The Apostle Paul set guidelines in 1 Corinthians 14:27-28 for tongues-speaking in Corinth. He makes it clear that no-one should speak in tongues in church unless an interpreter is present. Speaking in tongues should be strictly monitored so that it is understandable and edifying. Paul doesnБt say who the interpreter should be. He only says that each of the limited incidents of tongues-speaking (two or three) should be immediately interpreted. There doesnБt seem to be an absolute prohibition of the same person who speaks in tongues providing the interpretation, but we need to be careful here. The ancient commentator Ambroaster noted that БPaul does not wantБpeople to take up the whole day and leave insufficient time for expounding the ScripturesБ, and Chrysostom says Б(Paul) insists that it be kept under control and used for the edification of the whole churchБ. If someone takes an inordinate amount of time they will be violation of PaulБs instruction. Even worse, such Бtongues-speakingБ may not be genuine at all. It may just been an emotional display done for self-gratification. Severian of Gabala declared that Бthe person who speaks in the Holy Spirit speaks when he chooses to do so and then can be silent, like the prophets. But those who are possessed by an unclean spirit speak even when they do not want to.
They say things that they do not understand. Б
The Apostle John said to test the spirits to see whether they are of God (1 John 4:1-4). Although we do not believe that tongues-speaking today doesnБt appear identical to the supernatural occurrences of Acts 2, the apostle Paul instructed us in 1 Corinthians 14:39,. do not forbid speaking with tongues. Although we shouldnБt forbid people from doing what they consider to be speaking in tongues, we are wise to scrupulously apply the guidelines of 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 to all incidents to be sure they meet PaulБs standards for intelligibility and edification. Studies of the Eastern religions and Spiritism show that they often involve an ecstatic tongues phenomenon parallel to that which occurs in Charismatic and Pentecostal circles. In addition, careful studies of tape recordings have demonstrated that such non-language tongues-speaking may be governed by universal psychological and linguistic factors, excluding the possibility of their being similar to the miraculous occurrences described in Acts 2. There are, broadly speaking, two kinds of Christian prayer practice, beyond rote recitation. БApophaticБ prayer, which looks a lot like meditation and mindfulness, asks one to still the mind and disengage from thought.
The classic example is the 14th century БCloud of Unknowing,Б a monastic text whose anonymous author advised: БThought cannot comprehend God. And so, I prefer to abandon all I can know, choosing rather to love him who I cannot know. Б In БkataphaticБ prayer, one fills oneБs imagination with thoughts from Scripture. The classic example is the 16th-century spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, who called worshipers to see Бwith the eye of the imagination the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem, considering how long it is and how wide, and whether it is level or goes through valleys and over hills. Б American evangelicals seeking daydreamlike encounters with God are praying in this tradition. The apophatic method is probably more effective in shifting attention from the everyday, but harder to achieve. That seems to be what the fifth-century monk Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite meant when he described kataphatic prayer as a steppingstone for those who could not pray in other ways. Many of us know people who have tried to meditate and failed, defeated by thoughts that refused to stay put Б what skilled practitioners call Бmonkey mind. Б In an experiment, I assigned participants for one month to meditation, to imagination-rich prayer or to lectures on the gospels.
Many who meditated didnБt like it; those who did reported deep spiritual experiences, like the expert meditators studied by the neurologist (БZen and the BrainБ) and other scientists. As a technique, tongues capture the attention but focus it on something meaningless (but understood by the speaker to be divine). So it is like meditation Б but without the monkey mind. And the practice changes people. They report that as their prayer continues, they feel increasingly more involved. They feel lighter, freer and better. The scientific data suggest that tongue speakers enter a different mental state. The neuroscientist and his colleagues singing worship songs, and then speaking in tongues. When they did the latter, they experienced less blood flow to the frontal cerebral cortex. That is, their brain behaved as if they were less in a normal decision-making state Б consistent with the claim that praying in tongues is not under conscious control. Speaking in tongues still carries a stigmatizing whiff. In his book БThinking in Tongues,Б the philosopher describes the Бstrange brew of academic alarm and snobberyБ that flickered across a colleagueБs face when he admitted to being a Pentecostal (and, therefore, praying in tongues). It seems time to move on from such prejudice.