Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Tongues, Cessationism, and the Charismatic Movement (Part 1)

For the first 19-20-odd years of my life, I grew up in the Pentecostal denomination, as a part of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. I learned all about the charismatic gifts (the ones listed in 1 Corinthians 12: Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, Healing, Working Miracles, Prophecy, Discernment of Spirits, Tongues, and the Interpretation of Tongues). This basically is the distinctive focus of the Pentecostal denominations, right from the start. In the early 1900's, a group of Methodists had done a Bible Study on these gifts, and spent time in prayer seeking them. God answered them, and their church on Azuza St. in California became the birthplace of modern-day Pentecostalism. Other denominations, such as the Anglicans, have "Charismatic Movements" within their ranks (the Anglican charismatic movement began in the 50's). Catholicism also has a Charismatic Movement, which officially began in the 60's, but historically, Catholicism never officially forsook these miraculous things--so while the Charismatic Movement in Catholicism seeks to reemphasise them, it exists within Catholicism perhaps more comfortably.

Why is there a need for these movements at all? Historically, the Church has always been open to the spiritual and the supernatural. Even though he's the villain of the movie, the evil Bishop of Aquila says it well in LadyHawke: "I believe in miracles, Gaston. It's my job." The Catholic Church has never declared that certain manifestations of God's power have ceased, though perhaps for various reasons, they have been more or less frequent.

However, at the time of the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers needed to deny the authority of the Church. Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide went only so far, but when a Church that had miraculous encounters and occurrences was to be discarded, one of necessity had to explain away those miraculous events, or deny them somehow.

That this tension existed is evident from the tracts published by St. Francis de Sales, who, during the Reformation, was able to convert more than 50,000 Protestants back to the Catholic Church. One of his arguments was an appeal to the miracles that occurred within Catholicism:


THE Church then has milk and honey under her tongue and in her heart, which is interior sanctity, and which we cannot see: she is richly light with a fair robe, beautifully bordered with varieties, which are her exterior sanctities, which can be seen. But because the sects and heresies disguise their clothing, and by false stuffs make them look like hers, she has, besides that, perfumes and odours which are her own, and these are certain signs and shinings of her sanctity, which are so peculiarly hers, that no other society can boast of having them, particularly in our age.

For, first, she shines in miracles, which are a most sweet odour and perfume, and are express signs of the presence of the immortal God with her, as S. Augustine styles them. And, indeed, when Our Lord quitted this world he promised that the Church should be filled with miracles: These signs, he said, shall follow them that believe: in my name they shall cast out devils, they shall speak with new tongues, they shall take up serpents, poison shall not hurt them, and by the imposition of hands they shall heal the sick. (Mark 16:17-18).

Consider, I pray you, these words closely. (1) He does not say that the Apostles only would work these miracles, but simply, those who believe; (2) he does not say that every believer in particular would work miracles, but that those who believe will be followed by these signs: (3) he does not say it was only for them--ten or twenty years--but simply that miracles will follow them that believe. Our Lord, then, speaks to the Apostles only, but not for the Apostles only; he speaks of the faithful; of the body and general congregation...of the Church; he speaks absolutely, without limitation of time; let us take his holy words in the extent which Our Lord has given them. The believers are in the Church, the believers are followed by miracles, therefore in the Church there are miracles: there are believers in all times, the believers are followed by miracles, therefore in all times there are miracles.

But let us examine a little why the power of miracles was left in the Church. There is no doubt it was to confirm the Gospel preaching; for S. Mark so testifies, and S. Paul, who says that God gave testimony by miracles to the faith which they announced (I Cor. 2:4). God placed these instruments in the hand of Moses, that he might be believed: wherefore Our Lord said that if he had not done miracles the Jews would not have been obliged to believe him. Well now, must not the Church ever fight with infidelity?--and why then would you take away from her this good stick which God has put into her hand? I am well aware that she has not so much need of it as at the beginning; now that the holy plant of the faith has taken firm and good root, one need not water it so often; but, all the same, to wish to have the effect altogether taken away, the necessity and cause remaining intact, is poor philosophy.

