Most of us who are old enough recall when we first heard teaching on the subject of “spiritual gifts,” or charismata. For me, it was in the Charismatic movement’s first wave, which involved me both with Catholic charismatics and with charismatics in the mainline churches. That teaching almost entirely dealt with the gift of tongues and other “supernatural” gifts of the Spirit.
Later on, many of us encountered evangelical teaching on spiritual gifts in teaching that seemed heavily influenced by various kinds of secular personality theory, especially the identification of various personality characteristics as they pertained to work, relationships and self-understanding. The Biblical material on spiritual gifts took a back seat to questions of fulfillment and happiness. I’ve known many Christians who were on a permanent quest to be accurately defined in terms of spiritual gifts/personality type/vocational preference and style.
More recently, “spiritual gift” seminars and inventories have become a standard part of the megachurch’s appropriation of Biblical material for its own programmatic needs. Spiritual gift inventories were not so much about finding who had the gift of “helping” as getting adequate cameramen for the 11 a.m. service.
I’ve always thought that despite the exegetical mysteries we’ll probably always face with these passages and this topic, the practical application of spiritual gifts was not really in question. But because of the connection with controversial topics many don’t want to explore and because spiritual gift inventories are assumed to be the best application, little new is ever said about spiritual gifts.
A recent sermon by my pastor/friend Fr. Peter Mathews boiled the essentials of these passages down to these four points, all with application.
1) The Holy Spirit gives charismata.
2) The Holy Spirit gives diverse charismata.
3) The Holy Spirit gives diverse charismata to diverse people.
4) The Holy Spirit gives diverse charismata to diverse people for the common good.
After hearing that message, I found myself thinking about the one thing I find missing in most evangelical teaching on spiritual gifts. I’d insert it as point “3.5”
3.5) The Holy Spirit gives diverse charismata to diverse people in diverse situations.
Much of the teaching on spiritual gifts that has morphed into “inventories” and such seems to be about my own possession of a gift so tied to my own identity that no matter what situation I am in, that gift is my one offering to the community.
So if my gift is teaching, then I am gifted for teaching in every situation. And I’m justified to say “I would like to help, but that’s not my gift/calling/ministry.”
Instead, I’d like to suggest that the Holy Spirit manifests a diversity of gifts in diverse people in diverse situations, and what may be my spiritual gift in situation “A” may no be at all what I am gifted to do in situation “B.”
The applicable prayer here is not just “What can I do?” but “Father, how can I be a gift from you to this situation?”
We actively seek out the manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s diverse empowerment, but we have a spiritual sensitivity that if toilets need to be cleaned more than Leviticus needs to be taught, then I am gifted, called and empowered to do that very thing.
I believe that the economic downturn and the situations we all may face as families, neighborhoods, churches and ministries may provide a much needed opportunity for us to rethink “charismata,” and be much more open to what God would have us do and be in a new situation.
The current economic downturn provides many opportunities for kinds of “giftedness” that aren’t that valuable or appreciated when times are good. How many of us think about offering rides to others, or sharing a meal, or creating a food pantry when times a good? How many of us see our gifts in terms of program rather than in terms of what the Spirit is doing and yearning to do in very unusual situations?
I’d welcome your thoughts on spiritual gifts, and particularly on having a more flexible and less deterministic view of how they function in the church, the Kingdom and the world.