The National Catholic Review
Many years ago now, when I was a teenager, I went to visit a girl I knew in Texas over Thanksgiving. She had a brother at Oral Roberts University, so we took the bus from Lubbock, Texas to Tulsa, Oklahoma to visit him and the campus. I did not know much about Oral Roberts, but I was sweet on the girl. At some point in the weekend, there was a gathering of all the visiting high school students and Oral Roberts came to address us. He asked how many of us spoke in tongues. A great number of students put up their hands. They were asked to leave the auditorium. Then he asked how many wanted to speak in tongues. Another large number of students put up their hands. When they, too, left the auditorium, I looked around and realized that apart from myself there were only a handful of other visiting students left, and not particularly viewed as the righteous remnant. I did not want to speak in tongues; it scared me. Then Oral Roberts spoke to us in tongues, which left me spiritually unmoved but nervous. So the first reading is a challenge to me: "When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim" (Acts 2:1-4). Why did I not want the Holy Spirit? Of what was I scared? Some people, Pentecostals especially, but other charismatic Christians too, place a surprising amount of emphasis on glossolalia as a sign of the Spirit. There is no question that Luke sees the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as a gift to the Church and a sign of its unity. People from all around the ancient world respond to hearing their own languages and it is a sign also that the Gospel will soon spread to these far-flung regions. Paul, also, spoke of glossolalia, especially in 1 Corinthians 12-14 and he, too, sees it as a sign of the Spirit. There is no question the phenomenon existed amongst the early Christians and that it was a mark of Christian worship, unity, and love. Yet, Paul also warns of tongues, and their misuse, in 1 Corinthians 14: 6-25, especially of their potential to be a moving spiritual experience that does not aid the community as a whole. But Paul never warns of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in general. Those who can say "Jesus is Lord" have the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). Paul speaks of the many gifts, workings, and forms of service that come through the Holy Spirit. "There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit" (1 Cor.12:4-7). There are many gifts, but the same Spirit: I have loved this passage ever since I can remember hearing it. Whatever our gifts, "we were all given to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13). Maybe my fear of speaking in tongues is explicable at a personal level - it is not my gift - but if I fear the gifts God has given of me, or my brothers and sisters fear those given to them, we are in danger. Our gifts are for the benefit of the whole Church, whatever they may be, and since the Holy Spirit is with us, we need to be bold enough to share them with others. And to those who say they have no gifts to share, Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that the greatest gift is love. John W. Martens