I’ve been spending a decent amount of time reconnecting to my charismatic roots, in a more constructive way, and trying to draw out some work from myself that could help to form a charismatic theology that is from the movement and for the movement. Recently, I’ve been thinking about the glossolalia, and the place of spiritual gifts in the Christian life, often certain parts of the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement has seen it as a concrete sign of a baptism of the Holy Spirit, an ontological shift that is evidenced by the gift, the words often used being ‘initial evidence’.
Yet when we look at the earliest Christian traditions, baptism itself was baptism in the Holy Spirit. When we are baptized we are baptized in the name of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I think our movement has done a disservice to the Triunity of God by making the baptism of the Holy Spirit a secondary evidence, and has largely missed the point of what it means to speak in other tongues whether of men or of angels. Paul nowhere says that the Corinthians, who are seemingly the most charismatic among the early churches, have been sealed with a second evidence. Nor does he rejoice at this display of tongues but goes about correcting abuses and speaking to them about the worth of prophecy and love. If there were any evidence of the tongues being an ontological distinction or the evidence of a special blessing, I think Paul might have at least mentioned it in his address to the Corinthian church.
To discuss glossolalia or for that matter any spiritual gift is to speak of the Spirit Himself, as active in our experience, and to speak of Christ as manifest through the Spirit. When we speak of the Spirit we are being drawn to discuss not one member of the godhead in isolation, but must remember that the Trinity is always at work in a unity in otherness, and that this will reflect in the way the Spirit works in us as well.
When we speak of the gifts of the Spirit, we are speaking of the Spirit’s nature in how He affects the gifts in us and has effect through us in their application in the community which is the fellowship of his sufferings. The spirit testifies to the kenotic self effacement of Christ and it is through this that we recognize the divine act as love. The spirit also fulfills this kenotic movement by being the fullness of love which descends into our midst to draw us up into love, and to show the way by making clear the sign of the cross. Further this fulfillment takes place by bringing us into the same motion of kenotic self effacement, bringing its completion not only in the Son of God, but in the community which is His body. Further by emptying himself to be among us, He continues the work of Christ. The Spirit does not cease to testify to the kenotic self effacement of the Son, but continues to testify in and through us, by our own kenotic movement which is an embodied sign of this continued act and should be expressed most concretely in the charisms of the community which the life and suffering of Christ has made possible in the Spirit.
The Spirit as a member of the godhead suffers and leads us to suffering as a primary way of uniting us with Christ, Paul even goes on to call the church a fellowship of suffering. He also mentions elsewhere that His sufferings are the signs of his apostleship, it seems strange in a culture that puts credentials in other areas of merit than suffering. The Christian gifts and life are going to be drawn from the depths of suffering with Christ, our life as Christians is always a receiving of God’s revelation, and that revelation culminates in the divine glory that is the cross. Thus the cross should be ever before us, if we are to be in the constant reception of revelation. If it is ever before us, the cross will always invite us to participate in it, and thus draw closer to Christ. The cross is the act of Divine love, and its objectivity as revelation will make the cross take form in our lives. The suffering of the Christian is a mark of love, a sign of dedication to the One whom they have responded to showing forth unity. Christ himself makes possible for his disciples to follow Him by giving them gifts, “he ascended, he led captivity captive and gave gifts to men.” He that descended to the lowest depths was raised with a new vitality that allowed Him to bestow gifts upon us, and of those gifts one is the grace(charis) not only to believe but also to suffer. It has been (charismata) gifted to us to suffer.
God wishes to speak to the world and he does this through His theo-pragmatic self-revelation. It is the act of God in Christ that speaks to us. The God-Act is always God’s primary means of communication. God speaks to us through the absolute divine act of crucifixion and resurrection, this deed always interprets itself to us, and will not be subsumed as completely intelligible or available to us because it is absolute. It is always opening itself up more, but it will never cease opening, its self-emptying is eternal, and its message is Omni-temporal. The charisma of the Spirit relate to this in the following manner:
Our acts in the Spirit are manifestations of the continued act of God in Christ and are a participation in the divine narrative of God’s liberation of the world through His suffering.
Where the charisms truly are, there is Christ at work in the world, really He Himself, not just a spiritual presence, but in some way He himself is present where the Spirit is. If this is so, then the charismata are very similar to the sacraments of the church, highlighting the inter-dependability of both. Further these actions are already in some provisional way participating in the victory of God, it is not that miracles and the manifestation of gifts are themselves the kingdom, but they are signs of the kingdom, and announcing to us the coming of God.
