The Bible talks about public tongues and private tongues. The latter is also called "prayer language".
The confusion on this topic comes is in regard to interpretations.
Q: Should Tongues Always Have an Interpretation?
This is a good question, but one that can be answered: When one is speaking to the assembly there should be an interpretation so that those who aren't being directly edified may be (I Cor. 14:13).
Sometimes a person new to the charismatic experience may worry the meetings are somehow not legit because many pray in tongues in unison during the worship. However, this is not a proclamation of one to the group, but of the group to God.
1. There are Different Types of Tongues. 1 Cor 12:28 reveals that there are different kinds of tongues, and at least three types are listed in the Bible. They are:
- Intelligible and need no interpretation (e.g., Pentecost),
- Unintelligible and requires interpretation for the assembly (I Cor 14:13);
- Unintelligible and no one understands it, for the speaker speaks only to God, edifying himself. (I Cor 14:2, 4). This is called "prayer tongues" because prayer is first and foremost praise of God.
provides additional info on this from Msgr. Vincent Walsh.
The tongues meant for interpretation is normally accompanied with a sense that God will provide one, to strengthen the body. (Note: this is not normally a word-for-word translation, but more of a "message-for-message" interaction.)
Some misunderstand these scriptures and end up slighting the gift; yet Paul discourages this extremism by concluding "Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues." (14:39-40)
2. Two Way Prayer. The important point Paul emphasizes—the Spirit of this—is that "two-way" prayer occurs. That is, we praise God and He reacts back. Love is a relationship.
In my experience, it's clearly not ideal for the worship to be lacking revelation (e.g., prophecy, visions, interpretation of tongues, etc.) Indeed tongues is a stumbling block by itself in a group context, as Paul says, and acts as a sign that there's something more behind it. The response of prophecy builds the body, which I encourage often. It's what provokes people to say "Wow, God is really among you!" (I Cor 14:25)
I used to live with a man who had a tough time accepting the gift of tongues, ironically, even though the Lord gave him visions during the charismatic worship! (Eventually his intellectual obstruction was cleared and he received the gift of tongues as well.)
3. Motive Check. Sometimes someone asking this question has an honest inquiry; and sometimes it's simply an excuse for not being open. When there are so many encouragements to experience the gifts (scripture, church leadership, experience, good fruit, charismatic prophecy itself, etc.), it would be sad to confuse these verses and then miss this dynamic experience of God's love and power.
The very nature of tongues is a reliance on God over self, so there's likely to be some personal resistance. You have to be willing to be a "fool". The first step is surrender.
Remove the focus from self. Why be so consumed with the image you portray when the Lord looks to the heart? One of the biggest distractions you have to Me is the focus you keep on yourself.
I have so much in the supernatural that awaits your call, but what hinders it? Comfort zones, not being noticed, half-hearted commitment, lack of diligence—what is it for you that holds on to that sense of self you find so necessary to preserve?
Remember: your life is not your own. This means I seek abandonment in exchange for abundance. Never get too comfortable with who you think you are for at any given time, that is only a passing image. You should be focused forward and on your way to ever greater kingdom living. I have new revelation for you daily. Take in whatever you can to get closer to Me and receive the gifts that build the body of Christ.
Die to yourself daily, take up your cross—then you are ready to follow Me (Mark 8:34-35). Don't miss Me. Get beyond yourself and you will be free to see Me and to see yourself in light of Me. The days are short and your eternity awaits. Do not be provincial in your spiritual world.
I have called My Body to an anointing of carrying out "'greater works" to "turn the world upside down". And each of you, My sons and daughters, are a vital part of that call. Come and share your light—"give and it will be given back to you."
Live for the power of Christ to manifest in you and let this be your reward.