Advocates of the tongues movement rely upon two sources for their arguments. First of all, there is an appeal to instances of speaking in tongues in the New Testament and, secondly, late nineteenth-century and twentieth-century instances on a widespread scale are given large place in arguing for the present-day resurgence of this apostolic gift. However, it is rather remarkable that very few, if any, of the writers of this movement refer to the grand stream of church history from apostolic times until our present day for proof of God’s plan to perpetuate this unusual occurrence and to use it in the entirety of gospel outreach. The silence for many centuries ought to sober many of the more vocal exponents of this new movement, but it seems that a new doctrine has clamped itself upon the imagination, if not the mentalities, of these exponents. Simply stated, this new doctrine is that we are now in the last days and therefore we should see again a special reoccurrence of those things of apostolic days; gifts, privileges, blessings, and “the power” which have been noticeably lacking in church life for these long centuries. If this doctrine be true, then God has kept from His people for these two millennia the full extent of the workings of His grace, and the constant gifts of the Holy Spirit (if these are within His will), resulting in a terribly impoverished church to carry out His grand design in this world. Again, this doctrine heightens the importance of the days in which we live and also lends some plausible credence to the centrality of the tongues movement if it can be proved that this was central in apostolic days.
He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. (1 Corinthians 14:4)
Tongues were used for a very definite purpose, which we will see in a moment. But first, Paul presented three arguments showing the reasons why they should not speak in tongues in Corinth. The three arguments are these:
I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. (1 Corinthians 14:5)
Even if tongues were in the church, there must be an interpretation in order that there might be edifying of the church.
Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? (1 Corinthians 14:6)
Paul was using himself for an example. He was saying, “I’m an apostle, and I’m not going around speaking in tongues. I speak by revelation, knowledge, prophesying, and teaching.”
Then he used an illustration:
And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? (1 Corinthians 14:7)
It would make just as much sense for me to speak in tongues as to go to a piano and bang on it – and that’s all I could do. It would help no one to hear me banging on a piano, but let an accomplished pianist sit down there, and we would have music. Just as you have to make sense with music, you also must make sense with your tongue.
This is a vexing question. The fact that the miracle of languages at Pentecost has completely ceased with the passing of the Apostles is beyond question. Why then is this prevailing confusion?
The confusion has arisen for this one reason. People try to equate the present day ‘ecstatic’ meaningless gibberish with the miracle languages of Pentecost. These are two entirely different things. The New Testament ‘tongues’ were known, understandable, interpretable languages brought on by the supernatural working of the Holy Ghost. They appeared suddenly, were equally abruptly withdrawn, and never appeared again after the Apostolic era. They come under the category of ‘the signs of an apostle’ (2 Cor. 12:12).
Modern tongues are not languages at all. There are no rules of grammar, or syntax, or vocabulary. They cannot be understood, neither can they be interpreted. They are not exclusive to Christianity, being commonly found in heathen and idolatrous tongues-speaking groups. They are certainly not the work of the Holy Spirit.
Now, we come back to the question: have tongues ceased?