|Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom. 8: 26-27)|
I remember that night in 1983. I was invited to an Activity by the Evangelical Christian group of the University College Hospital Ibadan, and I was there. Towards the end of the event the Leader, Paul Temile, made some announcements and did some promotions which included a Prayer Programme coming up in a few days. He gave some superlative projections of expectations of the night of the promoted prayer session; continuing, he said “We shall be tonguing, tonguing, tonguing, tonguing, —”. Roars, heckles, claps whistles, rent the air. He started again and they joined him: “tonguing, tonguing, tonguing—”. On and on they shouted it together with him: “tonguing, tonguing, tonguing—”. I understood right away that this tonguing meant very much to them. Through the rest of my sojourn at Ibadan I observed that they placed premium importance on it as a gift of the Holy Spirit. One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is “Speaking in Tongues”:
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. (1Cor. 12: 7-10)
I remember another night at Ibadan, around the same period, in our small Catholic Community of the University College Hospital. We were having our weekly Bible Study session and a new face called Sister Felicia was there. Another new face, Brother Nnaemeka, was also there. These two agreed a great deal on most issues, including those that were not agreeable to most informed Catholic students, an example of which is what happened that night: Sister Felicia was attempting to teach us how to speak in tongues. She was actually speaking of how to pray in tongues and she implied she could teach this privately and had been doing this. As expected, some students told her that what she was doing was un-catholic and a downright unscriptural act. Of course, only Brother Nnaemeka could support her. Catholics believe that “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4: 24), and that teaching how to speak in tongues does not conform to the spirit influencing you and not you influencing the spirit, and that it is not truth if such tonguing is regarded as a manifestation of the spiritual gifts as written in the scripture. Interestingly, they left our fold just as we discovered they were never Catholics but were infiltrators on a mission of trying to clandestinely reach at naïve and not-very-informed catholic students with a view to winning them over, out of the catholic fold. Brother Nnaemeka, who was at the University College Hospital for a postgraduate programmme, was said to have had an astounding success at the University of Calabar as an undergraduate: he pretended to be a catholic and won an election to become the President of the Nigeria Federation of Catholic Students; he made a spectacular show of converting and leaving the Catholic Church mid-stream in his presidency – a very loud scandal for the Catholic Church in that University. Knowing all these, I felt I should not be surprised at the activities of these people, especially teaching, and getting people to practice, how to pray in tongues, since they were such dubious people that were unauthentic Christians whose activities did not reflect the practices of their denominations.
Back home in Enugu late 1985, I discovered how wrong I was in my belief that the tonguing aberration I observed in Ibadan was an isolated Felicia-Nnaemeka issue. I discovered that it was a normal practice among some members of Pentecostal churches. The use of tongues during prayers was already widespread among Pentecostals and soon it was seen in the newly-borne Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement, as it was then known; it became acceptable practice and gained significant attention. There were even incidents of one or two charismatic members trying to teach how to pray in tongues and their actions were condemned. This is as far as tonguing could go in the Catholic Church in Nigeria and it does not seem to me it will go beyond this. What the Catholic Charismatic Renewal of Nigeria (as the movement is now known) has done well is teaching members what they ought to know about use of tongues, using the knowledge of the scriptures: that what is generally being done is “Praying in Tongues” and not “Speaking in Tongues” as written in the bible in 1Cor. 12: 7, 10c-d:
“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all — to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues”.
It is clear from the quote above that what we hear in Churches, Ministries and Fellowships cannot be called “Speaking in Tongues”. It has been explained many times over by our Charismatic leaders that the “Praying in Tongues” we do is in line with Romans 8: 26-27:
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
This shows that The Spirit should be the one driving the “groanings” and not the individual willfully concocting those incomprehensible words of the “groanings”. The latter is the case in most of the tonguing I hear. A very insignificant number of those tongue-prayers are done in spirit and in truth. I have often been amused listening to such tongues coming out of loudspeakers of the numerous churches along Agbani Road Enugu, as I drove or walked along. I have become familiar with most of the concoctions: Sherima ma kuri ma ma sherima ma makoma ma kuri ma sherima ma ma ma kuri ma makoma ma ma— seems to be the most common variety. There are other common varieties. It can easily be seen how fabricated these tongues usually are. There are, however genuine prayer tongues and I have heard quite a number of them. The difference is always clear if you care to discern.
I remember when I was newly married, in 1998, and my wife joined our Catholic Charismatic Renewal fellowship at the Blessed Assurance Community. She noticed that our members laid much emphasis on tongues. Incidentally, that time she joined fell into the period we were just rounding up our New Members’ Programme and preparing for the final day which was the zenith of the Programme, the day of Ministration of the Holy Spirit or the so-called Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Actually, a number of us differed on the way they promoted gift of tongues as if it is the most important gift of the Holy Spirit and an essential sign one had received Spiritual gift during the programme. I told my wife that if she watched out for it she would easily notice the difference between the genuine tongues and the concocted ones.
