October 29, 2011
I pray that this letter finds you well. I have been meditating on our recent theological exchanges, and there are a few things I would like you to consider regarding your denial of the Trinity and your belief that all legitimate Christians will speak in incoherent prayer languages/ tongues if they are truly saved. First, I want to reiterate my friendship and affection for you. I deeply appreciate your fervor for God and your desire to share your experience with others. These are both good things and speak well for you of their own accord. Indeed, I wish others were as zealous as you on that level. I hope that anything and everything else I say will be understood in light of this perspective and my esteem for who you are.
My primary concern, however, remains that the instruction you have received and repeated on both of these issues is at odds with the full weight of Scripture. Surely you are aware that many sects have made similar mistakes over the millennia. While I can see how certain passages might be enlisted to support the doctrines you have been taught, to interpret them in such a fashion ignores other sections of biblical text that speak to the same issues. Even if I agree to go along with your misguided faith in the quality of the King James Version, that text also clearly indicates that tongues is not a gift given to all Christians at all times in all places (1 Cor 12.29-30), that the Holy Ghost is the third person of the Trinity (1 John 5.7), and also that she has many gifts to give in addition to (and instead of) speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 12.4-11). I hope that we can both be more committed to Scripture than what we have been taught about it by others, and to let the Holy Spirit guide us in this matter. That is my only hope for our conversation, for I cannot persuade you unless you are open to correction and God’s guidance.
Having participated in conversations like this before, I know that you are tempted to say the same sorts of things to me: that you cannot persuade me unless I am open to correction and the Holy Ghost etc. I understand that sentiment, which is why I again appeal to Scripture over church tradition, and our respective experiences. Church tradition can offer guidance, just as our personal experiences can, but the authority of such things is limited and fallible, and by necessity must come second to the Bible itself. Your personal experience is valid, but it is not my authority. The Bible is my authority.
Similarly, I can appreciate appeals to the Holy Spirit, but two things must be said about her role: 1) She moves in different ways and times in different people’s lives, therefore how she moves cannot be the standard by which humans judge her presence. 2) Many false teachers and mislead believers appealed to the Holy Spirit in order to justify their various heresies. Put another way, people have a remarkable tendency to say that the Holy Spirit did and said things that the Holy Spirit did not actually do or say. How can we know? We can know by whether or not what they say comports with Scripture. Scripture is my authority.
And this leads back to our recent conversation and your conviction that you were speaking by the Holy Ghost when you tried to instruct Kim* on the doctrines you have opened yourself to. My appeal to you is that you were not, in fact, speaking by the Holy Spirit when you spoke with Kim*. I know that this is offensive to you and you are right to ask, “How dare you?” Or “How can you be so presumptuous?” So please let me defend my assertion instead of laughing me away. You have made speaking in tongues the essential mark of being a Christian, without which there is no reception of the Holy Spirit and therefore no salvation. You were trying to push that with Kim*, but when you and I talked about this, you admitted you knew of no verses that support this idea. You kept appealing to Acts 2:4 and 2:38, but as we discussed, neither of these verses say what you want them to say on this issue. They simply do not support the teachings of your misguided pastor or church.
I imagine by now that you have searched for additional verses for your position. Because I remain open to what Scripture says and place myself under its authority, I again invite you to engage with me on these or other passages that you feel make your point. But until then, it appears that you were saying that the Spirit has told you things that are in conflict with what the Bible says. Since we may assume that the Bible is the Bible because of the Holy Spirit’s influence on it, we can equally say that you are putting words in the Spirit’s mouth that the Spirit did not actually say. Alarm bells should be ringing. If they aren’t yet sounding for you, I ask that you consider the gravity of your teaching in light of what the Bible actually says about tongues. If speaking in tongues was the same thing as the Holy Spirit himself/herself, then why doesn’t the Bible tell us this? If speaking in tongues is THE one and only sign of salvation or receiving the Holy Spirit, then why does the Bible say otherwise? At that point, you and your church are not arguing with me, but with God’s word itself. The Bible offers that tongues is but one gift made possible by the Holy Spirit, that it is not given to all Christians everywhere at all times, and that it is even one of the lesser gifts of the Holy Spirit.
I just can’t imagine who has cut in on you or why you let them since you previously seemed to be running a good race with Christ. Like the Galatians, you have stumbled, lost your way and began running in the wrong direction. You have opened your heart and mind to those who would impose speaking in tongues as a requirement for salvation. Or the Law of Moses and the Levitical Law and those who say we must first be Jews before we can be Christians. Your pastor/ church has merely substituted “speaking in tongues” for “circumcision” in Galatians and made that the “mark” of a true Christian. This is a mistake and in direct conflict with Scripture.
Let me try and put it another way as well: As per our first conversation in Ft. Worth, I hear you when you say that salvation is more than merely praying a prayer. I affirm that critique; you are absolutely right, but the problem remains that your church (and apparently you too) have made something else (equally arbitrary) the standard by which people are saved. So again, your church has just made “speaking in tongues” the substitute for what others would assert as “praying the prayer” without which people are not saved. You are making the same error, but in a different way, and this should not be.
So as much as it would be easier for me to just let it go and treat you with kid-gloves or dismiss the teaching you have received as something naive or cute, I cannot go that route. You have received false teachings and now you are perpetuating those false teachings yourself. If Paul felt compelled to address Christians in the 1st century for making similarly grievous mistakes, I am forced to believe that I/we must adopt a similar stance on such destructive heresies (and believe me, I don’t use that term casually or frequently). This is a serious issue that cannot be ignored.
I would like to say many more things to you about this issue as well as the personhood of the Holy Spirit, but I have already said enough for the moment. I know that your last text message to me expressed discomfort at the tone of the conversation, so again I would like to express my affection for you and ask that you not read hostility or vitriol into my letters to you. Tone is impossible to communicate in typed media, so please extend your grace to me, and know that I intend to address you passionately and seriously, but always in love (and hopefully with some grace too). I only ask that you extend the same courtesy to me and that you stay engaged, rather than looking for some way to bow out and avoid the issues I am raising. Dodging difficult conversations is always a temptation, and many insecure and lesser individuals will take that route. I hope you don’t. I will contend for you. You are worth it.
May we pray to be open to correction when and where it is merited.
May we pray to understand God as he is, and not merely as we suppose him to be.
*”Kim” is not her real name.