TONGUES - CONFUSED BY ECSTASY

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The chief concern in this study is the understanding of the true glossolalic phenomenon, in distinction from the confusing element of ecstasy.

The starting point is the assumption that there is an authentic gift of glossolalia that presumably is potentially valid today, although under what conditions and why is a different question. Gifts of teaching, preaching, and pastoring are self-evidently valid or able to be independently validated, but what is the validation of speaking in "tongues"? Indeed, what is "speaking in tongues"? Considering the difficulties of defining the term, and the apparent difficulties in ascertaining and authenticating the gift, one feels compelled to agree with Robinson (Meyer 1975, 142) that the phenomenon has stolen a position out of all proportion to its biblical importance and ecclesiastical value. Robinson, a glossolalist and former Pentecostal preacher states:

There are sixty-six books in the Bible, and only three of them mention tongues. There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible, and only seven refer to tongues. There are 31,162 verses, and only twenty-two mention tongues. Sheer quantity is not, of course, a proper criterion for evaluating scriptural teachings. By the same token, however, a practice which is mentioned so seldom, hardly deserves the attention that some give tongues, and the benefits do not seem to be commensurate with the cleavages that are created.

 * * * * *

The focus of this study is upon ecstasy as the confusing antecedent of Corinthian glossolalia. Most commentators accept ecstasy as the most significant characteristic of the Corinthian Christian glossolalic phenomenon. This assumption is questioned in this research, because it needs to be clarified. It is contended that ecstasy is the confusing element because it was characteristic of the contemporary Corinthian mystery religious practice and that that background was carried into the Corinthian church thus colouring Paul’s treatment of the subject. It is not to be seen as an essential element of glossolalia.

 * * * * *

Manifestation of this phenomenon of ecstasy through the years has often been a confusing element. Ecstasy is a point of debate about authentic prophetic gifts in the Old Testament. It is a point of debate about valid revival movements from the second century A.D. forward. It is a significant point of debate in contemporary society and the Pentecostal/ charismatic movement of the twentieth century.

Ecstasy is the focus of this debate, which shows the polarization of views on the same phenomenon, some declaring it to be of God, others as strongly affirming that it is of the devil. Some see it is a neutral phenomenon, or a psychological phenomenon.

The issue is further confused by the manifestation of ecstasy and associated phenomena in a variety of cultures that in many cases approximate to the phenomenon of claimed spiritual gifts and their expression. It will be necessary to examine these phenomena to help to ascertain the nature and source of the phenomena, and to distinguish them from authentic biblical phenomena.

 * * * * *

The overall significance of the study is to provide a basis for authenticating a valid glossolalic expression, and all this comes from the foundation of the test case in Corinth, which in turn is dependent upon an understanding of ecstasy in the antecedent Mystery Religions of Corinthian contemporary society.

 * * * * *

METHODOLOGY

A majority of scholars, writing on glossolalia in the comparative contexts of the Book of Acts and 1 Corinthians, state that there is a practical difference in the terms used for glossolalia in each context. Their stated position is that ecstasy is the element that distinguishes 1 Corinthians from the passages in Acts. Commonly Acts is deemed to present intelligible language, whilst 1 Corinthians is held to show a phenomenon of ecstatic utterance. Since this is the assumed position, it is necessary to look at the issue of ecstasy to discover its very nature and the variety of contemporary secular manifestations, in order to delineate its relevance to the phenomenon of 1 Corinthians. This will be achieved, in part, by a look at a specific case study that will show parallels, not only in the factor of ecstasy, but in associated phenomena that are common to Corinthian Mystery Religions as well as enthusiastic religious practice (including Pentecostal and charismatic practice – to varying degrees) as well as secular manifestations.

 * * * * *

The second major area is that of glossolalia. An examination of both biblical as well as extra-biblical references will help in pursuing the nature of glossolalia and its possible association with or dependence upon ecstatic experience. Certainly in 1 Corinthians there is the possible association of glossolalia and ecstatic experience (as well as prophecy as perhaps an ecstatic expression of glossolalia).

Alongside this pragmatic study, a study of the purposes for which glossolalia might be used, the conditions under which it might occur, as well as the sources of its manifestation, will be pursued. Is "glossolalia" used consistently in the biblical references?

From this second major area of study, which has many cultural aspects, it will then be possible to address the relevance of glossolalia to the contemporary scene. Indeed, it will also be necessary to ascertain if it is even valid beyond the New Testament era. If glossolalia is shown to be valid today, when, where, and under what circumstances should it occur? Are there guidelines to be observed?

