Archive for January, 2011

29
Jan
11

Ladd’s chart of charisms

Ladd put together this handy chart comparing the ordering of charisms in five separate New Testament lists – three from 1 Corinthians 12, one from Romans and one from Ephesians.

From George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, Revised Edition, edited by Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmands, 1993), 579-580.

1 Cor 12:28 1 Cor 12:29-30 1 Cor 12:8-10 Rom 12:6-8 Eph 4:4
1 Apostle 1 1 1
2 Prophet 2 2 5 1 2
3 Discernment of spirits 6
4 Teacher 3 3 3 4
5 Word of wisdom-knowledge 1
6 Evangelists 3
7 Exhorters 4
8 Faith 2
9 Miracles 4 4 4
10 Healings 5 5 3
11 Tongues 8 6 7
12 Interpretation 7 8
13 Ministry 2
14 Administration 7
15 Rulers 6
16 Helpers 6
17 Mercy 7
18 Giving 5

The interesting thing, which I hadn’t noticed before, is that apostle is almost always mentioned first, followed by prophet and teacher, with the exception of Ephesians 4 which puts evangelist before teacher.   The list in 1 Cor. 12:8-10 is altogether different  from the other two lists, and the reason is because it comes in the context of Paul’s discussion of the “extraordinary” gifts which the Corinthians seemed so interested in.

I’m not suggesting Paul was sketching out some sort of hierarchy here, but it does not seem random that his normal ordering was apostle-prophet-teacher.

How does this apply in the post-apostolic church?

Well, I would suggest that, for us, the apostles and prophets continue to exercise authority in the church through the witness of scripture.  After all, it was common in the ancient church to refer to the scriptures as the witness of the apostles and prophets.   This is an entirely fitting description of the Bible for a Christian, since the New Testament is our record of the apostolic witness – the first-hand accounts of the people who knew Jesus – and the Old Testament is understood as characterized throughout by its prophetic anticipation of the coming of Jesus – even in books which are not explicitly called “prophetic.”   Of course, there is scriptural warrant for this, in the fact that both Moses and David are called prophets (Deut. 34:10 and 2 Sam. 23:1-2).

Therefore it would seem that the office of teacher remains a pre-eminent gift for the church, so long as it is remembered that it is less important than the apostles and prophets, that is, the scriptures.   The gift of teaching comes under the greater authority of the apostles and prophets, and derives its authority from them.  This fits with one of Paul’s main criteria for assessing the relative importance of charisms – do they build up the church (hence his prioritization of prophecy over tongues in1 Cor. 14:1-5).  It also lines up nicely with the description of scripture’s role in 2 Tim. 3:16-17:All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Am I suggesting there are no apostles and prophets in the church today?  I would definitely say there are no apostles.  Though one could go back to the root meaning of the word and argue that apostle simply means “sent one,” therefore allowing that there are similar functions in the contemporary church, the scriptural concept can’t be understood simply on the basis of a breakdown of the Greek word.   The Christian apostles are those who knew Jesus in person and were commissioned by the resurrected Christ to be witnesses to his resurrection.  Of course this is extended to Paul, as the “one abnormally born” (1 Cor. 15:8).

With prophets I am willing to consider a bit more leeway, though I would still maintain that the word should be used sparingly, and also with a clear differentiation between scriptural prophets and contemporary prophets.  I do not doubt that there are persons whom God chooses to use as his mouthpiece today, giving them special insight into the times in which we live.  However, all such prophecy must be tested against the canonical prophetic witness of scripture, and that is the difference between prophets in the age of the Church and the prophets of scripture.  Even in Paul’s day, his message was that prophets needed to be tested and placed under authority (1 Cor. 14:29).  Today we have the benefit of the established canon of the apostles and prophets as our standard for such testing.

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24
Jan
11

What is God’s Plan for Ecumenism?

That was the title of the episode of Perspectives: The Weekly Edition, which aired Firday night on Salt + Light TV.  Host Pedro Guevera Mann invited some representatives of the Canadian Council of Churches’ Commission on Faith & Witness to discuss the topic, and I was privileged to be interviewed along with my colleagues Dr. Mary Marrocco, and the Rev. Dr. Gilles Mongeau, SJ.

It is a huge topic, and we didn’t have nearly enough time, but it is wonderful that Salt + Light TV is showing an interest in ecumenism and trying to generate some discussion among their largely Catholic audience.

There isn’t an overwhelming interest in ecumenism on the grassroots level these days.  It was interesting to hear about why this is the case in Catholic circles.   In spite of clear teaching from Vatican II and subsequent magisterial documents like John Paul II’s Ut Unum Sint, many Catholics are still under the impression that ecumenism means bringing protestants “back to Rome.”    On the protestant side it would seem as if Christians are becoming more “ecumenical” in that denominational differences are no longer as signficant as they used to be.  Many people don’t really care at all about what denomination they belong to, as long as they feel at home in their local congregation.  But I think that it is precisely this dismissal of the significance of denominational differences that can undermine serious discussion about Christian unity.  If our differences don’t matter at all, then there is no reason to try to overcome them!

