@SeanO, I really appreciate your questions because every question gives us an opportunity to dig deeper, to question our assumptions and understand our faith better. I have some thoughts on the concerns you raised. It’s a long post but I just thought its better to have all scripture references in one place.
You say -
But, think about this, how would you know if someone was speaking an angelic language versus just making something up? You wouldn’t - because we don’t know what angelic languages sound like… We would be relying completely on those who claim to have the gift of tongues and those who claim to be able to interpret.
Firstly, though Holy Spirit used gift of tongues as a foreign language as a tool to convict hearts to come to Christ, scripture does not support the idea that the test for a genuine gift of tongues is utterance in a foreign human language. This may be because both supernatural utterance of a known foreign language and tongues of an unknown language/angels can both be misused by evil spirits.
I don’t think we should assume that only the Holy Spirit can enable someone to speak in a foreign language. Evil spirits for example could know Latin too as they have been hanging out on earth for a long time! Here’s an article in Washington Post from a psychiatrist from New York Medical College, trained in Yale and Columbia, who says about a Satanist – “Six people later vouched to me that, during her exorcisms, they heard her speaking multiple languages, including Latin, completely unfamiliar to her outside of her trances…… A possessed individual may suddenly, in a type of trance, voice statements of astonishing venom and contempt for religion, while understanding and speaking various foreign languages previously unknown to them”. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/07/01/as-a-psychiatrist-i-diagnose-mental-illness-and-sometimes-demonic-possession/?utm_term=.5bb7dfd79d9e
Despite that scope of evil misusing the gift of tongues, clearly God still chose to use that mechanism in the early church to draw men to Him. I don’t understand the wisdom of God but I trust the Bible.
Second, you are right that relying on the interpretation of an unknown language requires some degree of faith in the interpreter. But I don’t think we have to completely rely on them, we rely on its consistency with God’s Word and what Holy Spirit may be revealing to us also personally. We should exercise a high amount of caution and look out for false prophets (1 Thess 5:21).
One might feel, why bother with the gifts of the Holy Spirit when there can be such great misuse but I think this argument can be said against many good things in this fallen world, including Christ! Yet, we live in this fallen world and try to make wise choices by faith in Christ as Christians. The Bible says that in the end times, there will be signs and wonders by the devil to even deceive the elect (Matt 24). So, I think there may be times when there is a greater need than rational thinking and the gifts of the Holy Spirit would be needed to counter those schemes of the enemy. Many a times, God has used gifts of the Spirit and signs and wonders to convict hearts toward Him in foreign countries as they don’t have the same access as we in the West have to information or education.
As I keep reading 1 Cor 14, I just see how different the purpose of tongues is as compared to the purpose of prophecy/interpretation of tongues.
1 Cor 14:2 For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.
1 Cor 14:4 One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself
1 Cor 14:5 Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy
1 Cor 14:18 I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all
1Cor 14:39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues
Paul doesn’t think that interpretation is necessary for someone to be edified by tongues in private. Otherwise, He would have forbidden speaking in tongues but instead he encourages it in private time of prayer. These private tongues don’t have to be tongues of angels, they could even be a forgotten language.
Coming back to discerning the gifts, here’s what I have relied on to know if the gifts of tongues/prophecy are genuine:
It needs to be a gift enabled by the Holy Spirit. One who speaks in tongues in private and edified by it can’t be edified by pretension / deception. A warning sign of a faked gift would be if someone tries to mimic another’s gift of tongues. If we sincerely ask God for the Holy Spirit, he will not give us a false spirit.
1 Cor 12:11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
Luke 11: 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?
Gifts of tongues or prophecy are under the control of a person and are decently done in order . So, when people say they couldn’t control themselves and they start screaming or laughing and are out of order, I would question the gift.
1 Cor 14:32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.
Those who are guided by false spirits to operate in supernatural gifts will not be able to proclaim Christ as the incarnate God and may also preach false doctrines. Some heresies that I have seen are – rejection of the divinity of Jesus, a belief of deification of humans, recently belief in eastern concept of subtle energies, frequencies and vibrations, a new age style positive thinking etc.
2 Cor 11: 4 For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully (Similar exhortation in Gal 1:8)
2Cor 11:13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
2Peter 2: 1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.
1 Cor 12:3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit
1 John 4:2-3 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
A test of prophet is if his prophecy comes true.
Deu 18:22 When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
Obedience by faith in Jesus even when it costs us a lot is an objective sign of the fruit of the Holy Spirit and agape love. No person led by a demon will serve Christ at the peril of their lives.
1 John 3:10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.
1 John 5:2 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.
1 John 3:16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
While I believe that gifts have not ceased, I totally understand when you say we need a great degree of caution. I myself don’t attend a church that believes in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I know a few people who are not famous but genuine servants of Christ who have operated in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They love Christ more than the gifts and more than their lives! I hope this helps you understand my perspective better.