Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Maybe Pentecost Never Happened (at least as thought)

MAYBE PENTECOST NEVER HAPPENED, at least not the way everyone believes.

At the turn of this century, when the gift of tongues returned to the Christian church, one result was a new excitement about missions. I have read that, as the people heard themselves speaking in unknown languages, they assumed that they must be speaking the language of some tribe of people somewhere on the planet. Some of these excited people actually took off to the mission people looking for their tribe.

Apparently, none of them found their target people, but many still stayed on in the mission field, which was a good thing. On the negative side however, was the deep disappointment of others, when the different languages were not found. Later in the movement, though, people with the gift of tongues, settled on the idea that they were speaking an unintelligible language of the Holy Spirit and of angels as Paul taught. (1 Cor 14) The fact that these languages followed no recognizable, rational, linguistic structure became less important, as people learned of the powerful spiritual fruit which followed the gift.

Down thru the centuries, the church has believed that an unusual event happened at Pentecost. They believed the disciples came forth from the upper room speaking different languages of the many people present. Some have believed that God was undoing the curse placed on the earth at Babel when He confounded our language.

There has always been disappointment that the phenomena of Pentecost never was repeated, at least not in the same form. I have read, that because the phenomena never occurred again, the church moved away from trying to reduplicate it, and the gift of tongues disappeared early on Then it reemerged in our own time.

But, suppose what people believed about Pentecost never happened?

Obviously, I was not there, so it will be with great timidity, that I am proposing a different possibility of what happened at Pentecost. I propose this alternative idea from the point of view of a psychologist.

Keep in mind that nowhere in the Scriptures does it say that the disciples at Pentecost “spoke” in different languages. What it does say is that everyone “heard” them worshiping God, each in his own language. Acts 2:6 “the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.”

Please stay with me for a brief psychology lesson and then I will come back to my point.

Early in the study of the human mind, psychologists realized that the mind absolutely will not tolerate undecipherable stimuli. The mind attacks everything with the complete confidence that by hook or crook, it will make sense out of it.

A hundred years ago, a psychologist was riding on a train. He was pondering why, as the train sped along, the telephone poles zipped by in the other direction. The houses out a little ways, moved in the same manner as the poles, only slower. And the mountain in the distance kept up with the train.

In one of those ah hah experiences scientists have, the psychologist realized that obviously all those objects out there could not be doing what he was seeing. Therefore, the movement must be something the mind was doing to those objects.

The story goes that he hurried off the train, went back to his laboratory and a whole new field of psychology began. He found that when things are contradictory to the mind, the mind finds a way to make them make sense, even if objectively they do not.

Another illustration of the point I am making, was also happening around the same time. Most everyone has seen those ink blots we psychologists love to show people.

Presenting a person with a blot of ink, we inquire, “what might this be?” Of course if the person is not interested, he will just say “it is an inkblot.” But if his mind assumes it is supposed to see something, you would be impressed at what the mind will do to that ink blot. Some people see so many things you have to stop them.

The mind cannot stand for it to be just an ink blot, so it creates all sorts of things.

One more startling revelation is that you have a hole in your vision. That’s right. Objects reflect on the receptor nerves in the back of the eye. However, at the point where the nerves exit to the brain, there are no receptors. Therefore, the hole in your vision. Do you see holes in everything? No. Why? The mind refuses to let that happen. It solves the problem by painting in the image where there should be a hole.

Bottom line: The mind just will not let a meaningless stimulus alone. It has to turn it into something that makes sense.

Is this what really happened at Pentecost? People saw the disciples worshiping God. The listener’s mind said to itself, “this has to mean something” so, the mind imposed the meanings and “each heard in his or her own language.” That is not to say that the Holy Spirit did not also break through with some comprehensible words off and on. God can do anything of course.

This is not preposterous, for when the church finally settled into their routine, Paul described what they were doing as follows. 1Co 14:2 "For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries."

Why am I writing this? Because this gift of tongues that has reemerged in our time has such powerful positive effects in Christian’s lives, it is a shame for people to miss it. After all, all the writers of the New Testament were tongue talkers.

