Monday, October 6, 2014

Speaking In Tongues (part 26)

However, as has been said, this rather commonplace religious practice, to this point, has been limited in its performance.  One simply did not see entire groups of people speaking in tongues.  Not only would this have been counter-productive, whether within Christian associations or other gathered groups, this would also have run afoul of the honor system and its embedded functionality for society. 

Now, one might try to take this particular point and argue that an entire church speaking in tongues would serve to uproot the standardized systems of honor and shame, as this was certainly a portion of the missional ideal of the church and the kingdom of the covenant God (the first becoming last and the last becoming first, willingly taking the lowest place, ascribing all honor to a man that had suffered the most shameful ordeal of that age), but Paul’s words do not allow for any such thinking. 

If this was truly a desired goal, Paul would not write things like “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you, but in the church I want to speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, rather than then thousand words in a tongue” (1 Corinthians 14:18-19).  Also, since Paul also goes on to write “If someone speaks in a tongue, it should be two, or at the most three, one after the other, and someone must interpret” (14:27), any such argument that speaking in tongues should encompass the entire congregation falls flat. 

It is the limited performance of tongues, and the limited number of people who spoke in this way within a society accustomed to witnessing a person engage in ecstatic speech that could be the key to understanding the whole of verse twenty-three.  Though he begins with “So if the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues,” he quickly digresses from any sense that this is going to be a positive thing by adding “and unbelievers or uninformed people enter, will they not say that you have lost your minds?” (14:23) 

Now this is not to say that the unbeliever or the uninformed should determine how Christian gatherings are conducted, but if someone in Corinth were to walk in on such an assembly, with knowledge about glossolalia, with knowledge that interpretation is a necessary feature of the practice, with knowledge that it is a limited good, and with knowledge that speaking in tongues was a component of the never-ending competition for honor, then it is quite simple to see why Paul might say such a thing. 

Unbelievers or the uninformed, not knowing that Christ-worshipers do not compete for honor in their world or in their assemblies and association as do everyone else, would see a massive honor-competition taking place.  Along with that, since glossolalia was believed to be the way that a god sometimes chose to communicate to his worshipers, presumably through one particularly devout worshiper, the unbeliever might wonder what kind of a god would need to speak in such a way through each person in an assembly? 

This immediately leads to the idea that if there were multiple people all doing the same thing at the same time, it could be presumed that there was more than one god speaking through those people, which would then run counter to the claims of the Christians there gathered.

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