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  • Writer's picturejaredrrolston

Bringing Baby Babble Into Battle

Updated: 6 days ago

What The Father Has Made Cute

Out of the mouths of babes, God has ordained gibberish—months of trying and failing to grasp the grown-up tools of language. These tools have been put just out of their reach for a short time, so they warble incoherently, perfectly in line with the will of their heavenly Father.

God gives this struggle to babies as a cute, short-term gift to every parent. We aren't concerned that they are having these difficulties communicating. It's sweet. At one point, we were all goo-gooing down the path to maturity. We know our kids will shortly put off these childish ways as we did, never to look back again. 

Well, at least that is what we hope for.

Strangely, the church has broken with the natural pattern of progress and gone back to babbling. We have fully grown adults offering gibberish to their heavenly Father, and it's fair to assume he doesn't think it's cute. They don't have difficulty formulating words—but they choose to speak as if they do. 

When adults intentionally utter the wordless murmurings of the unlearned, it makes about as much sense as the toilet-trained going back to nappies. 

It is pretty staggering that this has become the practice of the mainstream church. Go into almost all evangelical services, and you'll find Christians scrambling their words for God. 

The sanctuary has become the creche.

Has God ordained this baby-like praise? Certainly not.

Banning Baby Language

I can hear a voice interjecting here. "But brother, the apostle Paul said in scripture that we are not to forbid tongues. You won't be doing that with this blog, will you?" 

I know the verse, but why do you bring up tongues? I've not even mentioned the speaking of tongues. 

Tongues are languages. The word translated “tongue” in scripture means either a foreign or known language. I'm not going to forbid either of these. 

What I will be suggesting is that we ought to ban adults from passing off incoherent baby talk as language, especially in corporate prayer. Paul would forbid that.

It is true that we call baby language a language, but the fragments of sound that babies use are, in reality, as much a part of a language as the Penticostal's "hamala shamala"s. God hears their innovative spray of syllables like skyward baby talk. 

The current practice of tongues is a novelty—something not seen in history until the Azuza Street so-called "revival," around 100 years ago. But what they introduced was baby talk, not tongues. The church fathers had no concept of this foolishness.

It is true that the wisdom of God is foolishness to this world, but that does not mean we ought to act foolishly. Foolishness is also foolishness to this world, so if they see the church pretending that gibberish is language, they'll not miss the fact that we've become silly.

If we're going to act as though the uninterpretable "she baa baa"s have some spiritual meaning, consistency would have us saying "amen" to warbles of the baby sitting in the high chair with mashed peas in his hair. Both are communicating as much to God as the other. 

But it would be silly to say "amen" to incoherent speech, wouldn't it?

The Value of Monkey Music

Comparing modern tongues to baby talk is not just a fitting analogy. They are ontologically the same—both are sounds signifying nothing. The difference is the intent of the speaker. The baby is trying to form words and failing. The adult is trying not to form words and succeeding. What the baby is trying to do is virtuous. What the adult is doing is not, regardless of how sincerely he believes his babble is obedience.

The apostle Paul tells us that meaningless utterances are as void of value as the random notes played by a hammered monkey on a harp. God doesn't want that rubbish.

"Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? For if the trumpet produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? So also you, unless you utter by the tongue a word that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air." (1 Corinthians 14:7-9)

Paul argues that if the meaning of a person's utterances is unclear, then that speech is worthless—like sounds that disappear into the air having achieved nothing. It doesn't even communicate as well as a lifeless instrument. Even they can convey meaning. 

We all know this. Anyone who denies "The Last Post" has meaning (the trumpet tune played every Anzac Day), is either mad or ignorant.

"Brothers, do not be children in your thinking; rather in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature." (1 Corinthians 14:20; emphasis added)

Biblical tongue-speaking is done by those mature enough to convey meaning with a language. And all people, except babies, are capable of using this kind of meaningful speech. Why would we tolerate men pretending to speak like babies? Even with toddlers, there is a time to say, "Don't be lazy. Use your words."

So Why Take On Tongues? And Why Now?

With the world on such a downward spiral and with the need for Christian unity at its highest point, why come after the tongue-speakers now?

In short, the times require us to be mature. For the glory of God, the extension of his kingdom, and our effectiveness in the great commission, we need to wise up on this issue.

I'm aware that some joining me at a trans story hour protest will raise some hearty and sincere hamala shamalas before they arrive. But by critiquing their practice, I don't mean to boot them from our team. They are faithful brothers and sisters, and I love them and their service to our Lord.

I'm taking on modern tongues now because, in today's war for our culture—for the minds and hearts of our people, a deadly serious matter—the use of fake languages is silly, and makes our team look silly. People who babble incoherently, by themselves or in public, will not be taken seriously. 

The hour requires people with a mature and sound mind, who can wield authority with dignity and skill. The world has gone insane. We can't go nuts in another direction.

"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7 KJV) 

Then Why Do You Make Fun Of Me?

I hear another voice. "So, if you're calling us to maturity, why are you trying to do this with jokes about nappies? Isn't there a more mature way to convince those you disagree with?"

You need to know—I've framed my argument this way very intentionally. I hope to prove that I am a friend of the baby babblers with these jokes. 