Our actions in the spirit should take on the form of crucifixion/resurrection, for it is by the Spirit that Christ is able to be crucified. IT is also by the Spirit that Christ is raised. So too the church can only be charismatic if she is led along the path of Christ to enjoin the fellowship of His sufferings and show forth both the suffering of God and His resurrection. Charisms are about both our suffering and our joy, our burdens as well as our celebrations.
The charisms we experience are limitless because the Spirit is always interpreting the act of God on our behalf in new ways due to His infinite ability to create and diversify. There is no number to the spiritual gifts, but rather, the Spirit is always finding creative ways to speak in and through and to the church at all times. Further, it seems counter-intuitive to the biblical narrative to limit the gifts to a certain number or kind, rather we should allow the work of the Spirit in anything that builds the church in such a way that Christ is present to be considered a gift.
God speaks to the world through the church and her charisms, but only insofar as these charisms serve God and neighbor in a unified motion, the charisms of the church are never private, but for the sake of the world and the building up of the church.
Because the deed of God is self-interpreting as Love, our charisms must flow from this love, and will manifest according to our ability for solidarity and perception of the needs of our brothers and sisters. The deed of God among His people will manifest as love, self-interpreting through the actions of a crucified-glorified body gathered at His table. Our deeds in God necessarily correspond with and answer to the deed of God and thus the cross is the criterion of our charisms.
The charisms are always pointing to the absolute which is the cross, as the manifestation of divine love, and must embody this message in such a manner that their manifestation is personal (i.e. they are for the sake of our neighbor, and must participate in the love that is had between persons) liturgical, (i.e. they are always for the sake of God and the true worship of Him, including the establishment of justice and the manifestation of mercy as part of our worship of God) political, (i.e. a calling of the world to repentance) ecclesial, (i.e. a manifestation for the sake of the community and the enjoining of the one body in unity under the one sign which is the meal we gather at) and self-emptying (i.e. the charisms should lead us away from self awareness and into God/neighbor awareness, if they do not do this, then they are subject to our suspicion). Thus through these acts the charisms are manifestations of the self-interpretation of the act of divine love.
The life of Christ as a whole points to the cross and becomes intelligible only from this point, we cannot separate the teachings of Christ from the fact that they too point to the cross. Every word of teaching and the whole life of Christ is united by what Von Balthasar has termed a “Logos of the Cross” (Love Alone is Credible 85). That same logos is the center point for our discussion of Christian gifts, we cannot separate the gifts from what they signify, they are signs of the suffering Christ, who still redeems the world through the one act to which we enjoin ourselves at baptism and in a continual offering up of our bodies as living sacrifice, including our gifts.
To be gifted means to be crucified with Him in order to point to the center of the reality we as Christians witness to, which is the self-glorification of divine love in the Cross of Christ. The life of Christ is the fullness of the manifestation of the power and wisdom of God precisely in its impotence by the standards of the world, and so too our charisms are signs of this manifestation. Our charisms are just as equally about our union with God as they are about our abandonment by God, the two sides represent the life of Christ, crucifixion-resurrection, both are indissoluble for the act of revelation. The act which still takes place among us for the sake of the world. And the Christian life is the reception of revelation and thus must take upon itself this dialectical form if it is to truly embrace the whole of Christian existence, for it must show forth both sides of the coin if it is to truly reveal the sign of God in the world. It is thus in short that the crucifixion is inseparable from the resurrection, the darkness we undergo for the sake of light, the suffering for the sake of love.
This means that in order to properly show the crucifixion-resurrection dynamic, they church must be gathered around a concrete manifestation. Namely we must be a people gathered around the Eucharist. In order to properly discern the way in which the crucifixion-resurrection dynamic is carried out we need the sign of Christ’s body as the concrete manifestation able to guide us and interpret itself to us. In order to do so, the church needs to be deeply sacramental and confessional. The sacraments, and especially baptism and the eucharist show the dynamic tension of death and new life, and the whole life of discipleship is only intelligible from the standpoint of death and resurrection. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” In order to properly discern the nature of the charisms the church must be gathered around the meal at which the crucifixion and resurrection are Omni-temporal, the eucharist.
