Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 20, 1967
NUMBER 11, PAGE 1-3,5b

Tongue-Speaking In Churches Of Christ

Robert Meyers

(Restoration Review - April , 1967)

A new crisis is upon the Churches of Christ. The experience of speaking in tongues (glossolalia) is being claimed by an ever-growing number of men and women in local congregations and on the campuses of Church of Christ colleges. These persons are voluble and enthusiastic about what has happened to them. They are being met, predictably, by attitudes which threaten to turn the conflict of opinions into a debacle.

Some readers may not yet appreciate the dimensions of this movement. There are outbreaks of tongue-speaking on the campuses of at least five of the major Church of Christ colleges. The participants include, in some cases staff personnel and an occasional faculty member. Large churches in Houston and Fort Worth have been visited by the phenomenon and have reacted differently. In one instance, the claimants were immediately booted from fellowship. In another, a much wiser group of elders followed Gamaliel's advice:

"And so now: keep clear of these men, I tell you; leave them alone. For if this idea of theirs or its execution is of human origin, it will collapse; but if it is from God, you will never be able to put them down, and you risk finding yourself at war with God." (Acts 5:38-39, NEB).

What some congregations and colleges of the Churches of Christ new risk is an action in direct defiance of the unequivocal words of Scripture:

Do not forbid ecstatic utterance (I Cor. 14:39.) In an all-too-typical failure to read carefully the instruction given in I Corinthians 14 for dealing with tongue-speaking, the Churches of Christ are now putting themselves into the unbelievably absurd position of attempting to quench the Holy Spirit Himself.

A large Church of Christ in Tulsa is even now puzzling anxiously over what to do with a sizeable number of its members who are meeting in homes, experiencing a tongue-speaking gift, and telling others of the joys it brings them. Almost within the days I have been working on this article I have learned of four Church of Christ ministers who claim the gift of tongues. Every sign now visible on the horizon indicates that the movement has not reached its peak within our immediate brotherhood. It is, therefore, imperative that thoughtful and concerned leaders in the Churches of Christ arrive at a Scriptural and compassionate way of dealing with those who claim the experience.

Within the past few weeks, a well-known Church of Christ college campus has been shaken to its foundations by disagreement over how the Holy Spirit may indwell Christians and influence their lives. Before the dissension and heartache had run their course, two popular faculty members had been forced to resign, effective at once, and a third had voluntarily resigned, effective at the end of the present term.

Two of the men who are leaving had been members of the faculty for nine years. One was at the end of his second year. All three were unusually effective teachers, popular with students, and assigned to areas which brought them into especially close relationships with students.

One man claimed the baptism of the Holy Spirit in fuller measure than he had ever known, including the, gift of speaking in tongues. Another claimed that the baptism brought him a more joyous assurance of the fatherhood of God than he had known before, but no experience with tongues. The third faculty member had had no personal experience with either gift as described above, but resigned because, as he put it, he believed in the power of God and thought it ought not be limited by creedal restrictions.

The college administrators, fearing growing pressures from their constituency, tried patiently and earnestly to find a way out of their dilemma. It was the belief of the dismissed faculty members that their president, had he been only a private person, would have sympathized sufficiently with their experience to have kept them on. But as the representative of a constituency with little tolerance for differences of opinion, he was forced to order them to be still or to leave. He was all set to begin a fundraising drive, and it did not require much imagination to guess what would happen to it if he failed to respond to pressures from parents and friends of the college.

Many who read this article can guess how the administration proceeded. The action is classic; every man who has ever had a serious difference with a Church of Christ college administration will know it by heart. First the touching effort to be a loyal friend, then the growing fear as the threats come in from the constituency, and finally the ultimatum: keep quiet or get out. The individual is sacrificed to the institution; party loyalty once again takes its customary precedence over personal loyalty and the urgings, even, of private Christian conscience.

The two faculty men now separated from their students spent an afternoon with me recently. They invited one of the college's board members to sit in and listen. We talked for many hours, discussing details of the incident and whether it would be revealed publicly. It will perhaps surprise no one that the board member felt the story should not be told; the "let's sweep it under the rug lest it harm the Lord's church" philosophy has ruled us in such cases for years. It seldom occurs to those who invoke the philosophy that the Lord's church is far bigger than any institution and is not harmed by candor.

