I’ve had the privilege of going on a few mission trips in the States and outside the country. I love the diversity of the world–different cultures, sub-cultures, unique music, different languages and dialects and the variety of skin colors. Of the three foreign trips that I’ve taken, the trip to Argentina captured my attention the most because of the language barrier. The mission group was almost totally mono-lingual which meant that we needed a translator the entire time. Whether it was the countryside, the prisons or just in the town there was a language barrier. The language diversity in the country of Kenya was simply beautiful. It seemed that most Kenyans were multi-lingual in contrast to most American citizens who are mono-lingual. I wonder if mono-lingual cultures are more homogeneous and less prone to reach immigrants or reach out to individuals from other cultures? In Genesis 11:1-9, there is a common language, and with that a common goal and the unique technological advancement of making bricks. In the text, God Himself assigned cultural and regional diversification by diversifying language. The unique language forced the organizing of different lands and cultures. The scattering seems to fit with the instructions giving to Adam in the Garden, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28)
In the Biblical narrative, God turns to His attention to Abraham and then the nation of Israel and ultimately to Jesus Christ. In Christ the gospel is made complete and made available to all who would respond. Inherent within the gospel is a message that reaches all of mankind. Acts 2 displays God’s commitment to being missional. The gospel was given to a culturally and linguistically unique group of Jews gathered in Jerusalem. There are two critically important things to note about the events of Acts 2. First, this is the beginning of the church and its beginning is marked by the extreme diversity of those who would hear the gospel. Luke records, “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” (Acts 2:5) I don’t believe that it is unconventional to say that Christ intended that His church include those of diverse nationalities and social status. Here is this new organism called the church behaving missionally. They are forced out of the upper room into the streets of Jerusalem to communicate good news. This raises a question–can a church call itself missional if it is culturally homogeneous? My view on this is that a church can be all white or all black and still be missional because geographic context many times determine the racial makeup of a congregation. The key is an intent to reach those outside of our comfort zone…”the least of these” (Matthew 25:37-46) Secondly, the first action of the church seems to really drive home God’s missional intent–He enables these disciples to miraculously speak in a language that they did not learn. If this event is not missional I don’t know what is. Essentially, the gospel jumps outside of a closed room into the hearts of “outsiders” through mouths of unlearned men and women.
The debate about the gift of tongues seems to come down to whether the gift is a real language unlearned by the speaker but understood by the hearer or whether it is a private prayer language. Is the gift for personal use or is does it have a missional use? It has been understood by many, primarily in the Charismatic camp to be a private heavenly prayer language used to enriched one’s personal walk. I must admit that I don’t see this in Scripture. There are loads of problems with this understanding of a private prayer language that only some in the body of Christ have while others simply pray to the Father in their mother tongue. Instead, I recognize a miraculous gift that is designed to jump cultural barriers to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This gift is not an internally focused, private gift–no its public and bold. I have always struggled with the concept of the miraculous gifts ceasing but at the same time I struggle even more with the phenomenon of private prayer language for only a select few within the body of Christ. The prospect that some Christians are gifted to have better prayer sessions than others seems elitist to me. I just believe that the church in North America has spent more time focused on inward projects, self-loving and repackaging itself. The U.S. church has spent very little time ‘culture jumping’ as exemplified in Acts 2 and beyond. God gave these early ‘church members’ miraculous missional abilities so that the good news could go forth into all the world. (Acts 1:8) My contention is that if you have the gift of tongues there are many opportunities to use it to build up the body of Christ.
The world is still scattered as God intended in Genesis 11 but it is not hopeless. God sends His faithful ones to these secluded places with good news and a message of hope about His Son Jesus Christ. God’s desire is that mankind would both inhabit and steward His creation. He further desires that they would fully appreciate His handiwork. Full appreciation is only possible through a mind and heart that has truly been redeemed. What if the church of today mirrored it’s “Pentecost” beginnings? Its imperative that we understand that the upper room was simply a place to gather to receive power and marching orders. The early disciples stepped out of that room and set the world on fire. As the church of today, perhaps we’ve enjoyed the upper room too much and have neglected the diverse crowd that waits on the other side of the ‘church doors’.