The reason for this is that the eucharist transcends time, coming to us from the future of God, the only way that the body of Christ can be present to us today as a means of grace is from that time in which God’s will is made perfect. The table at which we gather is the Lord’s and the bread which we eat is His body, the community gathered around it is His, and He must take form in them that would gather at His table. The eucharist is the crucifixion, resurrection and eschaton present at once in a single event which challenges us with the whole life of Christ and its significance as a remembered and continued sacrifice and a present as well as future victory. Further it serves to show us the past, present and future of the community who gathers around it. It is the means by which we remember the distinctive nature of our community, and the creeds likewise are a verbal confession of that to which we bear witness.
If we are to be a community that can discern properly between evil and false spirits and the Spirit of the Lord, we will need to maintain that which the Lord has given us as gifts for our discernment. Both eucharist and creeds are tangible reminders of the nature of our community not by pointing to the specifics of the persons in the community or their gifts, but to the God which is worshipped. Without being confessional and sacramental the charismatic church descends into spiritualism and personality cult which becomes indistinguishable from the virtues of the outside world. Conversely, without a properly Charismatic presence Christianity becomes a way of thought or a system of theses, not a way of living that is objective.
Christ has shown us that love is not something light or carried out by emotional disposition, it is something suffered. Love is the act of God’s reconciling the world to Himself, our love derives from the divine love. It is something borne, and so too our charisms since they flow from love, must bear the burdens of love and manifest the scars and markings which validate our identity in the fellowship of love. Love is not our own but comes to us from the outside inviting our participation in itself. Love is objective, and bears in itself both something wholly other and something disclosed to us, it transcends immanence and escapes expression in its full reality. Yet it comes to us from above and makes itself known among us, becoming an object giving itself over to us, and thus inviting us to be subject to it. The Divine Love suffers the world, and in our participation in that, through our charisms we too must suffer the world for the charisms are our participation in the divine life of the Trinity which is a suffering. The Spirit continues to intercede in our behalf with labor pains and groans and uttering too deep for words. So the church that is charismatic must be a suffering church, one laden with the burdens of love if there is to be known among her the love of God. If she is to be truly enjoined to her lord she must join him at his cross, which makes the way for her resurrection. It is only in sharing the divine death that we can part take in the divine life, we see this in Paul’s theology of baptism.
To be gifted is to part take in God’s love, and every Christian life and every human life do so, every life is gifted life. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7 RSV). Yet these charisms are eschatological, they are signs of the love of God from below. They are the manifestation of the love of God among us which sigh for the coming of God, and the fullness of the love of God from above. The charisms while working for the common good of the church, as all manifestations of the Spirit are, work also in tandem with the final good, which for us is that final reconciliation of all things. Our charisms are pointers to the fullness of God’s love from above, they bear in themselves the manifestation of longing for the fullness of all things. The gifts we bear are the sufferings of love which long for the completion of all things, which groans for their wholeness and the coming of God. In discussing gifts, Paul also goes on to talk about the members working together and where one member suffers, all suffer together. This seems to imply that while the charismata work for the common good they also have an aspect of unifying solidarity, where if one is suffering by grace as a gift, all suffer, and if one member is honored all rejoice together (1 Cor. 12:26).
In all the aforementioned ways, the charismata are ultimately a sign, pointing to the reality of the divine love, and thus calling into question the world’s self understanding and showing forth that reality is only intelligible from the logos of the cross, such that the signs of our charisms show the world the possibility of love. The manifestation of our gifts are signs to the world of the guilt which it bears, calling into question idolatries and corruptions and placing before them the objective divine love which is a consuming fire. The credibility of the charismata are in relation to their correspondence in relation to the divine love, this is where they become authoritative among us and distinct from other actions. The charismata of the church are prophetic, they serve the community calling it to true faith by witnessing to the love of God in a theo-drama, acts of God for the people drawing all reality towards the center that is Christ Himself.
All Christian spiritual gifts have nuptial and thus eschatological meaning. The gifts, like our embodiment are for the sake of our union with the Christ and with each other. They have meaning for the sake of our union, and our marriage in the body of Christ. The whole purpose of the gifts as with human sexuality is not happiness, pleasure or empowerment, but theosis. The gifts are for the intimacy of the fellowship which is ours and are sacred for the up building of the intimate life that we share in as a community gathered around body and blood. They are gifts that we present to others and to the world, as a sign of union. Our gifts are signs of our union with each other and with Christ, thus they serve as gifts not for ourselves, but for one another and in serving one another they all serve the One Lord. Our gifts are for our self-disclosure to receive our being from the church and Christ and in doing so, are marks of the being which we are developing into, which is God’s call to us. The gifts are ultimately about our development into the likeness of God, and where the charismata are not developing a community that looks like the crucified-glorified Christ, their use and validity is in question.
