Monday, January 26, 2009

Singing in tongues

The first and for a long time, the only women's camp that I attended left me very mixed emotions. Concert night was a scream. Many groups had put a lot of thought and preparation into their acts and by the end of the night our laughing muscles were aching from overuse and tears were streaming down our faces from so much laughter.

What of Bible studies and devotions? Well to be honest, I can't remember anything of significance at all. Maybe that is an indictment of me, but in my defence I have to say that it was a long time ago.

Sticking in my mind is the early morning prayer meeting. I'm not a morning person, but I thought that since I was attending as a chaplain, it would be best to set an example and not be found wanting. Big mistake!

It was a beautiful mild morning. The magpies were singing in the distance and the doves were calling their gentle "doodle doo, doodle doo" from every tree nearby. The air had that gentle, caressing feel about it. An ideal setting to let your mind dwell on the creator and to let go of distracting emotions and thoughts. That is what I was thinking and at first it went according to plan.

Someone started the morning with a short explanation and led us with a short prayer. Other women followed naturally with their own short prayers and it was flowing as it should. Someone near me began to pray in tongues. Someone else followed suit, but sang her prayer in tongues. This seemed to be a cue for others who did this sort of thing to also sing their prayers in tongues and one by one at first, then several at a time and finally, it seemed, most of the group were singing in tongues.

I'm told that this can be very delightful and pleasing to the ear. It wasn't. It was a cacophony. Each new tongue singer seemed to want to be heard above the last and so the volume got louder and louder in a great discordant crescendo. I couldn't think straight with the noise of their "singing" clashing and clanging in my ears. Prayer was no longer a possibility for me in the midst of this clamour, apart from pleading with God to give them all a mild dose of laryngitis. I felt that the morning had been hijacked by the Pentecostals.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-Pentecostal. But I do find that many Pentecostals don't realise how much their exercise of their religious freedom often intrudes on and overrides the religious freedom of those who have a more conservative faith and less demonstrative way of expressing our faith. At the prayer meeting, it seemed obvious to me that the goal of many of the pray-ers was to be the longest and loudest, as though God was a deaf old man. As though he could not hear even the prayers of a normal speaking voice, let alone the unspoken prayers of our hearts.

Theologically speaking, St Paul had quite a lot to say about this when he wrote to the Corinthians about orderly worship. He did say that one must speak at a time and that what is spoken in tongues should be interpreted. After reading 1 Corinthians, chapters 12-14, maybe we should ask ourselves:
  • Spiritual gifts, such as tongues, are for the building up of the Church. In what way is my spiritual gift building up the Church, if at all?
  • Am I using my gift to serve others or myself?
  • Are more than 2 or 3 speaking at a single meeting? Paul specified this for a reason.
  • Am I contributing to the orderly nature worship?
  • Am I being loving to those around me now, and in my relationships with others (and God) at other times? If not I'm just a "clanging cymbal" (Paul's words not mine).
  • What would a "stranger" to our meeting learn about God from this?

This was just a spur of the moment idea because it was on my mind when I woke up this morning. I may have left out some important questions. You can let me know.

1 comment:

  1. Just happened upon your blog. My husband is also a chaplain and has been in the ministry for many years. Although we don't have the gift of tongues, I have been in many services where it has been exercised. What comes to mind to me is that there is also supposed to an interpretation. I have found it often to be distracting, like you, and wonder if he purpose becomes attention rather worship. Of course, not having that gift, maybe I just don't fully understand. But I appreciate your post very much.