one most of us have traditionally heard. Maybe it means that speaking out loud in Farsi, for example, is only useful for the body when there are people in the audience that understand Farsi. That makes logical sense.
If there are situations where a person has a supernatural gift of interpreting other languages, it makes sense that speaking in tongues then will also be useful for the body. So my theory is in addition to the common teaching about tongues, not replacing godly teachings and practices.
What If It's True?
There is much more to being a missionary than just speaking the language. But it is certainly a very helpful start! And, to carry on a conversation, a person needs to learn to hear and understand a language too. But being familiar with the sound and rhythm is a good head start for learning.
Maybe we have millions of American Christians praying in their homes and cars and church gatherings using Arabic, Chinese, tribal languages, and many more. And most probably have no clue what language they are speaking. Why haven't we tapped this resource before?
What if we helped them match their prayer language with an ethnic group? I think at least a few Christians would find that quite interesting. And perhaps thousands would be "shocked" into being global Christians.
This possible role for the gift of tongues fits in very well with God's heart for the nations that has been communicated in the Bible over and over and over. Has anyone dared to try this? Will you?
I realize those mission agencies that ban their missionaries from even having a private prayer language will have a few "issues" with this idea. If this is God's desire, He will reveal it in the appropriate way and timing.
If this is truly what the gift of tongues is all about, boy, have we missed it!!! But we can start now. Are we brave enough, and obedient enough, to actually use the gift God has given us for what may be its primary purpose?
Copyright © 2006 Ronald G. Hedberg. All rights reserved.
The author has never been a member of a traditional charismatic church. But he does recognize the fact that spiritual gifts are exercised and miracles are happening in many of the areas where the Christian church is growing around the world.
About Speaking in Tongues
I am very aware that the mere mention of the word "tongues" stirs up many emotions and controversy for some Christian believers. This site has no desire to fully discuss the topic. That is definitely not my calling.
Most of us who have experienced speaking in tongues or heard it in action with people we respect are at peace about it. Some conclude that gift (especially) is not for today, while often embracing the idea of a spiritual gift of music or worship-leading that is never mentioned in the Bible.
Unfortunately, thousands of Christians associate the word "tongues" with some very unpleasant experiences. Some well-meaning people have concluded that even though we are a body of many parts and roles, every Christian should have the role of speaking in tongues. Some have taught that gift is necessary to indicate salvation. Some have associated the gift with a higher class of "real Christians" with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. In many ways, the use of poor theology and misunderstandings have ruined the reputation of an honorable gift God intended for great things.
So, with all that said, this article and proposal is mainly addressed to those with an objective view of the gift of tongues. And it is probably best understood by those who have heard a person speaking in an unknown language. Even among the small number of people I have heard speaking in tongues, the languages vary considerably.
Personally, I am not sure yet what language I speak. But it seems to be similar to some of the Asian languages. And I don't think it has changed over the years. My mission interest has been in the Arab world. But perhaps that will change now. I don't know. Matching a language you yourself speak with a people group is both exciting and a bit scary.
I publish this as a way to spur conversation and possibly radically change some aspects of the way we do our Christian mission. This is potentially too huge for me to remain silent.
Copyright © 2006 Ronald G. Hedberg. All rights reserved.
Match Your Language
Here are a few sites with audio messages in multiple languages:
CitySites Urban Media
Ethnic Resources - In addition to the audio, this page includes links to written resources as well e.g. the Bible, Four Spiritual Laws, evangelistic cartoons, etc. in many languages. CitySites will be adding audio messages in more languages soon.
God's Story - An 80-minute video and audio story of creation to eternity. It is available in 124 languages, hip hop too!
Global Recordings Network (Gospel Recordings)
Scripted Audio Messages - Evangelistic and teaching messages in over 3,000 languages
BBC - Hear the news in 33 languages. This isn't a Christian site. But you get fresh vocabulary every day. This is a way to get familiar with the language. And, as one of the most-respected news sources in the world, you might learn something too! Hint: Look for the triangles that might be "Play" buttons or a word resembling "radio".
Have fun exploring!
(Or a language that is similar)