The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, 2017

The Epistle – 2 Corinthians 3:4-11

The Gospel – Mark 7:31-37

Article 24 – Of Speaking in the Congregation such a Tongue that People Understand


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.



In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.


De loquendo in Ecclesia lingua quam populos intelligit.


To begin the sermon this way was not very edifying to those listening. 

It was Latin and a tongue that the people do not understand.


Even if a few did, were I to go on this way, I would soon lose everyone and you would turn to other things to pass the time until I stopped speaking.


This is what the Article is referring to today.  Speaking in a tongue that the people understand is of utmost importance in our Christian worship.


This was also the issue at the time of the drafting of the Articles of Religion in the 16th century.


This Article refers to the custom of the Primitive Church.  The early Christian Church.

There is very little in the Church Fathers on this subject, so we must go back to an even earlier time when the Church was in her infancy.


There is evidence however that the early Church, both infant and very young where the Fathers do make mention of the different regions, where the language of that region was used in worship.


But in this case there would not have been a problem unless one were to come from a far off land and enter the church during worship and would then run into some difficulty.


Greek, Latin, Syriac languages were spoken by the great bulk of the nations that were first converted to Christianity.

So, early liturgies would have been in those languages….and the Scriptures were read in those languages.


We also are aware of Egyptian, Ethiopian and others who had liturgies in their own languages as well.


So these various lands and tribes who spoke Greek or Latin or Syriac “…had from the beginning, the Scriptures as well as the common Prayer of the Church in languages understood by them.”[1]


What we have from the early Church Fathers is more the fact that the whole congregation was to join in responses and in singing Psalms and hymns.


That they were singing in response is key to understand how they viewed public worship.


St. Cyril writes, “When the priest says, ‘Lift up your hearts,’ the people answer, ‘We lift them up unto the Lord.’ Then the priest says, ‘Let us give thanks unto the Lord.’ And the people say, ‘It is meet and right.’”


Or St. Chrysostom says that, “Though all utter the response, yet the voice in wafted as from one mouth.”


St. Hilary also mentions people standing outside the Church and yet able to hear the voice of the congregation within, offering up prayer and praise.”


Emperor Justinian, in one of his laws states that, “bishops and presbyters, in public prayers and Sacraments, are to speak not secretly, but with such a voice as may be well heard by the people.”


So there is at least evidence that the early Church desired the praise and worship of God to be of one voice and of the same language.


How Latin became used for public worship is interesting.  The Romans (not RC’s) who dominated the western world, did all they could to impose their own language on their subjects.


Therefore the common tongue of Europe was Latin.


Clergy from all over were in constant contact with the city of Rome.  Rome was the center really of civilization in many ways.  It was the big city of Christian Europe.


So the language of worship also became that of the Latin tongue.


Slowly, French, Italian, and Spanish grew out of Latin…among the dialects.


Yet the Latin liturgy remained Latin…and was understood by most if not all.


Clergy in particular, though knowing the language of their native land would still maintain the liturgy be done in Latin.


As languages formed and grew, Latin remained in the churches.


Also the idea that since the Church was universal, the language ought to have been universal as well…so there would be one tongue to pray and sing in Church.


Until the 16th century, no real big attempts were made to alter this situation.


The Council of Trent mentioned a few weeks ago, stated that it was forbidden to say the mass in any language except Latin.


Hence our Article today is part of a reaction to this stance of the Roman Church.

When we turn to the Bible, however, we find quite a clear statement of just what public worship was to be and how public worship was to be conducted.


The best case for this is found in Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians. 


Miraculous power was given to this Church in particular to preach the Gospel and to take it to other places where the message of Christianity was unknown.


Some of the members of the Corinthian Church were given the gift of speaking in a foreign tongue…not a gibberish that we hear today by those on channel 40.


Tongues in the Bible are other languages of other countries and nations.  They are not babbling sounds.


This gift was given by God the Holy Spirit to enable someone who would go out to preach the Gospel to another country….and he would be supernaturally equipped to go there and be fluent in that language so he could tell them about Jesus Christ.