Now we proceed to the second half of this essay the construction of a doctrine of glossolalia from the logos of the cross. We must undermine many word-faith and Pentecostal uses of the glossolalia as a form of individual piety and development, and propose alternately what is truly going on and what the gift of the glossolalia is for. First off, let me distinguish between glossolalia and xenoglossia, for the sake of not ignoring completely the other. Glossolalia is ecstatic speech, and xenoglossia is the speaking of a language previously unknown to the speaker. I see both as valid, though the glossolalia in particular has need of reappropriation within the logos of the cross if it is to cease to be a form of individualistic pietism of the most perverse and idolatrous kind. I think that the glossolalia can be a meaningful and powerful form of prayer but it must be appropriated properly in order to have this validity.
If our experience of the Spirit is not the experience of something wholly other that modifies the self, then there is really no experience at all (Spirit of Life, 30). Human being means being-in-relationship and without an otherness or a draw towards otherness in our charismatic life we suffer the loss of humanity especially in the midst of our attempt to have greater spiritual experience. So my attempt will be to draft a glossolalia that is in, with and for the other, and thus truly gives us to ourselves properly by reminding us that even we are mediated to ourselves by Christ, and His otherness draws us towards Him, transforming us through real experience in encounter. Without that experience of the other, it is questionable whether we have had experience at all, and if we cannot give expression to it, then the experience lacks depth and will pass from us. Charismatic theology needs to find expression that liberates it from the throes of imperialism and post-enlightenment rationalism. The glossolalia need not have a “scientific” validity in order to be affirmed. Pragmatism is not afterall the criterion of the church’s judgment on matters, but the true worship of Christ is, and so too, our glossolalic experience is about the expressing of Christ among us.
The glossolalia placed within a logos of the cross realizes that it is not for our own sake that we bear such a gift but for sake of the world, its purpose should be to serve God and neighbor as is the purpose of all spiritual gifts. While it seems slightly unthinkable from within certain traditions of the use of glossolalia, I think it is necessarily going to have to develop beyond focusing on self-edification if the glossolalia will retain Christian meaning in our lives.
For some, this gift is all about personal edification, but I think that this is an erroneous starting point. Contextually if we look at the passage Paul is talking about the order of service and I agree with Paul that it is highly unproductive for one person to speak in tongues at the front of a service or to take control of a service and not be able to utter intelligible words. This obviously can only serve to edify themselves, and I think that at this point is making a pointed statement about their use of tongues, not saying that it should be used for personal edification but rather that it does no good to stand up and claim a center of attention while being self-serving and not serving others. I think that a proper reading of this passage sees Paul telling congregants to stop claiming attention with manifestations that do not benefit the whole and build up the entire church. I don’t think that Paul is saying that the self-edification is a purely negative thing either, but is rather calling it what it is, an act of pride among the Corinthians. It is not to say that all acts of self-edification are such, but rather that we should approach them with the realization that they are a secondary function, and subject to suspicion. Self-edification done Christianly is the edification of my neighbor and my God, the only way to edify myself is to attend to God and neighbor and find the contours of myself in the process. The purpose of the gifts is the up building of the church, and the unification of the One Body. In truth the manifestations of the Spirit will come when the people seek to build up the church (1 Cor. 14:12).
I think that the glossolalia, if we were to look at it cohering with Paul’s general theology of the church as a fellowship of Christ’s sufferings will have to be coming out of a recognition of our weakness. That is not to say our sinfulness, but our limitations in areas of compassion, in knowledge, in ability to pray properly and in our ability to speak to God as we ought to. The glossolalia are an admission of weakness, and we need a recognition that this gift is not our own, but an expression of the Spirit’s utterings which are sometimes too deep for words. The charism of tongues is not something we turn on and off, despite the experience of many charismatic/Pentecostals it is rather something that presents itself to us and invites us into itself. The glossolalia is not a possession of ours, but is possesses us, and draws us into awareness of the world. It is a form of intercession which we do not initiate, but rather are drawn up into. We must speak of it this way if it is to have any significance at all as a true experience of the wholly other, for if the glossolalia becomes our possession then we are claiming to have become able to control God.
