Everyone can speak in tongues! (kind of)

The church is full of those who won’t touch glossolalia with a ten foot pole. Sometimes it’s a twenty foot pole. The apostle Paul asks, “Do all speak in tongues?”, with the rhetorical answer being of course, “No”. And of course some do not. A position that states that NOBODY can is hokey. The traditional pentecostal position that everyone MUST I also find equally hokey. But listen to what Merton has to say about praying to God in words that cannot be uttered:

When what we say is meant for no one else but Him, it can hardly be said in language. What is not meant to be related is not even experienced on a level that can be clearly analyzed. We know that it must not be told, because it cannot. But before we come to that which is unspeakable and unthinkable, the spirit hovers on the frontiers of language, wondering whether or not to stay on its own side of the border, in order to have something to bring back to other men. This is the test of those who wish to cross the frontier. If they are not ready to leave their own ideas and their own words behind them, they cannot travel further.

-Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, Ch.16 Sec.2

Pentecostals would call this a “personal prayer language”. Some scoff at the term, but I think it’s not too problematic. Other traditions acknowledge this very phenomenon, they just don’t classify it as tongues proper.

I believe that if you use the above definition (what Merton is talking about), any Christian with a prayer life and in some level of personal communion with the holy spirit actually can, and does speak in tongues. It might be inaudible. It’s not meant for anyone but the Lord anyway. Taking these “words”, raising the volume and making it a membership requirement (as it is in the Assemby of God, Foursquare, and other denominations) in my opinion misses the point and is unnecessarily exclusive.

On the other hand, I am not a cessastionist. I think speaking on tongues (of the out-loud corporate variety) is still a very possible spiritual gift that God may choose to give someone. If he/she has received, then they should speak. But if we’re talking about the unutterable words of communion between us and God himself, that is actually something else. Confusing these two has been, I believe, a major source of chaos and misunderstanding between Christian traditions in the past century.

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