The gift of tongues is definitely the most debated gift among all spiritual gifts. Overt Charismatics and those who are doctrinally Continuationists, favor the operation of this gift as a means of personal edification in the life of a believer. While Cessationists of all kinds, does not see modern tongues as a genuine revitalization of biblical tongues. What does the Bible say on this issue? Is tongues a private prayer language for some or all believers? Is tongues in the Bible an earthly language or an ecstatic language?
In June 2007, Criswell College President, Dr. Jerry Johnson, moderated a debate between Pastor Dwight McKissic and Dr. Russell Moore on the issue of speaking in tongues in private. McKissic serves as the senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas. Dr. Moore is the Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice-President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
McKissic is of the persuasion that the Bible does support this notion that tongues is a valid gift for Christians today for personal edification and when used publicly in the Church, it should be within proper biblical parameters. He builds his case for the use of tongues as a private prayer language on the basis of verses from 1 Corinthians 14. He does not claim to be a Charismatic, in that he does not believe every Christian can speak in tongues, but only those to whom the Spirit gives this gift. He feels his conviction regarding the gift of tongues comes directly from the Bible and not due to the influence of any denomination or group of Christians like the Charismatics.
Dr. Moore offers a different take on the verses McKissic quotes to support his view. Dr. Moore believes the verses from 1 Corinthians which can be used to suggest a sanction of apostle Paul on the use of tongues as a private prayer language, are rather statements of Paul expressing the problems he is trying to resolve in the Corinthian church. In other words, when tongues, which in its very nature cannot be understood by men but by God alone, is not used for the edification of the body but for personal gain, then it is an abuse of the gift. It is in this respect that Paul makes those comments. Dr. Moore also believes that the gift of tongues was revelatory in nature and had the redemptive historical function as a sign of the judgment of Isaiah 28 upon an unbelieving Israel. Dr. Moore thus believes the gift of tongues as seen in the Bible is no longer in operation. However he is free to acknowledge that today God can give and might have given many of His missionaries, the supernatural ability to speak in a language of the mission field, without any formal training. However it is not revelatory and neither is it normative, hence not on par with the biblical gift of tongues.
This debate is not on Continuationism against Cessationism, but more specifically on whether or not tongues is a private prayer language. Though the debate works on the implications of this issue within Southern Baptist life, the theological discussion is worth listening to for all Christians.