We do not possess the Spirit, but rather are called to self-disclosure by which we come to know God, it is in our vulnerability that we see that it was God who first made Himself vulnerable to us. The glossolalia is an invitation to the realization that even we will be at a loss for words and will not be able to express fully the depths of human suffering, or the heights of human joy, and for that, there are utterings which embrace the whole of life and draw us into their work. God draws us into the work of His praying for us by allowing us to speak with and for Him, making us part of the inner life of the Trinity and allowing our voice to be heard in His, and His voice to be heard in our own. But what these voices are saying together is not for the benefit of the one praying alone, it is an enjoining with the Spirit to groan for the whole creation. Glossolalia is about the fellowship with Christ, which is a fellowship of His sufferings,. This is truly the manifestation and fulfillment of the self-emptying of the Son, for He emptied Himself and continues to do so by the Spirit. His Spirit is drawing us into Himself by giving Himself to us and through us, as well as with us emptying Himself to pray for the whole creation.
The spirit gives utterance, when we speak of the personal dimension of the experience of the glossolalia we must remember that we are weak, and that God is made strong in our weakness. Our experience does not always have utterance, there are things which simply escape words, and cannot be brought down into them no matter how hard we might try. This is where our limitations begin and the glossolalia’s power comes to be known to us in our weakness. When we cannot find expression for things, either life in general or words in particular, the Spirit grants us power to stand before God and pray and communicate and confess as we should. But glossolalia is not merely a matter of the ecstatic function of the mouth, though this is the primary expression, I believe that glossolalia is an expression of the entire body as a communicative language. Body language can be glossolalic, meaning the movement of our bodies, in dance or prayer can be expressions of yearnings and utterings in behalf of the creation. The glossolalia is about the weakness of our lives to express the fullness of reality when we are at a lack for words.
God is the justifier of our experience by drawing it into Himself and expressing it through things we cannot utter, through the expression of our mouths as well as our bodies. The gift of tongues is about embodiment, it is about our bodies as able to speak with and in God for God and for our neighbor. The body in this charism becomes embraced in the intercessory work of the spirit, as both an ecstatic praise or an ecstatic lament. The point of its ability to be both a praise or a lament is highly important for this charism because historical evidence shows both, and we must remember as I mentioned above that our charisms as a whole should reflect both the crucifixion and the resurrection.
The glossolalia is meaningful, and is a part of the overall whole of Christian devotion, but does not take precedence as an initial sign of an ontological change. I remember as a newly converted Charismatic wondering why not everyone spoke in tongues, and being taught that not everyone had been “enlightened” to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and that I was among those lucky enough to have received some sort of extra special grace. Contrary to this, I think it’s important that spiritual gifts are not signs of an extra special work of God that sets someone above or beneath us. We cannot adduce that someone is very spiritual or not spiritual based on the gifts they manifest, we are to know each other by the supreme gift and the center of the Christian life, which is love. The glossolalia do not create a special class of spiritual people who enjoy an access to God’s presence and Spirit that others do not know. Let’s call that idea what it is, cultural imperialism, the tongue-speaking have fashioned themselves as the ecclesiastical elite, and regard those who do not speak in tongues as in some ways not experiencing God in the fullness that they enjoy. It is forcing a culture of “us” the tongue speaking to try to make “them,” the non tongue-speaking, to become like “us” and in agreeing with this idea we are actually alienating, and hindering the work of the Spirit.
The rule of Christ is not hegemonic, but an invitation to embrace, it is a self-disclosure, and if enjoining the church means opening ourselves to a community that has opened itself to us, then we cannot have a doctrine of tongues that cannot square with the Gospel’s. It is a sign of the work of the Spirit towards the end, it is one among various gifts being used by God to intercede for and with the community, it is up building the church and can be used as a meaningful form of prayer that acknowledges weakness, and realizes our own fallibility. Looking to the cross we find our challenge and we see our own weakness, looking along the cross we see what shall become true of all reality because of this great love. Modifying G.K. Chesterton, I think that Christians should be radically engaged in celebration, but also radically committed to suffering, seeing both as necessary and essential to the true life of faith. Our charismata allow us to enjoin the fellowship of His sufferings. The fellowship of His sufferings though, is also the fellowship of the life giving Spirit, and both sides must be retained as viable and necessary, ecstatic celebration and ecstatic lament are both sides of the one Christian way which stands in the shadow of the cross, witnessing to the reconciliation of all things that is happening and has already happened.