As someone who loves and works alongside many charismatic brothers, I am frequently asked by my cessationist brethren: What is the best way to prove to charismatics that the gift of tongues has ceased? I believe the question is ill-formed and often creates division instead of unity in truth. So here is my quick answer:
But first, a list of things NOT to do:
a. Do not be haughty, but rather humble (Eph. 4:1-3). This probably goes without saying, but it’s a good reminder nonetheless. Do not speak down to a brother, but rather love him as yourself, speaking truth with kindness and gentleness. Of course, if you are speaking to a Oneness Pentecostal who denies the Trinity, or someone else who is not a believer, they need the Gospel, not cessationism, but even that should come with gentleness (2 Tim. 2:25).
b. Do not judge someone else’s experience. Let the Bible do that. Just encourage them to submit their lives to Scripture, including their own experience. Regarding a completely different experience, I remember the moment that I decided I was tired of my sin. I sought God out at a church, went to the front and decided to give Him my life, pledging Him my love forever. I also remember the first time one of those “terribly close-minded Calvinists who slaughtered my Mennonite ancestors” gently came alongside me, wept with me in my sorrows, rejoiced with me in my victories, and patiently showed me that no one seeks God (Rom. 3:11), and that if I loved Him, it’s because He loved me first (1 Jn 4:19). I was then the one the Holy Spirit then opened my eyes to see that my experiences needed to be interpreted by Scripture and not the other way around, understanding that I needed to attack my arrogant pride in thinking that I had contributed something to my own regeneration. To God be the glory.
c. Do not try to condense a 30 hour lecture series into 10 minutes. Of course, if you are a seminary professor and teach a class on cessationism, great. However, if you only have 10 minutes to speak to a lay person, probably being interrupted by your children amongst other distractions, your attempt to explain the middle voice of a verb in 1 Corinthians 13:8 will most likely only prove in their minds that you are the one going against the Scriptures, forbidding something it clearly instructs the Church to do (1 Cor. 14:39). In fact, you’ll probably appear to be much like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, jumping from Ephesians 2:20 to Hebrews 2:4 to 2 Corinthians 12:12 just like they speak without giving time to process the context.
Instead, I would recommend you open your Bible to 1 Corinthians 14:27 and encourage your tongues’ speaking friend to exercise his ‘tongues’ exactly, and exclusively, as Paul instructs. Three simple points:
1. A maximum of three people can speak in tongues during a church service. Pretty hard to interpret this truth differently, the verse says “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three…” So if four people speak in tongues at a church service, at least the fourth person sinned.
2. One tongues’ speaker at a time. Verse 27 continues: “…and each in turn…” If multiple people are speaking in tongues simultaneously, they are all culpable.
3. All tongues’ speakers (Max. of three and in turn) must be translated. Again, the command is clear: “and let someone interpret.” The next verse make the point even more emphatic: “But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church…” (1 Cor. 14:28).
I usually pause at this point to make a bit of application, knowing that my time might be cut short.
What are the implications of these three points? If you walk into a church and more than three people are speaking in tongues, what does this mean? What if more than one speaks simultaneously? What if one speaks without translation? Sin is obviously implied, but what more?
First, let’s assume with the charismatics and with Paul that the biblical tongues’ speaker was not moving his own tongue, since he did not even understand what he was saying (Thus the need for translation). The Holy Spirit was the one uttering mysteries (1 Cor. 14:2, 14). Now, today¹, if four people speak in Biblical tongues at a service, or two at a time, or one without translation, then the deity of the Holy Spirit is suspect, because He has enabled a Christian to speak in tongues in direct contradiction to His own revealed Word. You see, if the Holy Spirit moves a believer to speak in tongues in direct disobedience to the Bible, He has forced His own child to sin.
This verse, then, 1 Corinthians 14:27, has ample material to cause charismatics to meditate and ask themselves some questions about what they see and do. If so, hopefully they’ll ask us those questions… that’s what we’ll prepare for tomorrow, looking at three more clear instructions from 1 Corinthians 14 and their implications for us today.
Footnote 1: In Acts 2:1-4 the Spirit moved more than three believers to speak in tongues simultaneously and without translation. We’ll deal with the why tomorrow, for today I believe it is sufficient to mention that these events occurred well before the commands of 1 Corinthians 14. Furthermore, it’s hard to argue that they were in a Spirit-filled New Testament Church service (requirement to disobey 1 Cor. 14:27) before the Spirit had filled them.