The afternoon of talk was one of the most fascinating I have ever spent. Here were two men, both of whom I had known in years past, now claiming an experience which I have never had and do not expect to have. Yet these men talked with quiet intelligence, describing their experiences as calmly as if they had been reporting the redecorating of their houses. They analyzed with a deliberative calmness which forbad me to suppose them unstable or unbalanced. They made it crystal clear that they have suffered their dismissal without rancor or vindictiveness. They find it possible to love the men who said to them, in effect, "You must now leave your years of investment in this school, leave the friends you have made in this community, and leave the students you have come to love - and you must do it because you refuse to pretend that nothing has happened to you."

After the president of the college wrote formally to describe the two men's experience as part of the "movement" which put them in conflict with the "basic beliefs of the brotherhood as a whole," one of the men wrote a reply. His remarks deserve a wide reading:

Dear Dr. ________________:

"My response to the letter from the administration has been to evaluate my responsibility. My first responsibility must always be to God. I must try to live honestly before Him, freely enquiring within the Restoration tradition of Biblical faith and individual responsibility. I must question creeds, written or unwritten, and traditions, in order to engage honestly in a lifelong dialogue with the Word of God.

"My vocation as a teacher demands a secondary responsibility to engage in another dialogue, one held with my students, in which the validity, relevancy, and, I hope, truth of our subject matter is tested. In this dialogue there is no proper place for crusading, for propagandizing, or for cultivating allegiance to personalities. Allegiance in this dialogue must be to the truth.

"As a Christian teacher, my third responsibility is to what we would call the brotherhood. When I maintain my integrity in my dialogue with God and with my students, I am then serving the brotherhood with equal integrity. The college, leading rather than following the brotherhood in the restoration of New Testament Christianity, should maintain each faculty member's duty to reexamine constantly his beliefs in the light of Scriptures.

"The question presently before us, that of the direct operation of the Holy Spirit, is not a question concerning the fundamentals of the Christian faith. While we have differences of opinion about this subject, greater differences of opinion, even on the more general questions of the providence of God and the answering of prayers, is tolerated within the brotherhood, within our own congregation, and within the college.

"This issue, however, does threaten to become divisive. Indeed, what the College administration now does will contribute to, or discharge, such divisiveness. We can face the problem positively, promoting unity and love, demanding respect for differing opinions, and encouraging study. On the other hand, we can react negatively, tolerating rumors, arguing personalities, fearing open discussion, distrusting that truth can and will prevail in a free dialogue.

"If I resign from the college over this question, or if I am asked to resign, we will have taken the first step toward dividing the brotherhood on the issue. Surely you want to avoid this. If the problem does result in this, however, I can only hope that we will face our differences openly and without loss of love for each other as persons. I definitely believe that if any such action is taken, our concern and respect for the students necessitates that they know the reason for my leaving. Attempting to hide these reasons from them will create bitterness and disillusionment in countless ways.

"Dr. __________ , as Christian educators, defending principles which are increasingly challenged by secularization, let us not divide on an issue which should only tend to greater dependence on God and greater unity in Christ. Let us embrace this challenge to deepen our faith and set an example in the exercise of Christian unity."

The president of the college would be less than human if this lucid and reasonable plea did not move him. But he could not respond to it as a free man. In a harness of his own choosing, and engaged in a noble work, he drew behind him that unwieldy thing that is a college. It may be that in being true to it, he was completely able to be true to himself. If so, we may all pity him for there is not one of us who has not wrestled with the temptation to compromise private integrity for the sake of public leadership.

When the president declared that he could not tolerate on his Christian college campus men who claimed the gift of the Spirit, the writer of the above letter asked for and received permission to address the assembled students in chapel. He spoke to them these words:

Disagreements between brethren and coworkers can so easily lead to factionalism and bitter feelings that I feel it is my duty to you, and to this school I love so much, to encourage you to remain dispassionate about this action. Mistakes may have been made on both sides, but sincere, good people have tried to make decisions which would be best for the school in the long run. My choice has been to resign from my teaching position rather than to agree to cease all discussion with people related to ______ College about the Holy Spirit. I simply cannot conscientiously cease answering questions concerning my hope and my faith.

