Saturday, August 18, 2007


One of the most common objections I receive from Charismatic Christians when speaking about what tongues is and isn't according to the Bible, is that they have "experienced" a private prayer language, so I cannot tell them that it is wrong and unbiblical because they have "experienced it."

This brings us to the question of ultimate authority. What is the Christians ultimate authority? Is my ultimate authority God and His word, or is my ultimate authority my personal experience? I would think that any real Christian would be ashamed to say "my personal experience is my ultimate authority."

However, even though you'd be hard pressed to find someone willing to admit this, many people act as thought their experience was their final authority. They judge and interpret the Scripture based off of what they've experienced rather than let Scripture judge whether or not their experience is valid.

Such presuppositions lead to false conclusions about what Scripture is or isn't teaching. This is not simply a charismatic issue actually. Many Christians are guilty of doing this regardless of their ecclesiastical background. I'll use the example of Alcohol.

Many Christians consider drinking alcohol a sin, period. Therefore whenever Jesus is said to drink wine, they conclude that it is merely grape juice. This may sound ridiculous to some people, but I know people do it. Their personal convictions regarding alcohol are so strong that they allow their own experience or view point to be the final authority. The truth is that Scripture condemns drunkenness, but not drinking alcohol altogether.

We could list many examples of how Christians can be guilty of letting their own experiences and convictions be their final authority, the point is clear however, we cannot allow this to be so.

Charismatic Christianity has placed such a heavy emphasis on the "experiential" side of things, that the objective word of God is often shuffled to the back. The Bible is very clear about what the gift of tongues is and isn't. But even if you want to contend for a private prayer language, you must do so on the basis of Scripture, if you cannot then you do not have a leg on which to stand.

I've no doubt whatsoever that people have "experienced" powerful, emotional things in their prayer life and worship services. Nonetheless, all experiences should still be subjected to God's word. Should an angel appear to you and tell you to follow another gospel, it may be a real experience, but it stands condemned by God's word according to Galatians 1.

That is an extreme example of course, but should not things like being "slain in the Spirit" and "speaking in a private prayer language" undergo the same Biblical test, regardless of the fact that one may have experienced something. There are many experiences in life that are real but not of God.

So which do you choose to rely on when deciding if something is true and valid to practice as a Christian? Your subjective experience, or God's objective truth?



Jason said...

I have a stepfather who is Catholic. He will argue about Marian dogma based on the experience that many claimed to have at Fatima. The discussion forces us into one of two camps:

- The RC church is right and there is some authority beyond Scripture

- The Reformed theology is right. However, this means that we need to come up with explanations.

My 1 Corinthians professor is a cessationist, but he made the point that the burden of proof is on the cessationist. It is hard to argue with people's experiences. Perhaps the first thing we need to address is whether all seemingly spiritual, godly experiences are of God? You made a good point with your extreme example from Gal 1.

ianmcn said...

I think you're absolutely right about people often making their experiences the final authority above the word. However, as a charismatic myself - I would argue that cessationists do exactly what you describe with the wine issue. It is more convenient and easier to believe that supernatural signs and wonders have ceased; you don't have to deal with flaky charismaniacs (we're not all little Benny Hinns!), you don't have to deal with questions such as why God doesn't always heal (because he never does!) and the weird stuff in 1 Corintians you can tear right out your bible!

I don't base my charismatic theology on experience primarily, I base it on what I read in the word. There are bound to be plenty of charismatics that do base their theology on their experiences (I know some!) but as you correctly flagged up in your post, it's not a problem exclusive to charismatics - even though it tends to be them that get accused of it the most!

risen_soul said...


some good thoughts. I think one could argue the burden of proof is really a two way street.

Regardless of whether you hold to Sola Scriptura, as I do, an experience should certainly not stand in opposition to the teaching of God's word. This was the main point that I was making.


I myself am a former charismatic and I do know first hand that experiential theology is a serious problem in the charismatic church. However I do recognize that not everyone who claims the title "charismatic" is a Benny Hinn... thank goodness for that.

You are right that many people on the cessasionist side are guilty of commiting the same falacy on certain issues. However, I disagree that cessasionists are simply cessasionist because of convenience.

I myself take a position that I feel is firmly rooted in Scripture. I also leave God room to do miracles, and I believe He does them all the time. I simply argue that God does not give regulatory gifts of tongues, healings and miracles as He once did. This is not to say that God cannot and does not heal people when it is according to His will. It does not mean that God could not enable a missionary to speak in a foreign language that he does not usually know, so that that the gospel may be proclaimed. I do not limit God. But I believe His word teaches that the "sign" gifts have ceased to be given as regulatory spiritual gifts, whereas other like the gift of teaching, evangelism, etc.. continue on.

