Agonizomai: 1Cor 14:12-14 - Blank Mind = Bad Theology

Friday, August 22, 2008

1Cor 14:12-14 - Blank Mind = Bad Theology

12-14 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. 13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.

In being careful to attest from scripture that Biblical tongues are always an actual earthly language, one must be careful not to denigrate the gift itself. It is a supernatural manifestation from God the Holy Spirit given to actual people in the church. It seems to be such that the people so gifted often did not themselves understand what they were saying. So they were speaking meaningful things about the glories of God in Jesus Christ in an actual language, but not with their understanding. It was for demonstrating and presenting the gospel to people from other lands - that they might hear and believe.

But it was a gift that could be used even in the company of people who were countrymen of the tongue-speaker; it could be used in the church but, as strongly pointed out by Paul, it wasn’t much use to anyone unless somebody could understand it and interpret it for everyone else - so that all might be edified. To this end Paul encouraged tongue-speakers to pray for the power to interpret themselves what they said in the foreign tongue. The alternative - absent interpretation, was to keep silent.

Now, to the question of praying in a tongue being "spirit prayer" without the engagement of the mind - we need to be careful. Christianity nowhere endorses putting the mind in neutral and going with the flow. That sort of thing has more in common with Eastern occultic mysticism. While it is true that genuine tongue-speaking was a supernatural manifestation and that it was a language often not understood by the speaker (unless he had the gift of interpretation) the thrust of Paul’s whole argument about tongues is precisely that the mind must be engaged and edified by the whole process. He is not saying "throw your mind to the wind and float in the Spirit," but rather "if the Spirit is not edifying the mind then don’t bother."

So we need to avoid falling into the trap of those who want to make verses like this tell us to blank our brains and not look for meaning. Rather, we should insist that, unless the meaning can be made plain so that the mind is informed then the practice ought not to be allowed in fellowship and worship. Only the enemy would ever have the audacity to stand God’s plain meaning here on it’s head and insist that it says the very opposite of Paul’s teaching - thereby encouraging Christians to think that lack of understanding with the mind is not only permissible, but actually desirable.


Blogger Derek Ashton said...


There's a pretty good explanation of my perspective, that of the "Reformed Charismatic," here:

It's really fascinating to read your stuff on tongues, as you make preceisely the opposite arguments from what I was formerly taught in Pentecostal circles. Today, I'm moderately charismatic but have abandoned the warped interpretations I favored as a Pentecostal.

The ranks of the Reformed Charismatics are growing, and some real heavyweights have now joined us (there are even rumors floating around about John Piper being a Charismtic Calvinist!) I find that hard to believe - I'll have to check into it.

Your comments are fair and balanced, I think. You're not insisting that the gifts can't operate today, but you're calling for an awfully strong examination and testing of any supposed use of the gift of tongues.

I'd like to hear more from you on the case for tongues being primarily a missions-oriented gift. Paul seems to say that it is acceptable to use tongues as a means of edifying the body, IF and ONLY IF there is an interpretation. To me, this indicates tongues has a purpose besides missionary work.

Perhaps you will be addressing this in a future post.

Anyway, I appreciate your writing, cessationist-leaning or not, as it is always edifying (and it's even written in a language I can understand).

Grace and Peace!

1:50 pm  
Blogger agonizomai said...

Hi Derek,

Thanks for the note and the kind comments.

I would classify Piper as a non- cessationist (or continuationist), but I doubt if he would wear the label "charismatic" because of its other connotations.

As to sign gifts operating today, I am not closed but I have to say that I have never seen it happen in any way that I considered to be Biblical. And you are right - such things need to be tested and scrutinized very closely indeed.

If believers are admonished to test everything preached (which they are) and also to test the spirits (which they are) I for one am not going to believe everything I hear and a lot of things that I see. And I am most certainly not going to automatically trust things I myself feel or sense.

What I am not saying is that miracles do not occur. They do and I know people in whose lives supernatural healing and unexplainable deliverances have happened. But there is a vast, vast difference between miracles per se and spiritual gifts whereby people are invested with a power to do supernatural things at will - or at least with a great deal of freedom and regularity.

Great claims deserve the highest possible scrutiny - and we are dupes if we don't test everything. We must not be cynics, but we must never be dupes.

As far as tongues being primarily a missions oriented gift there may be a little bit more coming, but my understanding has already been posited and correctly understood by you. I haven't really limited tongues to "missions" in the most formal sense - but in the sense that their purposes is to communicate information about Jesus Christ and the gospel in a an earthly language for the benefit of hearers who can understand it (either because it is their language, or because someone interprets it).

Stay out of the weather down there.



2:39 pm  
Blogger Derek Ashton said...

We're getting lots of wind, around 30 mph (not sure how many Km that would be). And lots of rain. But it's only a tropical storm, fairly tame compared to some of the hurricanes we get here in Florida. Other than being entertaining to watch, it's not affecting my family at all. There has been some flooding in the local area, though, and most businesses are closed today.

2:46 pm  

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