Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Pentecostals rock! (I Cor. 14)

I just finished an intriguing book, God is Back, by two reporters on the staff of the London Economist -- an atheist, and a Roman Catholic. The numbers they cite tell an amazing story. A movement within the Christian family went from nearly nothing a century ago to the growing edge today. The most vigorous propagators of the Christian faith, in Protestant and Catholic circles, tend to be Pentecostals. These are people who, from time to time, pray in a language that they have not learned. A language that, they say, was supernaturally given to them by God.

It's a strange phenomenon. If you listen carefully to Pentecostals at prayer -- and some of them are careless enough to do so over a microphone -- what you hear does not usually sound like a foreign language. To quote the opening assertion of a textbook on linguistics, "Different phonemes in different languages are -- different." Anyone who has ever tried to wrap his tongue around the vowels of a different language knows what a challenge that is. I still find it nearly impossible to hear the difference between the Turkish u and ü, for example. The "undotted i" (ı) actually sounds a lot like the schwa, the most common vowel in the English language, the one that doesn't have its own letter of the alphabet.

What I usually hear is a syllable salad, as the person who is "speaking in tongues" recites a string of English phonemes, English sound units, English syllables, in a randomized order that makes no sense in English.

Yet I also know of one believer who was heard praying in Spanish, a language he'd never studied. Was the miracle in the speaker, or in the hearer? When the disciples could suddenly make their testimony clear to people from many diverse language groups, where did the miracle happen? In the lips of the speakers, or in the ears of the hearers?

Well, anyhow. Some of the most enthusiastic and productive Christians in the world today also pray in languages they have not studied. Sometimes, these are real and recognizable languages. Other times, who knows? Evidently, the Pentecostals find value in the practice. Let's hear a few words from Paul:
1Co 14:18 Dillerle hepinizden çok konuştuğum için Tanrı'ya şükrediyorum.
1Co 14:19 Ama inanlılar topluluğunda dillerle on bin söz söylemektense, başkalarını eğitmek için zihnimden beş söz söylemeyi yeğlerim.
1Co 14:20 Kardeşler, çocuk gibi düşünmeyin. Kötülük konusunda çocuklar gibi, ama düşünmekte yetişkinler gibi olun.
Let's look at a few words:
  • Dillerle -- in/with tongues
  • hepinizden -- more than all of you
  • çok -- muchly
  • konuştuğum -- I speak
  • için -- for that reason (this is another post-position!)
  • Tanrı'ya -- to God
  • şükrediyorum -- I give thanks.
  • Kardeşler -- brothers
  • çocuk gibi -- like children
  • düşünmeyin -- do not reflect / meditate / think.
Paul is grateful that he can pray using an unlearned language or utterance of some kind. Yet, when among others, he has no need to flaunt this practice. Five well-chosen comprehensible words can do one's neighbor more good than hours of babble.

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