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FAITH: Do you possess the gift of glossolalia?
Speaking in a language you have never learned is a phenomenon called glossolalia.
Christians just call it speaking in tongues and it is something practised primarily in Pentecostal churches.
Speaking in tongues is one of the variety of gifts of the Holy Spirit (other gifts include healing, prophesying, evangelizing, hospitality, teaching and interpretation of tongues).
Pentecostal teaching asserts that speaking in tongues is a gift from God that is evidence a believer has received the Holy Spirit.
It is controversial, partly because it is so unusual and, in my opinion, because it is a misused gift.
The first evidence of speaking in tongues is found in the book of Acts.
Jesus had promised that, after his resurrection, he would send a “helper” (the Holy Spirit) to aid those who believed in him.
The day that occurred was the day of Pentecost, when all believers were gathered together:
“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting . . . All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”
What was very remarkable about this event is that there were many devout Jews from all over the Roman Empire visiting Jerusalem for the Passover.
Each one heard the tongues’ speakers praising God in their particular language (the passage identifies 15 languages).
As Paul writes later, tongues are a sign for unbelievers, specifically to impress upon them that God is able to speak directly to them, in a miraculous way, in their own language.
A number of Catholic saints and mystics spoke in tongues.
John of Avila, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Ignatius Loyola all reported the experience.
One of the more prominent examples was St. Vincent Ferrer, a Spanish friar ministering in Genoa, Italy in 1350.
As a major trading city, there were people from many different countries.
Dozens testified he spoke in their particular language, but Vincent told a board of inquiry that he only spoke the Spanish dialect of Valencian, as well as Latin and a little Hebrew.
If people heard him preach in their language, he said, it was a miracle of God.
The Apostle Paul warned against forbidding the use of tongues, but was critical of the misuse of the gift.
Apparently, worshippers in the Corinthian church were speaking in tongues en masse and no interpretation of what was being said was provided.
To a visitor, it would have sounded like chaos and craziness.
Paul writes: “So, if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?”
Essentially, Paul was insisting caution be exercised in the use of this gift and that it was far better that a clear, understandable message be given, rather than a cacophony of babbling.
“If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church . . . God is not a God of disorder, but of peace.”
I was a member of a Pentecostal church for five years and have occasionally attended services at other Pentecostal churches.
In my recollection, tongues were spoken on almost every occasion, but not once did a different person interpret what was said.
In other words, what Paul specifically warned against is common practice.
There is a not-so-subtle pressure to speak in tongues when one attends a Pentecostal church.
At one point, I fasted, sincerely prayed and met privately with the pastor to receive this gift.
It didn’t happen.
I have spiritual gifts, but I clearly wasn’t intended to have that one.
Speaking in tongues is a gift of the Holy Spirit, a blessing for those who have received it, and is present to this day — but, as Paul said, it is the least important of all the gifts.
Those who have this gift tend to congregate together, where their gift is considered normal and encouraged, because, in almost every other Christian denomination, it is almost never practised or just considered weird.
But, why is it that no one (at least in my experience) has the gift of interpretation of tongues?
People can’t interpret if everyone talks at once.
In effect, the Holy Spirit is “quenched” because those with the gift of interpretation are not given the opportunity to exercise it.
The bottom line is that much incomprehensible speech is spoken and no one is edified by it.
This is not right.
If people wish to exercise the gift of tongues in church, it should be as the Apostle Paul directed.