Still, the current situation is preferable to the hostilities of past generations.  And even if there is not an overwhelming interest in “official ecumenism” via bodies like the Canadian Council of Churches, there is, it seems to me, a lot of interest in “informal ecumenism,” as seen in some current trends in worship and spirituality (such as the growing interest in spiritual direction among evangelicals).

Salt + Light decided to do a show on ecumenism because this is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which runs from January 18 to 25 each year.   This year, the week of prayer is focused on the church in Jerusalem, and the resources for the week (which can be found here) were prepared by Chrisitans from Jerusalem.   The theme is “One in the Apostles’ Teaching,” taken from Acts 2:42.

I’ll leave you with my favourite prayer from this year’s Week of Prayer service:

Merciful God,
may your life-giving Spirit
move in every human heart,
that the barriers that divide us may crumble,
suspicions disappear,
and hatreds cease,
and that, with divisions healed,
your people might live in justice and peace.
We pray to the Lord.


20
Jan
11

Methodism as religious society-become-church

Continuing on the theme I posted last week: In the quote below, Albert Outler reflects on the origins of Methodism as a religious society, with a view to the way this has evolved in Methodist history.  As with many such renewal movements, Methodism became a sort of hybrid of “movement” and “church,” and its peculiar structures, practices, and culture reflect this inherited tension.  While the tension can be fruitful, it sometimes produces a certain amount of confusion regarding the nature of the movement-church, both for the membership of the movement-church and for their fellow Christians.

It is interesting that this text comes from the same time as the Rupp essay on Wesley as prophet.  In the wake of Vatican II, there was great optimism regarding the possibilities of visible Christian union.  Both Rupp and Outler are keen to stress Wesley’s insistence on Methodism’s ecclesial location as a movement within the Church of England, raised up in “extraordinary” circumstances to meet a particular need.   From the perspective of “ecclesial charisms,” the vocation to “spread scriptural holiness throughout the land” through the “irregular” ministry of lay preachers could be seen as the particular Methodist charism.

What happens when the specialized movement takes on the character of a “church”?  The original charism and vocation cannot help but be hampered, because the Methodists are now focused on doing all the things that the church does, rather than the specific vocation around which they were formed.  The church at large also suffers the impoverishment of being cut off from the ministry of those with the particular Methodist charism.   Again, with Rupp, he wants to stress that Wesley only broke with the Church of England because it was necessary for the provision of the mission of the Church in America.

Here is the quote, from That the World May Believe: a study of Christian unity and what it means for Methodists (New York: Board of Missions of the Methodist Church, 1966), pp. 59-63.

Methodism is a religious society that became a church without the complete loss of its character as a religious society.  Methodists are not always mindful – and many non-Methodists are not even aware –  of this dual inheritance from both the Catholic and Protestant traditions in the Christian community, an experiment in the fusion of “justification by faith alone” with a disciplined ethic of “faith working by love.”  The history of this society-become-church is often confusing both to ourselves and to our neighbours.  We are usually reckoned among the pietists – but no typically pietist group ever had anything like our General Rules and Discipline.  We classify ourselves as Protestants, but none of the classical traditions of continental Protestantism had anything like the Wesleyan ideal of “Christian perfection” and the Wesleyan concept of evangelical morality.   And yet, if the quintessential formula for ecumenism is something like “consensus in faith, community in worship, unity in mission,” then it would be true to say that Methodism has been ecumenical from the beginning.  John Wesley was a rebel and a church reformer, a critic of the standing order, and a rude disturber of the false peace of Zion.  Because he was convinced that the regular ministries of the Church of England were failing in their mission to the nation, he felt authorized by the Holy Spirit to raise up an irregular ministry of gospel proclamation and to organize a network of religious societies in England, Wales, Ireland – and later, America.  To these he gave a distinctive set of “General Rules,” a peculiar pattern of organization (classes, bands, etc.), a novel principle of lay-leadership, and a communal ethos that marked off the Methodists from the Non-conformists as well as from the “High Churchmen.”

Despite all this, Wesley was no separatist. He never lifted a finger to overthrow the power structure of the Established Church nor even to invade it.  The Methodists were ill-treated, but Wesley held them in the church and kept them loyal to the sacraments.  The Anglican bishops reacted in varying degrees of distaste and bafflement, but they wisely refrained from any resort to formal excommunication in dealing with these Wesleyan irregulars.