At the foundation of any good friendship must be a healthy amount of joking at each other's expense. Dead friendships are entirely serious ones. 

I could have framed this with a super serious tone and a different kind of force, but I don't believe it would have landed as well. Sometimes we need to be shaken by a friend's loving, well directed shame.

But if this extended joke isn't received well, at the very least, I hope to prove that it is not only Charismatics that have fun. I see you joking about stuffy conservatives. It was quite neat how you rhymed “frozen” with “chosen,” and it did send a little sting our way. Pakipaki (for my overseas readers that is the Maori word for applause). I’m only sorry that your joke didn’t bring about a big thaw.

But What Does The Bible Say?

I expect that some would also have wished that I made my argument with greater exegetical force. But the difficulty with that is, that the bible doesn't address the problem of grown men speaking like babies. 

We have a chapter in the letter to the port city of Corinth that addresses the difficulties that come about in a multicultural, multilingual congregation—but that is something quite different. 

The lesson we can draw from that letter is that ethnic pride and preference should not lead us to insist on using our own language, especially when it means others can't understand us. Edification of the whole body is essential. Therefore, we must interpret foreign languages into the native languages of others. 

(This lesson applies to the uninterpreted karakia at the beginning of the city-wide Easter service, but that deserves another blog.)

Stating the obvious—you cannot interpret baby language. Not even the angels can understand these supposedly angelic languages. In every biblical account of angelic speech, we see them using a known language. If they came to men babbling like babies, Paul would have written them a letter telling them to cut it out. But angelic messengers bring edifying messages. They've never tried to do anything else. These higher beings must be insulted when we say, "dew dew ka ka boo boo" while pretending to speak as they do. 

To intentionally hide any meaning from your speech by scrambling every syllable you know is not love. Love leads us to carefully communicate for the benefit of our hearers. Anything else is a cymbal crash near the ears.

"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." (1 Corinthians 14:1)

(For those who absolutely need more exegesis, here is a supplementary blog written by my friend Bnonn Tennant - Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 were languages the speakers understood)

The Sum of My Intentions

I do hope this blog bugs the Charismatics. But please don't misunderstand my stirring. I'm not putting a stone in their shoe. It's a tiny whoppie cushion. I hope that when they take their next step in faith with a hamala shamala, the parp underfoot will make them round that prayer up with a "shamala hahaha... what am I doing? I truly am babbling like a baby. Why have I not felt embarrassed about this until now?"

They say laughter is the best kind of medicine, which means a belly laugh is the most potent path to health. The mature not only ditch baby talk, but they learn what ought to be laughed at, and they give in to this well-trained impulse. If there is something truly laugh-worthy and we do not laugh, we've become sick.

We must see the humor in a Tim Keller-like Acts 29 pastor walking off the stage after giving a high-octane intellectual discourse about culture, only to raise the equivalent of a "googoo gaagaa" to God in the last song, feeling the spirit as the band built up to the bridge. It's funny! Let's laugh at it. It's okay.

But the time for this childishness is over.

Experience Trumps Everything

I expect some will reject everything I've said because their experience is unassailable. They know they have felt the Spirit in their babbling. 

Let me add one last section for these people.

I know there are stories of people being healed and breaking out in tongues. I also know there are stories of once avid tongue-speakers denying the existence of God. Ultimately, we cannot evaluate the current form of tongues by experience—even our own. Every Mormon claims to have experienced the burning of the bosom. Hindus vouch for the healing power of kundalini. But these are false religions.

To know truth, we need to objectively look at what we are doing in the light of God's word. We're awash in feelings. And it is so easy to put things in our heads. It may be blasphemy to say this today, but we are not reliable interpreters of our own experiences.

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)

I've been holding this back until now, but I, too, used to pray to God like an unlearned baby. I've experienced the psychological effects of abandoning everything to God, even my ability to speak coherently. I remember the time vividly when I was desperately questioning whether I deserved the woman I was courting (the woman who is now my wife), and having run out of words, hamala shamalad my heart out to the heavens. 

I would have told you at the time that it edified me. 

But my issues had to be worked out rationally in the end. The psychological effects of abandoning the binding laws of language vanished into the air not long after my meaningless speech did. I needed the wisdom of the Word and a multitude of counselors to process the prospect of marriage. Tongues did not help me attain maturity. In fact, my frantic babbling was an expression of my immaturity. I eventually found that my over-spiritualizing of the world was holding me back. I needed to reenter the real world of grown-ups.

My final encouragement to the avid tongue-speaker is to entertain the possibility that Christianity can offer more than ecstatic experiences. Charismatic church services can often be reduced to the pursuit of the ecstatic. In saying this, it cannot be denied that they have some excellent warm fellowship afterward. Some conservative churches could learn from this aspect of their practice. 

But if it is true that modern tongue-speaking is a return to the practices of the immature, this could be the reason why you've been stuck. We were not meant to remain as unlearned children, but are called to renew our minds through the application of the word to every area of life. 

Let this vain practice go, and put on maturity. Well-ordered speech will produce a well-ordered mind. It will sanctify you, improve your life, and make you a more effective servant of Christ.

"When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. When I became a man, I did away with childish things." (1 Corinthians 13:11)

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