My prayer for you is that you may meet this crisis without passion, knowing that God's will is being done. Do not let allegiance to any person make you take sides in a crusade. Avoid bitterness and dissension. May God let you grow through this exercise of love. Study the will of God through His holy word, and may the peace of Christ be with you always. You know that I love you.

During the past few weeks, both faculty members have been busy preparing to find other employment. They express no ill will toward the college; nor toward the Churches of Christ. They have no inclination to leave this fellowship, so long as they can function with integrity in it. Both are optimistic about avenues even now opening up which may keep them both active in the fellowship of their childhood church.

This account, kept impersonal to minimize emotionalism, has a single purpose: to make it clear that the Church of Christ, having failed to develop a philosophy for handling differences of opinion, is fated to pass endlessly from one unnecessary tragedy to another. We have not yet learned the lesson of Romans 14, and time is running out. Our massive troubles used to come spaced far apart, but they hit us now with disconcerting rapidity.

There was, for example, the music problem first; it split us hideously about a century ago. Many years later the great premillennial schism rent us. Then, about twenty years ago, the furor over institutionalism split us into Herald of Truth supporters and non-Herald of Truth supporters. We have not yet made even a decent beginning toward solving this problem, but others are swarming upon us. The unity - in - diversity and community - not - conformity pleas of Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett are appealing to thousands, especially to the young men who will direct the church tomorrow, yet the reaction to these pleas has all too frequently been irrational and extreme. And now, spreading significantly for the moment at least, comes the growing army who actually claim Holy Spirit baptism instead of merely citing Scripture about it, and who claim also to speak in tongues of ecstasy and prophecy.

Tomorrow, some elders will read James 5 literally and decide they cannot reject an appeal for their services with oil and prayer. No, not tomorrow after all! Times are too swift for that; it has already happened. In two congregations of which I know, elders have declared themselves sick of scissoring the New Testament into proof-texts that fit the party image. They want all of it, they say, so they have told their flocks that if any sick man wants ("calls for") the elders to come and pray and anoint with oil, they will perform the service.

If one of these elders were on the board of a Church of Christ college, would he be asked to resign because his views were not in accord with the "basic beliefs of the brotherhood"? If he became a faculty member of the college and admitted his approval of this practice, would he be asked never to mention it again or else resign at once? And if so, wouldn't it be fairer to go ahead and draft a written creed now so that students and faculty of the future will know precisely what their limits are as they study the word of God?

For who knows how literally someone may read something the day after tomorrow? and what shall we do when an honest seeker comes under conviction that a verse means exactly what it says? Shall we go on telling people that they must not take the Bible at its word, although our preachers boast on Sunday of belonging to the only Christian fellowship that "speaks as the Bible speaks"?

Isn't it ironic that when college faculty members move, not toward liberalism or modernism, but in the direction of conservatism, they still get into trouble? Far from outrunning the New Testament, as has been charged of some ousted faculty of years past, these men are quite literally going back to it. Their experience with the Holy Spirit bounds astoundingly like experiences recorded of the early disciples. Their happiness, their deep assurance that they are indeed God's own sons, and their steady conviction that what they once knew in theory they now know in most glorious fact - all this is reminiscent of the state and the language of many early Christians.

But even for this kind of divergence they must go. Despite Paul's clear imperative, Forbid not speaking in tongues, they have been forbidden. Where the Bible speaks, a Church of Christ college administration has chosen to fall silent. What the Bible allows, it has chosen not to allow. What can one think, except that once again we have proved our unwritten creed more important than the written New Testament which we claim to treasure.

I have taken time to write this article because I want to plead fervently for tolerance in congregations and colleges. Let us give up the pretence that we all have the same understanding of Scripture and begin at once to fashion communities where love binds us together despite our differences. In the midst of a world-wide ecumenical movement, let us not be the last Christian folk to learn how to get along together.