I’m not sure what brought it to mind, but I’ve been thinking lately about the best example I ever saw of tongues and interpretation in a church setting.
In the church I went to in high school, we usually had a few pauses in the worship service that were sort of designed for an interruption from the congregation. I’m pretty sure they were put there on purpose, but they always seemed like a natural selah in the singing. That was the designated time for prophecy. Sometimes it would be the pastor, or another elder, sometimes a member of the youth. They would speak, the elders would lead the congregation in response if it was necessary, and the music would resume.
Occasionally, from the last or second to last row, this couple would rise, holding hands. It was very striking, because he was a black man, with great bright eyes and a beaming smile, and she looked as though she might have been a combination of Inuit and Welsh. First she would speak, in a tongue that sounded something like Chinese, her closed eyes rapidly fluttering, her hand clamped hard on her husband’s. When she was done, there would wait a second or two, and then her husband would open his eyes and begin to give the interpretation, always comfort and encouragement, with a voice on the verge of rejoicing.
I always thought how convenient it must be, to always bring your interpreter along with you. Paul doesn’t give the prophets any favors in his passage about decency and order. If a person prophesies and another person interrupts him, the one who was interrupted should give ground to the person who so rudely interrupted. The one who speaks in tongues, apparently, has the responsibility of ensuring that an interpreter is there. No interpreter? He should keep it to himself.
I think this places an even greater burden of charity on the congregation (and thereby on the elders as well) to plan ahead. Do you believe that these Spirit-led utterances are supposed to be a normal part of the service? You do well to set parameters and practice. Without parameters, you will get chaos, and your primary means of guiding the church in these things will be stamping out the disorder. Without practice, having stamped out the disorder, you get… nothing. Your service will be identical to our brothers in the cessationist camp, broken up by six-month swings into Pentecostal hysteria.