Tongues as a Sign - Macchi | Pentecostalism

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  PNEUMA: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, Vol. 15, No. 1, Spring 1993 61 Pp 61-76 Tongues as a Sign: Towards a Sacramental Understanding of Pentecostal Experience Frank   D.  Macchia* Simon Tugwell observed that most classical Pentecostals 1  do not regard baptism and the eucharist as sacramental in significance. Instead of functioning as visible signs of God's presence to save, the principle sacraments of baptism and the eucharist among Pentecostals appeared to Tugwell to be tied more closely with human acts of repentance and testimonies of faith. Of significant interest, however, is Tugwell's recognition of the sacramental character of Pentecostal speaking in tongues. He noted that, for Pentecostals, glossolalia signified God's presence here and now. Rather than representing mere emotionalism, tongues made God present for Pentecostals in a special, audibly identifiable way. As a Catholic, Tugwell felt most at home in this aspect of Pentecostal worship and speculated that tongues might provide a fruitful point of departure for future Pentecostal/Catholic dialogue. 2 Scholars of Pentecostalism, such as William Samarin and Walter Hollenweger, have also noted a sacramental element in the Pentecostal use of glossolalia. Samarin argued that tongues for Pentecostals represented a heightened awareness of God's presence, such as one normally finds in response to the eucharist in sacramental communions. As a linguistic symbol of the sacred, tongues says, God is here. 3  In this context, Hollenweger offers the provocative statement that tongues is the cathedral of the poor, signifying God's majestic presence for people who cannot afford to worship in gothic church settings. 4 Most Pentecostals are uncomfortable with the term sacrament because of the association of the term with an institutionalization of the Spirit or with formalistic liturgical traditions. Under the influence of a Reformed (especially Zwinglian) critique of sacramentalism, many Pentecostals fear that any use of the term sacrament would imply an understanding of sacramental efficacy as necessitated by a causative dynamic intrinsic to the elements, thereby institutionalizing or * Frank D. Macchia is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Southeastern College of the Assemblies of   God,  Lakeland, Florida. 1  The term Pentecostal throughout this article is used in reference to the classical Pentecostal movement. 2  Simon Tugwell, The Speech-Giving Spirit, A Dialogue with Tongues', in  New  Heaven? New Earth? An Encounter with Pentecostalism,  ed. S. Tugwell, et. al. (Springfield, IL.: Templegate, 1976), 151. 3  William Samarin,  Tongues of Men and Angels  (New York: Macmillan, 1972), 154,  232. 4  Walter  Hollenweger,  Geist und Materie  (Interkulturelle Theologie, 3; Muenchen: Chr. Kaiser Verlag 1988), 314-315.  62 PNEUMA The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, Vol 15, No l,Spnngl993 formalizing the free Spirit or grace of God Such a belief would imply for Pentecostals a denial of their cherished belief in the unmediated gracious presence of God conveyed directly to the believer by the Holy Spirit Do Pentecostals consistently hold to such a view of experiencing God? Morton Kelsey would answer in the affirmative He is convinced that Pentecostalism advocates an experience of God that is unmediated and direct For Kelsey, glossolalia serves to grant the believer direct access to God that bypasses rational and liturgical forms of mediation 5 In a similar vein, Karl Rahner viewed enthusiastic worship as a means of achieving an immediate experience of God that calls into question institutional, rational and sacramental forms of mediation between God and humanity, thereby providing a context for possible institutional renewal 6  Such views rightly draw our attention to the role that tongues play in bypassing, even calling into question, liturgical forms of sacramental mediation Yet, such views do not adequately take into consideration the role of tongues as an audible means of making God present that may also be viewed as sacramental in significance Pentecostal misgivings described above concerning the term sacrament are not wholly without historical or theological  justification Pentecostalism has inherited from reformation—both classical and radical—and pietistic movements a keen awareness of the dangers of institutionalizing or formalizing the Spirit of God But such misgivings are one-sided and mainly justified in relation to a neo-scholastic Catholic understanding of sacrament that has been radically questioned by contemporary Catholic theologians, such as Karl Rahner and E Schillebeeckx As we will have occasion to note, this more recent Catholic sacramental theology views the sacraments primarily as occasions for a personal encounter between God and the believer 7  Rahner does not locate sacramental efficacy in some kind of material causation necessitated by the elements as elements Rather, he deals with the question of sacramental efficacy only in the context of the  sign value  of the sacrament This redefinition does not mean that Rahner holds to a simplistic understanding of sign as an intellectual reference to some other reality yet to be experienced For Rahner, the reality signified becomes present and is experienced through the visible sign in the process of signification The reality signified is actually made 5  Morton Kelsey,  Tongue-Speaking An Experiment in Spiritual Experience  (New York Doubleday, 1964), 218-233 6  Karl Rahner, Religious Enthusiasm and the Experience of Grace,  Theological  Investigations,  V XVI (New York Seabury, 1979), 35-59 7  Note, E Schillebeeckx,  Christ the  Sacrament  of the  Encounter with  God   (Kansas City Sheed and Ward, 1963), and the essays on the sacraments by  Rahner in Theological Investigations,  V IV (New York Seabury, 1982) The Theology of the Symbol, 221-252, The Word and the Eucharist, 253-286, The Presence of Christ m the Sacrament of   the  Lord's Supper, 287-311  Tongues M a Sign 63 present in the process of signification, in a way analogous to how we as souls  are made present as bodies. Through sacramental signification, the eschatological presence of God is realized among believers. 