These questions, and more, will open the way to take the study into the Pauline area of corrective teaching in 1 Corinthians, as opposed to the historical accounting of Acts.

 * * * * *

Glossolalia is a spiritual gift. Consistent with the other spiritual gifts there is no experiential prerequisite. Preaching is not prefaced by trance. Teaching does not have an ecstatic precursor. Evangelism does not require a mystical context.

Whatever might be the association of spiritual gifts with natural ability, careful training and practice, there is no experiential pre-requisite.  And yet, in most of the literature glossolalia (as one of the gifts) is consistently associated with ecstatic phenomena that replicates the secular experience of many religious groups. In fact, glossolalia is generally perceived as only occurring as a result of first achieving a form of ecstasy. An exalted experience has become the precursor for a spiritual gift.

 * * * * *

Because Christianity has some of the same elements, it was often classified as a Mystery Religion. It is precisely this correlation that is fundamental to this study.

 * * * * *

            With the cymbals, drums and flutes, coupled with the frenzy and self-mutilation of the Cybele-Attis cult; the ecstaticism, in Dionysianism; together with the emphasis on tongues-speaking and oracles in the religion of Apollo, it is no surprise to find that the Corinthians carried these pagan ideas into the church at Corinth – especially the practice of speaking in tongues – the sure evidence of union with God (compare House 1983, 138).

 * * * * *

Martin (1960, 78) summarizes:

Clearly, these extra-biblical accounts of phenomena similar to Apostolic glossolalia show how prevalent ecstatic, frenzied, inarticulate, and for the most part incoherent speech was in the Graeco-Roman religious history and experience. They are all plainly connected with religious practices, and all are given religious interpretation, explanation and significance.

* * * * *

… The initiates then proceeded to wild processions (Neal 1974, 691) with “delirious dances” that led to a state of “semi-unconsciousness” (Kennedy n.d., 91).

The processions were enhanced by musical instruments, “clashing cymbals, loud drums, and screeching flutes” (House 1983, 137) that correlate to Paul’s comparisons in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in (the) tongues … but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal”. The ecstatic gibberish in this highly aroused state too easily translated to ecstatic utterance in the emotional meetings of the Corinthian Church.

 * * * * *

            -ii. Correlations with Christianity.

… Even in the area of morality, one can see significant influence of the culture. Paul had to rebuke the Corinthians for countenancing an incestuous relationship (1 Corinthians 5:1-13) and for failing to understand the ramifications of promiscuity (1 Corinthians 6:12-10). In addition, he noted that the immorality of their past manner of life was washed and cleansed by Christ, and therefore to be left behind (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

            -iii. Gross Immorality.

The Corinthians were continually subjected to the gross immorality of the Dionysiac worship in their culture. Dionysus was represented as bi-sexual, the god of “two forms” (Luyster 1980, 121). In processions in his honour, the men dressed like women and adorned themselves with an enormous inflated penis (121). Sexual promiscuity was associated with and promoted by much drinking of wine (Burkert 1985, 292). The aim was to achieve orgiastic excitement purportedly resulting in identification with the god as “proved” by ecstatic utterance (Clemen 1931, 191). Dionysiac festivals shared the temporary licences of drunkenness and sexual expression – including the procession call phallophoria (Kraemer 1979, 57), accompanied by the “Phallus song” (Rogers 1979, 254) – which indicated the unrestrained debauchery of their “worship”, especially as the song was sung by the Ithyphalloi – the erect penises – a chorus of men (Luyster 1980, 124). Epithets like Orthos, the erect, and Enorches, the testicled, point to the sexual preoccupation of the festivals (Luyster 1980, 124).

Livy, in the History of Rome states (cited in Rice 1979, 200):

As a result, the rites were in a state of promiscuity: men mingled with women; the night added permissiveness; no crime, no vice was neglected there. There was more debauchery on the part of the men among themselves than with the women. If some were less tolerant of the shame and more reluctant to commit the crime, they were slaughtered as sacrificial victims. To believe that nothing was illicit, among them this was the most exalted faith.

 * * * * *

As the Christians in Corinth looked out across the Gulf of Corinth toward Mount Parnassus, would they not be reminded of the ecstasy inherent to the Dionysian religion, a religion which had already existed for perhaps a thousand years in Greece? As they looked out across the same gulf toward Delphi, would they not also be reminded of the prophetic god Apollo, who was perhaps the most popular of Greek gods?

