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Strangers To Fire: When Tradition Trumps Scripture, reviewed by Tony Richie

For another example, Frank Macchia has described glossolalia in terms of its sacramental function and value in liturgical settings of Pentecostal worship. Whether we use the more traditional sacramental terminology of classic Christianity and some contemporary Charismatics or the ordinance terminology historically preferred by many Pentecostals, we are still talking about a Christian rite that has special significance for faithful worshipers. Most Pentecostals would probably affirm some version of the idea that a sacrament or ordinance is an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace that has been ordained by Christ and is experienced by believers through the agency of the Holy Spirit. If we press a little further we’d probably agree that these ordinances or sacraments involve physical or material (as in the water of baptism or the bread and wine of communion) representation of spiritual participation in experiencing Christ’s gracious presence by the Holy Spirit. In fact, the sacraments bear witness to Christ in continuity with his Incarnation—itself the ultimate exemplification of humanity and divinity.

Now what might it mean to say that speaking in tongues, or any other spiritual gift, may have sacramental value in liturgical function? Is this a legitimate implication of the sign aspect of spiritual gifts so prominent in the New Testament and so important for Pentecostals? Are spiritual gifts a tangible representation of spiritual presence as the living Christ moves among believers and in the power of the Holy Spirit ministers grace to them? If so, would this suggest that, far from being an exhibition of emotionalism or sensationalism, speaking in tongues rather signifies the reality of the resurrected Savior and Lord continuing to graciously transform believers as his disciples and servants in this present age (no cessationism here!)? Are Spirit-endowed charismatic manifestations and operations tangible, audible/visible witnesses to God’s gracious working in the world through Jesus Christ? If so, wouldn’t that indicate that the sign gifts can no more cease in this present age than can the sacraments, because they are in fact intended for this age? Isn’t it ludicrous to dismiss them to the past when they were graciously distributed for the present? Doesn’t Pentecost signify the continuing reality and validity of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ in terms of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing presence in the Church? Aren’t the charismata a manifestation of the Spirit’s presence in the Church today?

One more example will suffice. I have myself utilized the meditations of C.S. Lewis on speaking in tongues as transposition to suggest one way forward. Speaking in tongues may be taken as a key example of the way much of Christian spirituality in fact functions. Higher, heavenly treasures of the Holy Spirit are transposed into earthly, human vessels. Christian spirituality in general and glossolalia in particular has this strange and sometimes confusing mix of the divine and sublime with the human and humble. It is especially important to discern both aspects united in action, and to recognize that God has chosen to bestow the heights of spiritual experience on lowly beings fraught with human frailties. Like the Incarnation of Christ, Pentecost portrays the point of divine and human connection and expression with its profound consequences. One must never focus on the human to the extent of forgetting the divine presence in speaking in tongues. Neither may one ever focus on the divine to the extent of forgetting the human presence in speaking in tongues. Such can be said of all true, that is authentic, Christian spiritual experience. However, speaking in tongues is a prime example of this principle.

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Category: Fall 2014, Spirit

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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