If people are being held back from this gift, because they are waiting for themselves to be able to speak an intelligible language, that is tragic. It would be especially so, if speaking in languages with known structures, is not all that happened at Pentecost.

There is a second and more serious problem which I have written about in a recent post speaking in tongues (See Jan. 27 post--Speaking in Tongues, two Hemispheres of the Brain and Oral Roberts). Briefly, the mind’s meaning-making activity dominates everything else going on in our mental system. For example, try to meditate or pray quietly, and see how quickly your inquisitive mind wants to start explaining to itself what you are doing and why. Then it continues making comments about anything else it can think of. Your ability to meditate (or to pray quietly) is drowned out by the chatter.

Worse still, it is not long before the mind realizes that while you are speaking in tongues, it can’t do its job. As St. Paul brilliantly described the mind’s problem when he wrote 1Co 14:14 “For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful”

For a person whose mind must dominate the mental system, and whose mind becomes alarmed when it cannot make sense out of everything, an unfruitful mind is intolerable.


ceomeo said...

Well, it does seem clear from the biblical account that the disciples were all speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. But the text doesn't say that they were speaking in the tongues of those present, but that those folks heard them speaking in their languages. So the debate goes back and forth over whether ths is a miracle of speaking or a miracle of hearing. I have heard speaking in tongues thousands of times and have spoken in tongues every day of my life for over thirty years. Paul says in 1 Cor that the gift of interpretation of tongues is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit and not an operation of the mind creating order out of random language sounds. The mind remains unfruitful, or without understanding, without that additional operation of the Holy Spirit. I have had the experience of my mind hearing single words in the midst of a series of glossolalic syllables that seemed to be in a language I knew. But nothing like what you are describing as a possible explanation of the Pentecost phenomena. Like yourself, I would that many people could enjoy the child-like blessing of praying from their born-again spirits through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. And that they could go the next step and experience the grace of the Holy Spirit to interpret the mystery that has been spoken in the Spirit.

Father Don said...

I am meeting people who are being blocked from using a prayer language. Paying no attention to Paul saying their mind will be unfruitful, they are expecting a recognizable language.
I am trying to say that trying to hear something rational, their misunderstanting results in using the wrong part of their mental equipment.
Thanks so much for your comment.

Margo Carmichael said...

I think people make it too hard.

A woman prayed for me at the kitchen table, to be filled with the Spirit. I was not expecting a thing, and was suddenly filled with electricity and light-headedness--and then joy and some laughter. I am such a nobody, but God touched me. Too amazing.

The praying woman then began praying in tongues. I did not, not for two years, because I expected to be overpowered again, with tongues.

But the Bible says "they spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave utterance." So, when I just spoke the nonsense syllables I "heard" in my mind, I began praying in tongues.

But the baptism of the Spirit, I believe, happened that day at the table, because that's when I fell so in love with Jesus, whom I had received as Lord and Savior twenty years before, and with the Bible, which just came to life and I believe it so much more completely, and witnessing and telling others that if God would save and delight *even me,* He will do it for everyone.

Of course, not everyone wants to hear this, in these post-modern and ultra-sophisticated days, and I have lost friends.

It's like the song, "The Queen of Sheba," by the Messianic Jewish singers, Lamb. She went far, to hear Solomon tell about his God. They sing about people who are willing to go far in search of treasures and fools' gold. And here stand Charismatic Christians with outstretched hand to give them a little knowledge of God's whole truth, what the part of Him known as Holy Spirit wants to do in the fullness and freedom of His role for us. And they turn away.

Well, Jesus hasn't yet been vindicated, either, so we're in excellent company. : )

I think this is the first time I've written this online.

Margo Carmichael said...

Rewording that last graph for clarity. Thank you.

And here stand Charismatic Christians with outstretched hand, holding out a little part of God's whole truth that is often neglected....

Thank you, Fr. Don, I'm linking to your blog, too.