Conclusions regarding Tongues and Prophecy for Today
I think there’s great wisdom in Martin Luther’s teaching on the subject, as summarized by Foller,
On the one hand, Luther may say that in the present time, miracles are no longer necessary, because the Gospel has already been proclaimed everywhere and the church has been established; on the other hand he holds onto the truth that the same power and impact of Christ is forever in existence in Christendom and miracles may happen whenever they are required (WA 45, 260, 18-264, 19; 45, 261, 27-262, 2). They were necessary when the Gospel first entered the world.
But, from his own time, Luther regarded this as not necessarily required and he viewed miracle signs as warnings of unauthorised action. But in times of extraordinary pressure it might again become necessary. In such cases without exception each Christian would have the power to perform miracles. Especially in missionary situations where the Gospel is first announced, God will provide affirming miracles. The deciding category, in Luther’s view is the question of necessity. According to Luther God tends to show his power through a miracle, where ordinary means of keeping up the oikonomia, the worldly reign and the church are too weak. …
Besides the strong markedness of this general line, which emphasises endurance and persevering in a situation, other statements show that he quite clearly expected healings through prayer. His belief in the omnipotence of God, in the possibility of sovereign intervention and the reality of the power of prayer was strong. So, for example, Luther reports on three miraculous healings when faced with deadly danger. They concerned himself, his wife Käthe and his fellow campaigner Melanchthon, who, in answer to Luther´s urgent supplication, was brought back to life in 1540. …
On the one hand, Luther may say: “This spirit of prophecy still remains within Christendom, yet however not to the same extent as with the apostles”, thus indicating that prophecy is not restricted to biblical times. On the other hand he considers the element of immediacy found in the biblical prophets has receded in post-biblical times. We may prophesy in so far as “we have taken it from them and have it out of their books, however, to a lesser extent” (WA 46, 60, 34-40). …
Here and there Luther mentions the idea of a restriction of the gifts to early Christianity, but he did not make a principle of it. Rather he maintains an openness to present-day occurrence as well. All in all, he is cautious about miracles and future prophecy, but he does not exclude them on principle. However, they are not fundamental and indispensable like interpreting Scriptures. He did not give an exhortation to discover new charismata. The criteria for the judgement of all charismata are faith in Christ and preaching Christ with the emphasis on justification by faith alone.
The Spirit and the Assembly
I wonder whether it would be a good idea to add an element to our assemblies — testimony. When I was young, giving one’s “testimony” was considered wrong because (a) it sounds Baptist and (b) we are not eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. We have not seen his resurrection body — unlike the apostles, who were called to be Jesus’ witnesses.
But while we can’t testify to the resurrection of Jesus based on first-hand, eyewitness knowledge, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other things to which we could testify. I mean, if God is alive and active among his people, then surely some of us have seen God’s work and can share what we’ve seen with others.
We don’t hesitate to “go forward” in response to the preacher’s invitation and ask for prayers, but how often do we return to offer testimony and thanks for answers to our prayers?
How often do we act on faith to give money, volunteer time, or otherwise take a chance for the sake of the Kingdom — only to be richly rewarded by God for so doing? When and how do these stories get told? If God went to the trouble to answer my prayer, didn’t he do so in part so that I would tell the story?
If you as a teacher or small group leader create a safe place for your students to share their God-experiences, you’ll hear stories of answered prayers, visions, and even angelic visitations that will astonish you. It’ll be the most encouraging thing you’ve ever done — and it might terrify you to realize how very present and real God is.
But I ask again: If God does these incredible things among us, doesn’t he do so in part so that we will tell the story?
Now, miracles go so against our Western, Enlightenment worldview that we are reluctant to believe in them. In fact, we’re even willing to distort the scriptures and church history just so we can deny that they’re even possible. And yet they happen. God is not bound by our theology or our re-writing of history.
We fear being laughed at, criticized, and ostracized by our brothers and sisters in Christ if we tell what we’ve seen, felt, and experienced. And this is a dreadful, sad thing. And the solution is for the leaders of our congregations to encourage testimony in our classes, in our small groups, and especially in the assembly. I mean, if the First Century church could perform actual miracles in the assembly to demonstrate the power of God, such as by engaging in prophecy that reveals divine knowledge, surely we are authorized to tell others about our experiences.
Would this open us up to false stories told by silly, unstable people? Yes. And so does letting members give communion meditations and lead prayers. But surely the leaders could engage in discernment or testing of the Spirit to be certain that the stories told are appropriate. This is not all that hard. It just requires a change in church culture. A big change, I’ll admit, but a rewarding one.
Do we have a First Century example? Of course. 1 Cor 14 describes prophets prophesying and tongues speakers speaking in tongues in the assembly to demonstrate the power of God — active in the church in the present. Today, we can accomplish the same thing by testimony.
What will this lead to? Well, might God be more willing to answer prayers and grant miracles if his people were willing to see and share them? Oh … and you’ll get letters from sister congregations. File them in the round file.