Besides, I beg you to show me at what period the visible Church may have been without miracles, from the time that it began until this present? In the time of the Apostles there were miracles beyond number; you know that well. After that time, who knows not the miracles, related by Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, worked by the prayers of the legion of Christian soldiers who were in his army, which on this account was called thundering? Who knows not the miracles of S. Gregory Thaumaturgus, S. Martin, S. Anthony, S. Nicholas, S. Hilarion, and the wonders concerning Theodosius and Constantine, for which we have authors of irreproachable authority--Eusebius, Rufinus, S. Jerome, Basil, Sulpicius, Athanasius? Who knows not again what happened at the Invention of the Holy Cross, and in the time of Julian the Apostate? In the time of SS. Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, many miracles were seen, which they themselves relate why then would you have the same Church now cease from miracles? What reason would there be? In truth, what we have always seen, in all varieties of times, accompanying the Church, we cannot do otherwise than call a property of the Church.

The true Church then makes her sanctity appear by miracles. And if God made so admirable the Propitiatory, and his Sinai, and his Burning Bush, because he wished to speak with men, why shall he not have made miraculous this his Church in which he wills to dwell for ever?
This tract of St. Francis speaks directly to counter the Calvinist doctrine of "Cessationism", which taught that miracles had ceased with the death of the Apostles, or else with the finishing of the writing of the New Testament. But since, as St. Francis points out, miracles were recorded and attested to by reliable witnesses, on what do the Cessationists base their claim?

Recently, on his blog, To Die Is Gain, Jacob Allee (my opponent in the series of debates on Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura--the link is to the concluding post on this blog) posted an article by Lehman Strauss , Litt.D., F.R.G.S., outlining the Calvinist position on the matter. While Mr. Allee has stated that he does not agree with everything in the article, he still has deemed it a scholarly description of the truth of the cessationist opinion, particularly regarding the question of Speaking in Tongues.

Dr. Strauss seems throughout his essay to be countering a doctrinal stance similar to (though possibly more extreme) what I used to believe as a Pentecostal. In fact, I agree with several of his points, as I ultimately left Pentecostalism over similar issues (though I never went so far as to believe cessationism--having personally experienced tongues, prophecy, miracles, and many of the other gifts).

As such, I will reproduce Dr. Strauss' essay here, and, as is my wont, will comment throughout, giving the Catholic understanding of this subject. Strauss' essay will be, again as usual, in blue, and my responses in white. I had originally intended to publish this in one part, but Strauss' essay was longer than I realised, and the total article is 28.5 pages long in MS Word!


This is not the final chapter to be written on the subject of speaking in tongues.

Certainly not, condsidering that I am here writing what could be termed "the next chapter". However, Dr. Strauss' "chapter" is hardly anything new--nor has he added much to the discussion. It is, it seems, a carbon-copy of the traditional Calvinist Cessationist canard.

Men (and women) will be having their say until our Lord returns to settle this matter once and for all time.

This again highlights the problem when Protestants reject an authoritative Tradition--doctrinal relativism and uncertainty. Protestants might say that the issue of Tongues and other Spiritual Gifts is rather peripheral to our salvation, but think about it for just a second: if these gifts are false, then tongues-speakers are either making stuff up, or worse, being influenced by demonic spirits. If, on the other hand, the Charismatic Gifts are genuine, then denying them could possibly put one in a position of grieving the Holy Spirit, and indeed, calling evil good and good evil.

It is difficult to say how, when and where the modern tongues movement began.

Protestantly-speaking, the "modern tongues movement" began shortly before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Azuza St. in the early part of last century. Catholicly speaking, the "modern tongues movement" is simply a reemphasis on an aspect of the Church that has never left.

