Note: I originally wrote this in 2009.
Some Christian denominations teach that speaking in tongues is a requires sign of salvation, and unless someone speaks in tongues he is not saved. But is this assertion Biblical? As with all questions of Christian doctrine, we must consult the foundational document of the Christian faith, the Bible. One of the Scriptures used as evidence for the tongues theory is below:
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
The problem with using this passage is that all Christians have clearly not been given all of these gifts. If a Christian went to his kitchen and started drinking Drano, would he be assured that he would not be harmed? Clearly, God can perform miracles and protect His followers from things that would normally be harmful or deadly, but he will not do so each and every time. That’s why most Christians would consider it foolish to make a statement of faith by drinking Drano or some other toxic substance. Not all Christians receive all spiritual gifts.
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
In the above example, the thief on the Cross is not recorded as showing that he received the Holy Ghost by speaking in tongues. He is not baptized either. What does happen is that he has faith in Jesus Christ even as He is dying on the cross, and he is redeemed by the Savior as a result.
1 Corinthians 12 is probably the most direct refutation that all Christians are required to speak in tongues. See verses 4-6 and 14-18 below:
1 Corinthians 12:4-6
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
1 Corinthians 12:14-18
For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
God has given each of us spiritual gifts, but not all of us have the same gifts. God explains it perfectly through His servant Paul, that each part of our bodies may be different, but all are necessary and created by God for His purpose. Along the same lines, God has given those in His church different spiritual gifts. Some have discernment, some can counsel people who struggle with sin, some can preach and teach, and some are called to mercy. Whether someone is preaching to the congregation on Sunday mornings or cleaning the church’s bathrooms when no one is around, all serve the church in different ways.
1 Corinthians 12:27-30
Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?
The questions Paul asks in verses 27-30 are rhetorical, meant to draw the answer of “no” from the Corinthians reading the letter. Clearly, not all are apostles, Not everyone works miracles or heals the sick, and not everyone speaks in tongues. In fact, there are a number of instances in the book of Acts where people are saved but are not recorded as speaking in tongues, such as the people saved and added to the church on Acts 2, the Philipian jailer in Acts 16:30-34 and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:27-39. So why does God give the gift of tongues? See below:
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
The Jews were amazed by this miracle, and Paul explains the purpose:
1 Corinthians 14:22
Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.
As Paul explains, this was to be a sign to unbelievers so that they will accept Christ.
One thing that we as Christians need to be careful of is attaching something we have done to our salvation, as if we could have done anything to atone for the blood guilt we have and escape the punishment we so richly deserve. Salvation is not because of what we have done, and that cannot be because we are completely unworthy of God’s unmerited grace. As Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches, salvation is by grace through faith, not of anything we have done. Being powerless to obtain favor in God’s sight is incredibly liberating because we know that any righteousness we have is His gift. He has already won the battle and all we have to do is trust and obey.