On the appointed day, Brother Felix, the Activity Leader, had barely finished the opening remarks when he shot into tongues that continued for a long time. Sometime into the tonguing the character of the tongues sharply changed and continued in a much finer, rather monotonic, monosyllabic, garbled, mangled, indecipherable, staccato sounds devoid of any iota of semblance of organization, and he seemed to be deeply absent; the hall was charged and strangely peacefully chaotic with many bursting out into what I judged to be genuine tongues. Obviously, a number of people were still fully in the flesh and dishing out those usually willfully concocted sounds, fraudulently wanting to be counted among those who were supposedly holy and spiritually found worthy to receive that highly-priced gift of the Holy Spirit – tongues. At home that evening my wife told me she noticed the transition in Brother Felix’s tonguing.
Some people have often wondered why the Pentecostals and some Catholic Charismatics place so much premium importance on tongues. I have often been accused by some of our members of not being interested in the Holy Spirit and His spiritual gifts. This is because I have never publicly spoken or prayed in tongues, I do not shout out prayers emotively as many of them do and when I do vocal prayers they are short like those of a non-charismatic; most of them are talkatively prayerful. My answer has always been that I have generously received gifts from the Holy Spirit so much that I would need more than a lifetime to exercise them significantly, speaking in tongues being the least in my priority list of desire for the gifts of the Holy Spirit; and it is also the least beneficial of the gifts. (cf. 1Cor. 12 and 14).
My stand on praying with tongues is the same with the stand of Paul: For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful (1Cor. 14:14). Furthermore, “- – – if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say?(1Cor. 14 :16)”.
It does not mean that praying in tongues is at all unbeneficial. It is very far from that. Actually, when you are praying well in tongues you are assured your prayers are going to God exactly the way it ought to because “the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8: 26c) and you are also assured that your prayers are according to the will of God and properly presented because “He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8: 27)
It is important to also note that many of the people praying with those willfully concocted sounds as described above are also praying very well although what they are doing do not conform to praying in tongues as explained with Romans 8: 26-27. What they are doing is “praying spiritually” or “praying in the spirit” as distinguished from “the spirit doing the praying” on your behalf when you connect successfully with the Spirit. They are doing their prayer journey in their minds, opening their mouths to utter any easy sounds that come to them rather than making effort to coin words and arrange sentences correctly; they rather concentrate their best efforts on the things they are saying in the spirit, which actually seem like thoughts in the mind. It is like thinking through the prayers rather than talking them through, which would involve making sentences. This “thinking through” of prayers, if you think about it, is lightning-fast as you can see a whole story in your mind almost in a flash, what could take quite a while to describe in vocalized sentences. A witness in an incident that happened in a few seconds necessarily describes it in words and sentences that last many minutes – what he observed in seconds or even in fractions of a second. When you pray like this your spirit flashes through adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication and could go on to contemplation, meditation and on and on, in that one prayer burst, in a few minutes. You would take up to an hour or more to go through all these vocalized constructed sentences in each part.
I, most of the time, do this kind of praying in the spirit, minus the vocalizations. I pray silently most of times. If I open my mouth at such times to vocalize the way my thoughts are going without making sentences, the sounds will be close to those made by those praying in real tongues; but the latter is still a special entity and a special gift of the Holy Spirit where the person gets lost, so to say, and connects with the Spirit in a special way no one can describe, and then makes those un-characterizable sounds rather unconsciously. Finally, there are many people who are engaged in fake tonguing, so to say, making those willfully concocted sounds without having any prayers in their thoughts at that moment. They tongue for show.
Speaking in Tongues is markedly different from Praying in Tongues although they are both tongues, making sounds that are not understood by even the person making the sounds, and are both special gifts of the Holy Spirit. Praying in tongues does not usually require interpretation but Speaking in Tongues requires that a person who has the gift of Interpretation of Tongues interprets the tongues – the messages spoken in tongues – unless the person speaking in tongues also has the gift of interpretation of tongues. There are principles involved and rules guiding Speaking in Tongues (1Cor. 14: 1-40). Speaking in Tongues is extremely rare in this age but Praying in Tongues is a common practice especially among Pentecostals and Catholic Charismatics, the bastardized form of it gaining grounds rapidly.
It is not wrong to desire Spiritual gifts but “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1Cor. 14: 40). Know also that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are many and it is necessary you try and discover the gifts you already have and utilize them for the benefit of the Church and the society. To be discouraged is this present obsession for tongues, and corrupting of tonguing.