It was not taught to church members by another, as some believe.


The Bible does not teach us that the gift of speaking in another tongue was taught, but that it was divinely given by God directly to that person.


This gift was also given to some who would be able to use it domestically however…in the Church.  But it was to be used carefully and according to what Paul prescribed.


Paul has strict direction for the Church regarding this divinely inspired gift.  He says, “[6] Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? [7] If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? [8] And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?



[9] So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air.

[10] There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, [11] but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. [12] So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.


[13] Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. [14] For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.

[15] What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. [16]


Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? [17] For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. [18] I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. [19] Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Corinthians 14:6-19, ESV)



Moreover, he further down says, “[27] If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. [28] But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. (1 Corinthians 14:27-28, ESV)


It is clear by this that the intent of the gift is to be used properly, not for showing off.  It is to be used to praise God and to edify the members of the Church who are present.


But if it is to be done at all publicly, there must be an interpreter present to tell the people what is being said.


Paul’s point is important.  How can someone say “Amen” if he doesn't know what is being said?


We can see then why this issue is important for the life of the Church today…and not just in the 16th century.


The Liturgy in a language that is unknown to the people is not going to be edifying.  It is not going to be used for the building up of the Church.


And this is what the Church service had devolved into.


If we were to use a foreign language here in the liturgy…one that the congregation did not know, there would be very little going on.

The priest would be up front muttering something and the people would be sitting, not being edified….not being fed by the Scriptures read or the prayers said.


Prayer must be done with the understanding of the mind. 


The reason Paul gives is this, “[33] For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, (1 Corinthians 14:33-34, ESV)


The call for us is to not only reverently, but intelligently join together with heart and mind in praise to God.


It would seem that, in part, this is what is being shown to us in Mark’s Gospel account of Jesus healing the Deaf Man.

Jesus is passing through a region toward the Sea of Galilee.


There they bring to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment.


And they ask Jesus to lay his hands on the man and heal him.


Jesus takes the man aside, puts his fingers in the man’s ears, and looking up to heaven, Jesus says, “Be opened.”


And immediately the man is able to hear and speak.


Jesus tells the man to keep this a secret and tell no one.

But, it says, the more Jesus asked that they not say anything, the more they proclaimed what He was doing.


“He has done all things well.  He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”


Jesus had his reasons for trying to keep the knowledge of his miracle working to a minimum…for his time had not yet come.


But nevertheless, the miracle Jesus performs is one of healing or restoring both hearing and speech.


The man’s speech was hindered because he was deaf.


The deaf are unable to articulate the sounds we make correctly because they don't have a reference point regarding the true nature of sounds.


Once the man is healed of deafness, his speech is also corrected and from there on he would be able to speak and hear plainly.


Speech is an important aspect to our existence.  Communication. God, in the beginning, spoke the world into existence.


He said, “Let there be light.” …and there was light.


God spoke to Moses.  He spoke to others…the prophets and other people of God.


God highly values speech and language.  At Babel God confused the language of the people as a punishment for their arrogance and sin.


At Pentecost, God moved in the opposite direction by giving the gift of speech to certain men so that they could testify to the works of God in Christ Jesus and bring restoration through a common message….the message of the Gospel.


James warns us about the carelessness of unchecked speech.


James 3:5-10


[5] …the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.


How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! [6] And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. [7] For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, [8] but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. [9] With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. [10] From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.

My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (ESV)


We begin Morning Prayer by saying, “O Lord, open thou our lips, and our mouth shall show forth thy praise.


Let us, in whatever way we communicate value the words we use and value the one to whom we are communicating.


Thankfully we have a treasure in the Anglican tradition, with the Book of Common Prayer, where Common is the intent.


Common in language.

Common in it's inclusion of all members of the Church in participation.

Common in it's intent to bring all who use it around the world at any time into a common, yet sometimes distant, mode of worship.


And common, most importantly, in what we believe about the Gospel of Christ…the message we are to communicate to a dying world.


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

[1] Harold Browne – An Exposition of the 39 Articles.