(Rudd 1986, 73-74).

* * * * *

Mills (1985a, 87-88) allows that,

While there likely is a certain formal, external connection between the ecstaticism of certain pagan religious practices and glossolalia … (it) is fallacious to argue that, because of certain parallelisms, Corinthian glossolalia at its deepest level betrayed the same meaning as the wild, ecstatic frenzies of the Hellenistic religions. That its form bore some semblance to these phenomena is most probable, however.

Similarly, Martin (1960, 81) warns that

the total impression made by such an array of instances of ecstatic, involuntary, and most often incoherent utterances – glossolalia – is that the Apostolic phenomenon was no new thing

but that

One must never make the mistake of linking these earlier and more widespread appearances into some kind of lineal descent or even into a developing evolution of the ecstatic type of religious speech like Apostolic glossolalia. For we find no direct connection between these other instances and the Apostolic glossolalia as it appeared in Christian circles.

 * * * * *

If ecstasy is assumed as the precursor to glossolalia, then glossolalia might be a valid phenomenon extending from witchdoctors to Mormons to Dionysiac devotees to biblical Christians. But if ecstasy is not a precursor, as this study postulates, then the whole scenario changes dramatically. Biblical glossolalia is a gift of God, and therefore reflects on the character of God (triune). Being a gift of God it fulfils the purposes of God and relates to His Church, of which He is the Head, and to Whom all glory is due. True glossolalia demands treatment within these parameters.

 * * * * *

In general literature on glossolalia, glossolalia is treated in singularly uncritical terms. The mere mention of the term immediately leads to various considerations that in no way question the source or validity of the purported utterance. Very little comparison is entertained between verbal utterances that may be of purely psychological (at best) or Satanic (at worst) origin. There is virtually no attempt to validate any claim that God is the source of the gift, indeed there is a wholesale assumption in Christian contexts, that God is the source of any incomprehensible verbal utterance without any substantiation, and to suggest otherwise is to quench the Spirit or to insult God. And yet the Bible clearly enjoins the imperative to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). As a result, the true gift of glossolalia is completely lost in a mass of worthless verbal utterances that have no established parameters or veracity, and yet the Holy Spirit is erroneously credited (blamed?) for what at best is banal nonsense. It must be noted, that the sum total of all the verbal utterances (supposed glossolalia) and all the books, articles and sermons in favour of these unsubstantiated utterances, amounts to virtually nothing.

 * * * * *

Collectively, the students claimed to speak twenty-one known languages, including French, German, Swedish, Bohemian, Chinese, Japanese, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Russian, Italian, Spanish and Norwegian (Synan 1971, 102).

                   Clearly these experiences under the teaching of Parham “laid the doctrinal and experimental foundations of the modern Pentecostal movement” (claimed by Synan 1971, 99, Assistant General Superintendent of the Pentecostal Holiness Church).

The foundational expectancy was clearly xenoglossia, and Parham immediately began to teach that missionaries would no longer be compelled to study foreign languages to preach on mission fields (Synan 1971, 102).

 * * * * *

Parham denounced this change (and Seymour’s leadership) as a case of “spiritual power prostituted” to the “awful fits and spasms” of the “holy rollers and hypnotists” (Synan 1971, 112).

 * * * * *

Clearly the original expectation at Azusa Street was the same as the Bethel College experience: xenoglossia. However, at Azusa Street there was a change, leading to unintelligible ecstatic utterance, which soon became the “norm”.

 * * * * *

Cutten (1927, 80) reports tongues resulting from mountain meetings in which the speakers would “labor for days and weeks until they broke into … songs in unknown tongues”. Two examples are given. The first is “in a wholly unknown and unknowable tongue”:

O calivin Christe I no vole,

Calivin Christe liste um,

I no vole vinin ne viste,

I no vole virte vum.

 * * * * *

Sister Sally in the Shakers, inspired by the drinking of native spirits danced and sang the following “nonsensical doggerel” (Cutten 1927, 81):

 Te he, te haw, te hoot, te te hoot,

Me be mother’s pretty papoose,

Me ting, me dant, te I diddle um,

Because me here to whites come,

He di diddy, ti diddle O;

Round, around, and round me go,

Me leap, me jump, e up and down,

On good whitey, shiny ground.

To ascribe to the Holy Spirit such nonsense is shameful in the extreme.

 * * * * *

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