My serious issue, however, is with so called "Private Prayer Languages." I do not believe this is a real gift from God for today or in the N.T. times. That was not the purpose of the gift. This is an eronious, and bad interpretation of Scripture and should not be practiced because it is by nature contrary to the purpose of Spiritual gifts, to build up the church.

That's my position and I've argued it from Scripture here on this site and my apologetics home site if you want to read the argument that deals with 1 Cor. 12-14 as well as various texts from Acts and Romans.


ianmcn said...

Hi Jacob
Thanks for your friendly response. I have one question though, that I've always wanted an answer from a cessationist on: Cessationists tend to have a very high view of scripture, as it seems you do. However, how do verses such as "earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy" or "Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy." in 1 Corinthians have any authority over a cessationist? Is there any reason for verses like those even being in your bible?

risen_soul said...


You ask an interesting question. First, I believe that every part of the Bible is God's inerrant word. Therefore I believe that Paul was speaking from God when he wrote about desiring spiritual gifts "especially" prophecy. And I believe the same about when Paul say that he wishes that all spoke in tongues.

I have no problem with those Scriptures and they deserve our attention as much as any other part of the Bible.

That said, we must remember that while the Scripture most certainly is valid an applies to our lives today, it also has a historical context. What I mean is, this letter as I'm sure you know was originally written to the church or Corinth, during the time of the apostles (another obvious statement I know).

However these obvious statements have a purpose. When we read Scripture we have to remember the context that they were written in. I believe firmly that during the time 1 Corinthians was written to it original audience that these things Paul said about earnestly desiring the spiritual gifts, especailly prophecy, and how he wishes that they would all speak in tongues, were absolutely applicable to whom he was speaking. And if God gave the gifts of prophecy and tongues and so on today, it would apply to us also.

However, as I have stated, I do not believe that God gives these gifts today, so therefore in that sense, no I don't believe that these verses you mentioned in particularhave a real impact for the believer today. That is not to say that they are unimportant, nor to say that there isn't a lot that does apply to us today in 1 Cor. 12-14, I believe there is.

Furthermore, Christians who do believe that God is still giving the gift of tongues and miracles, etc... should pay serious attention to these chapters in how and what they practice regarding these gifts.

To many charismatic churches take no notice of such things like where there are rules of how many should speak in a tongue during a worship service, no more than two or three, and each in his own turn. Certainly not everyone and certainly not all at once. Furthermore there is to be an interpreter, so that the entire church can benefit.

These are things that are generally ignored by many charismatic churches and Christians.

And the practice of "prayer languages" is not found in Scripture anywhere, it's an interpretation that is taken out of the context of the surrounding Scripture.

So that is my position. Just as there are verse that are God's word and important in the Old Testament concerning Mosaic law that we no longer follow, for Biblical reasons, so I believe that these verses are no longer applicable to the church because as God no longer requires that we follow the law in the same way the Jews did, I don't believe God gives those gifts anymore and so we are not required to follow those verses. But for the one who believes that those gifts are still in practice, they had better follow those verses because if they are right, then those verses do indeed apply today.

Make sense?


Anonymous said...

What an absolute contradiction to everything you have stated in your blog..."I simply argue that God does not give regulatory gifts of tongues, healings and miracles as He once did. "

I am curious where this is backed in scripture? When did "the gifts" go away?

risen_soul said...

1 Corinthians 13:8 tells us that "languages will cease." I reccommend you read John MacArthur's commentary on this verse, he articulates better than I the position that I agree with about the ceasing of the gift of tongues. But there ya go, from Scripture, says it will cease.

When? Well I would say that since it was a sign given for the spread and validation of the gospel message from the apostles and other disciples of the first century I would say that it probably died out with the apostolic era.

Mind you I'm willing to be shown by Scripture where I'm wrong, but since I've yet to meet one person who has ever demonstrated the genuine gift of "glossa" I think that the understanding of tongues ceasing with the apostolic era is both Biblical and logical. What is commonly called tongues today in no way reflect what the Bible clearly demonstrates as the genuine gift of languages.

If the gift continues today then why do missionaries have to train in foreign languages before they go to wherever they are going? Where are the peopl with this gift? Why don't people who get saved in non charismatic churches receive this gift? It's because the genuine gift ceased and what people do today is in no way remotely what the Bible talks about.

But show me a person who has this gift and I'll change my mind.