8  Might we extend the analogy to say that sacramental signification is analogous to the way in which we as embodied souls are present to others in language? Do Pentecostals not regard God as uniquely present through glossolalie signification? May not Rahner's view of sacrament help Pentecostals to understand why they regard tongues as such a significant medium for the realization of God's presence to empower believers for service? Perhaps a Pentecostal appreciation for the term sacrament in relation to tongues would be helped by a stronger emphasis on the divine initiative in freely granting tongues its role of signification, in the sense of making present divine empowerment. We might add here what Paul Tillich noted about the integral connection between the free self-disclosure of God and the physical/audible reality that becomes the occasion in which this self-disclosure is encountered. Tillich maintains that this integral connection between the divine revelation and the physical/audible sign is realized from the divine initiative, as God takes the sign up into God's own self-disclosure. Tillich refers to this process as a kairos event. 9 Tongues function for Pentecostals in ways similar to Rahner's and Tillich's descriptions of sacrament, even if we are using the term in a broad or analogical sense. Speaking in tongues is integral to the experience of Spirit baptism for Pentecostals and is the audible medium for realizing the presence of God to empower and heal. There is nothing essentially alien in such understandings of sacramental signification to a Pentecostal understanding of the role of tongues as initial evidence of Spirit baptism. To the contrary, we may learn something valuable about our own spirituality through such insights. Yet, the Pentecostal uneasiness with liturgical traditions must not be ignored or easily dismissed in an enthusiasm to incorporate insights from recent sacramental theologies into Pentecostal traditions. Glossolalia is a different kind of sacrament than that which is conveyed in formalized and structured liturgies. Glossolalia accents the free, dramatic, and unpredictable move of the Spirit of God, while the liturgical traditions stress an ordered and predictable encounter with the Spirit. The allergic response of Pentecostals to liturgical worship may be one-sided but reveals a valuable accent on the spontaneity and freedom of the Spirit in worship. There is implied a chaotic 10  or 8  Rahner, Theology of the Symbol. 9  Paul Tillich,  The Protestant Era  (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947), 94-112. 10  Of course, general order in charismatic manifestations is taught in I Corinthians 14 and honored by Pentecostals, at least in principle. But, by liturgical standards, there is a chaotic, even playful, element to Pentecostal worship that can appear  64 PNEUMA The  Journal  of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, Vol 15, No 1,  Spring  1993 inchoate 11  sacramentality in Pentecostal worship that was formed in protest  to any attempt at a formalization or objectification of   the  Spirit in  liturgical rites This insight  serves  to explain the nonsacramental approach  to the liturgical rites of baptism and the eucharist among Pentecostals,  but also the presence of the sacramental element in the free and spontaneous manifestation of tongues This author believes that  a reflection on glossolalia as a sacramental sign in dialogue with Catholic  and Reformed theologies, especially in relation to the function of tongues as initial evidence of Spirit baptism, can contribute much to Pentecostal  theology and spirituality We must not forget that the dramatic  sign of tongues in Acts 2 4 is followed in 2 42 by the breaking of bread among believers Sacramental traditions would accent  this latter sign in reading Acts, while Pentecostals would accent the  former In our various readings of Acts chapter 2, what can we learn  from each other? Tongues  as  Initial  Evidence  in the  Book   of   Acts Tongues as initial evidence of Spirit baptism is perhaps the most enigmatic and controversial of classical Pentecostal beliefs There can  be little doubt that tongues serve as an apostolic sign for most Pentecostals,  signaling an evidence of   the  Spirit's anointing for service that  connects pentecostal believers with the initial apostolic anointing for service The exegetical argument for this evidential logic is based on the  prominence of tongues in the srcinal Jewish baptism of   the  Spirit at  Pentecost in Acts 2 The presence of tongues in both of   the  major Gentile  Spirit baptisms (Acts 10, 19)  visibly   connects the Jewish and Gentile  experiences of   the  Spirit Acts 10 44󰀭46 is central in connecting the  Gentile Spirit baptisms with the srcinal Jewish experience on the Day   of   Pentecost  Pentecostals have argued for a pattern of tongues in  Acts that implies the kind of   visible  links just noted between the early Jewish and Gentile communities  12  The pattern  suggests  that there is indeed  a special connection between tongues and Spirit baptism in the  book of Acts This connection is sought after in current Pentecostal worship services Pentecostals wish to become a part of   the  Acts pattern that connected  early Jewish and Gentile experiences of the Spirit The Pentecostals  wish to be connected to these ancient communities so that the  story of the Book of Acts might continue in their contemporary story Tongues as initial evidence becomes the primary means by which strange  or  threatening  to  those  not  accustomed  to  such  worship  Such   chaos can remind  us  that,  the  need  for  order  aside,  the  Spirit  is not  under  our  absolute control 11  Rex  Davis,   Living  Liturgically   The  Charismatic  Contribution,  in  Strange Gifts?   A  Guide  to  Charismatic  Renewal,  eds D  Martin  and Ρ  Mullen (Oxford Basil  Blackwell,  1984) 12  Gary   Β McGee,   Early   Pentecostal  Hermeneutics  Tongues  as  Evidence  in the Book   of   Acts,  in  Initial   Evidence,  ed G Β McGee  (Peabody,  MA   Hendrickson, 1991), 96󰀭118
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