In the many pamphlets and books I have examined opinions differ. We do know that the phenomenon of tongues-speaking is widespread, and it is likely that no issue in Christendom has caused as wide a split in its ranks in modern times as has speaking in tongues.

This is true, but again, in the absense of a final Authority and in the presence of many abuses, this is not surprising. However, tongues themselves are not the problem, as they originate from God. The problem is in our misuse of them, and rejection of sound teaching. Saying that speaking in tongues has caused more division in modern times than anything else is also a little misleading. When one examines the "Worship Wars" within evangelical Christianity, as well as theological liberalism vs. conservatism, as well as many others, we see that splits are rampant within Protestantism. This is not the fault of tongues, or worship, or theology. Ultimately, I would trace the problem of sectarianism back to the source doctrines of the Reformation--particularly Sola Scriptura.

All Bible-believing Christians who study the Word of God are in agreement that the gift of tongues is present in the inspired Scriptures. In the New Testament two lists of gifts appear in which the gift of tongues is included. In I Corinthians 12:8-11 "kinds of tongues" and "the interpretation of tongues" are said to be sovereignly bestowed gifts of the Holy Spirit. In I Corinthians 12:28-30 "tongues" appears in the list of gifts. We call them "spiritual gifts" from the Greek word charisma, suggesting that the gift is a bestowment of God's grace. It is not a natural ability that one might develop, but rather a special gift as those appearing in the above mentioned passages in First Corinthians.

Absolutely. Amen.

The Holy Spirit is sovereign in the distribution of these gifts. Following the listing of the gifts, Paul adds, "But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will" (I Corinthians 12:11). No one person has all the gifts, nor are we to seek the gifts.

"Make love your aim; but be eager, too, for spiritual gifts, and especially for prophesying" (1 Corinthians 14:1). Sounds like we should seek the gifts, doesn't it? Now, being eager for and seeking could be understood as different things. Yet, here is what the Greek (zeloo) means, according to Thayer's Lexicon:
1) to burn with zeal
a) to be heated or to boil with envy, hatred, anger
..1) in a good sense, to be zealous in the pursuit of good
b) to desire earnestly, pursue
..1) to desire one earnestly, to strive after, busy one's self about him
..2) to exert one's self for one (that he may not be torn from me)
..3) to be the object of the zeal of others, to be zealously sought after
c) to envy
It is specifically Definition (b) that Thayer identifies with 1 Corinthians 14:1, so that the verse could be renedered "Make love your aim, but be eager for, desire earnestly, and pursue spiritual gifts, and especially for prophesying." As such, Dr. Strauss' assertion that we should not seek these gifts is contrary to the Word of God.

Dr. Strauss could mean that we should not seek to have all the gifts, based on the context of his statement. But this is not what he said. Even if this were what he meant, we still have St. Paul's injunction to the Church to desire to prophesy. Seeking Spiritual Gifts does not mean that we will get them. But God's sovereignty in bestowing some on one and others on another does not mean that we should not be seeking them at all, nor seeking to be used by God in whichever spiritual gift is most advantageous for the Church in a particular incident.

We must be careful that we do not confuse the Spirit as a gift to the believer with the gifts the Spirit gives to believers. Every believer has received the gift of the Spirit, but not every believer has received the gifts which the Spirit bestows.

This is quite true.

(Go to Part 2.)
(Category: Miscellaneous.)


Hidden One said...

"After that time, who knows not the miracles, related by Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, worked by the prayers of the legion of Christian soldiers who were in his army, which on this account was called thundering?"

I know not...and this osunds really cool. I think I'll try and do some research on Marcus Aurelius, (the name is familiar to me,) but if you knwo of a really good website, please let me know.

~The Hidden One~

Gregory said...

He was the "Good Emperor" from Gladiator. However, in real history, he was a major persecutor of the Church.

But yeah, Christian history rocks out loud!