This post is not about charismatic or pentecostal denominations. Instead, its about all of those who are indwelled by the Holy Spirit – that is, all Christians. You see, when the Spirit indwells and fills, He also gives gifts – the charismata.
In my recent reading of modern ecclesiologies, I ran into a couple of interesting quotes about believers serving through their spiritual gifts, meaning “charismatics”. First, in The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Contribution to Messianic Ecclesiology (trans. by Margaret Kohl, New York: Harper & Row, 1977), Jürgen Moltmann writes:
The New Testament knows no technical term for what we call ‘the church’s ministry’. Paul talks about charismata, meaning the energies of the new life (I Cor. 12.6, 11), which is to say the powers of the Spirit. These are designations of what is, not of what ought to be. They are the gifts of grace springing from the creative grace of God. When he talks about the use of these new living energies, on the other hand, he evidently avoids all the words expressing conditions of rule. He does not talk about ‘holy rule’ (hierarchy) but chooses the expression diakonia [service].
There are a couple of interesting and important points in Moltmann’s statements. In Paul’s descriptions of the working of spiritual gifts, the apostle does not talk about hierarchy, or a rule associated with those gifts. Perhaps a case can be made that some gifts are more important than others (although an equal case can be made that we usually place importance on the wrong gifts), importance of gifts does not equate with importance of the individual, nor does it equate with a certain leadership. Instead, the Spirit works his gifts according to his own will – that is, through whom he desires and for the purpose he desires.
Also, instead of focusing on rule or control, Paul focuses on service. Thus, exercising spiritual gifts is not a function of leadership but of service – to service to other brothers and sisters in Christ and service to the world. These gifts exist (in reality, not in potential) for the benefit of other people, not primarily for the benefit of the ones exercising the gifts – although there may be some personal benefit as well.
This leads me to the second quote by Hans Küng in his book The Church (trans. by Ray and Rosaleen Ockenden, New York: Sheed and Ward, 1967). (I discuss another part of this book in my post “Küng on the Church in Corinth“.) Again concerning the charismata, Küng says:
By linking his teaching about charismata with that about the body of Christ Paul at all events made clear that the Church is never – as some people in Corinth seem to have supposed – a gathering of charismatics enjoying their own private relationship with Christ independently of the community. According to Paul, all charismatics are part of the body of Christ, of the community. The fact that all charismatics are members of one body does not of course mean uniformity, but on the contrary a variety of gifts and callings. But fundamentally all individual members, having been baptized, are equal. But, by contrast with this fundamental equality all differences are ultimately without importance.
Here, Küng makes another couple of important distinctions about spiritual gifts which follow nicely from Moltmann’s observations. The body of Christ is not made of individuals who gather and exercise their gifts for the sake of the individuals and “their own private relationship with Christ”. Instead, because of the work of the Spirit, the individuals become part of the body of Christ together. Thus, the gifts are to be exercised for the good of the community, not primarily for the good of the individual.
But, this does not mean that there is uniformity within the community. On the contrary, as Paul points out, the Spirit works in many different way within the community. The variety works to strengthen the body in a way that uniformity could not. The teachers need the prophets who need the helpers who need the exhorters, etc. The difficulty comes when the individual must deny himself and the importance of his own gift and service in order to receive help from someone who is gifted in a different way.
When we gather together with other believers, we should be gathering with people who are different from us. We should expect and encourage people who are different from us to exercise their spiritual gifts. We should recognize that our gifts and giftedness (even teaching!) is neither less important nor more important than the gifts and giftedness of the other people around us. Why? Because the community benefits through the variety of gifts that the Spirit offers.
But, when some people or some gifts are considered more important, or when some people or gifts are not allowed to operate during the meeting of the church, or when we make the church about hierarchies instead of service, then the spiritual health of the community is weakened.