Sunday, May 4, 2014


Originally, I was ordained a Baptist minister. Though I am now a liturgical/sacramental priest, I do like to look in on my Baptist friends. I wrote a post on the Baptists’ problem with speaking in tongues. It became my most read post. Meanwhile, the issue became hotter, so I decided to revise the article and print it again with some of the good comments added. Basically, the problem involves the intellect vs the spirit.

Two Christian writers can help shed light on Southern Baptists’ (as well as others’) problem with “tongues”. One is the Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross, and the other, St. Paul. Both of these men recognize they possess two mental systems. Paul uses the word “understanding” (in Greek, the intellect) to describe one of the systems. He uses the word translated as “spirit” for the other system. We hear him describing how he works with his two systems in 1 Cor 14:15 “I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also...I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also”. In other words, he is fully aware that he is using two distinct “mental” systems in his spirituality.
St. John of the Cross, similarly describes two systems. He uses the word “sensual” (the understanding, will, and memory) for one system and “spirit” for the other.

Both men were conscious that the two systems had real problems with one another. For more on this. St. Paul describes the problem as follows: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him.”1Co 2:14) St. John of the Cross describes this same problem as follows: "The sensual part of a man has no capacity for that which is pure spirit.” (Bk. 1 IX 4). . St John goes further: “For anything that the soul (the intellect) can do of its own accord at this time (i.e. when God has infused Himself), serves only, to hinder inward peace and the work which God is accomplishing in the spirit.” (Bk. 1 IX) The intellect is getting in God’s way.

For St. John, God communicates directly with the spirit mind, outside the intellect’s capabilities. God even deliberately “binds (the intellect's) inner faculties and allows it not to cling to the understanding, nor to have delight in the will, nor to reason with the memory. When once the soul (intellect) begins to enter therein (arrive at that state), its inability to reflect with the faculties grows ever greater.”Bk. (1 IX 4) At some point, the soul can go dark ( flat line). Thus, the title of St John’s book is: "Dark Night of the Soul”. Flat lining is a positive thing spiritually, but intolerable to the intellect.

St. Paul also wants to flatline the intellect, but unlike St. John of the Cross who lets God do it, St. Paul works on the experience himself: He tells us how he does it. 1Co 14:4 “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself (in Greek: “is a house builder,”, i.e. “building up his house”). He describes then how this gets his intellect to “go dark.”. “For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding (intellect) is unfruitful (Greek: “barren,” not producing intellectual fruit”).(1 Co 14:14).

Today, if you read the attacks on “speaking in tongues”, you will quickly discern the resistance of the intellect to “go dark”, “to be unfruitful”, to enter “The Dark Night of the Soul”. Some attackers are appalled by an intellect becoming unfruitful. Others, only mock what they see or hear. In our present age of reason, most intellects struggle furiously to maintain domination over the consciousness. The word hegemony is useful. Hegemony is used to describe the dominance of one state over another. It is mostly used about political states, but it can be used with states of consciousness. The intellect demands hegemony in the modern mind. The idea of losing your mind temporally for the sake of making direct contact with God is unacceptable to most. See another take.

Which brings us back to the Southern Baptists. Baptists have two historical forces at work that give them problems with “tongues”. Fundamentalists among the Baptists get their title as the guardians of the fundamentals of the faith, i.e. correct theology. Guarding the fundamentals is a cerebral activity.

Secondly, Baptists got their name for their insistence upon reaching an age of accountability before being baptized -- believers baptism. Psychologists attribute this age of accountability which occurs around puberty, as resulting from the interconnections of the brain’s neurons reaching a level of maturity which makes rational thought possible. In other words, a core Baptist belief is the demand that you must be capable of understanding what you are doing. Spirituality as rational.

Following is a thoughtful comment received:
Anonymous said...
Fr Don has demonstrated something I have observed about the evangelical mind. Movie and TV often portrays evangelicals as emotional or simple-minded. In fact, behind some of the emotions of conversion is a tremendous rationality. Rather than conversion being a matter of emotion, Baptist theology tends to cast it as an act of the mind or will - the opposite of many of the images that are used to slam evangelicals like Southern Baptists.

I am wondering about the origins of this intellectual view of faith. The Baptist opposition to speaking in tongues seems rooted in their public embracing of dispensationalism. Rather than asking how to do the works of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, their rational theology reasons that the absence of those works today is proof that they were temporary gifts given to establish the Church until the canon of scripture was set. This position leads them to misinterpret Paul's state about spiritual gifts ceasing when that which is perfect is come (1 Corinthians 13). Clearly Paul is envisioning the coming of Christ and the life of the kingdom of God when partial revelation will give way to the fullness of God's presence and relationship with us.

In his books, "Surprised by the Power of God" and "Surprised by the Voice of God", former Baptist theologian Jack Deere shares a compelling account of his shift from dispensationalism to embracing the power and gifts and the Holy Spirit as described in the bible. I have come to a place where I cannot preach about a Jesus who cannot, or will not, do today all that the bible says he will do. This has not been a rational change and much as a change of heart. Speaking in tongues has become a wonderful means of prayer that helps me go beyond the limitations of my intellect. The child-like faith I exercise in praying from my born-again spirit through the power of the Holy Spirit helps me open up to God's ability to do beyond my wildest dreams. Like others, I constantly fall short of the fullness that is truly available - and is what I believe to be God's highest will for us. But I can't rationalize that reality away based on my short-fall because I have tasted enough of the real to know that there is gold in those hills that is worth the effort to mine it.

Read More......