This self-image of an evangelical order within an inclusive church was not effaced even when the Methodist societies developed into separate churches with sacramental ministries of their own.   Thus we learned – or might have learned – that wide diversity within an inclusive fellowship is not only tolerable but can actually be a vital service to the cause of authentic unity.  The early Methodists deliberately retained their distinct ties with the ancient and universal community but, quite as deliberately, they insisted on their freedom in Christian mission and nurture.  Wesley had no qualms in his use of laymen as preachers in the Revival and as leaders of the societies.  At the same time, he refused, on principle, to allow these laymen to administer the sacraments which were available in the Church of England.  He even forbade Methodist preaching services to be scheduled in competition with “church hours.”  Given the violent and divisive spirit of the age, this uneasy maintenance of the Methodist societies within the unity of “Mother Church” is one of the most remarkable incidents in Protestant church history.  When, however, the American Revolution had deprived the Methodists in the new republic of any ordained ministry for the sacraments, Wesley proceeded – by his ordinations of Richard Whatcoat, Thomas Vasey, and Thomas Coke – to remedy this defect himself rather than to approve the pattern of sectarian self-ordination by laymen begun by Philip Gatch and others at the Fluvanna Conference of 1779.

Where was Outler going with this?  His phrase at the start of the last paragraph is telling, where he speaks of Methodist “self-image” as that of “an evangelical order within an inclusive church.”   I believe Outler longed for this to be recaptured in some way, although he was clear that this would be costly: “We are, or ought to be, willing to risk our life as a separate church and to face death as a denomination in the sure and lively hope of our resurrection in the true community of the whole people of God” (p. 75).

18
Jan
11

Ten Songs from 2010

In response to Pernell, here are ten songs that I listened to a lot in 2010 (not necessarily released in 2010).

Deep Dark Woods, “Charlie’s (is coming down)” from CBC Radio 2’s Great Canadian Song Quest


Fleet Foxes, “Your Protector,” from Fleet Foxes


Great Lake Swimmers, “Palmistry,” from Lost Channels


Joel Plaskett, “Deny Deny Deny,” from Three

M. Ward, “Jailbird,” from Hold Time


Ray Lamontagne, “Like Rock & Roll and Radio,” from God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise


Ron Sexsmith, “Seem to Recall,” from Whereabouts


Rufus Wainwright, “True Loves,” from All Days are Nights: Songs for Lulu


The Swell Season, “Low Rising,” from Strict Joy

Sandra McCraken, “Halfway,” from Under Lights and Stars

14
Jan
11

Methodism as an Extraordinary Ministry

Some people have suggested that if John Wesley were born in another century, or another country – that is, in a Catholic time or place – he might have founded a religious order, rather than a movement which ended up becoming a new church.   Although he was not able to convince his followers to uphold his views on the matter, Wesley consistently argued that Methodism was a religious society within the Church of England, rather than a distinct Christian church.  The decisions he made which led toward separation (notably his ordinations of ministers for America) were done under necessity.  In other words, he did not want to compete with the Church of England, and only ordained ministers in places where the Church was not keeping up with the demands of the mission (and ignoring his pleas that it grant ordinations to his preachers to fill the gaps).

I came across this discussion of the issue by Gordon Rupp from 1968.  Rupp makes reference to Wesley’s remarkable 1789 sermon, “The Ministerial Office” (now identified in the scholarly literature as “Prophets and Priests”).  Here, as Rupp notes, Wesley does some creative exegesis in order to establish his claim of  a distinction between the priestly and prophetic ministries, while maintaining that Methodism must be understood as the latter.

The issue, particularly in the way that Rupp frames it here, raises classic issues that I hope my dissertation on “eccleisal charisms” might help to answer.  While I won’t be making my arguments in the same way as Wesley, my conclusions will end up supporting Wesley’s distinction between ordinary and extraordinary ministies.

Here then, is a claim to be called by God, to an extraordinary ministry of evangelism and of building up men and women to salvation (for John Wesley claimed that the doctrine of perfect love was the grand depositum of Methodism for which God appeared to have chiefly raised them up).

But the Methodists had a double pattern of spirituality. There were the ordinances of the Church of England, of Word and sacraments.  There was also the spiritual fabric of the Methodists, the intimate bands which were almost lay confessionals, the class meeting which was the essential cell, or koinonia, the love feasts and the occasional splendid eucharistic solemnities when thousands gathered at the Lord’s table and when Wesley and his ordained Anglican friends administered…

Wesley himself distinguished clearly between the commission to preach and authority to administer the sacraments: the first he thought a prophetic office, the second to depend on ecclesiastical authority.  He developed this in his sermon on “The Ministerial Office.”  He affirms that in ancient times the office of a priest and that of a preacher were distinct – from Noah to Moses “the eldest of the family was the priest, but any other might be the prophet”.  So in the New Israel, in the early Church, “I do not find that ever the office of Evangelist was the same with that of a pastor, frequently called a bishop.  He presided over the flock and administered the sacraments.”  In this light, Wesley goes on, are the lay preachers of Methodism to be regarded.  “We received them wholly and solely to preach, not to administer the sacraments…In 1744 all the Methodist Preachers had their first Conference.  But none of them dreamed that being called to preach gave them any right to administer sacraments.”

Whatever we think of Wesley’s strange view of sacred history in the matter of priests and prophets, and his sometimes eccentric exegesis, his distinction is important and deserve serious consideration, for it had important practical consequences.  While he lived, the Methodists who acknowledged his authority did not permit laymen to administer the sacraments…It was the failure of the bishop of London, despite repeated petitions, to provide sufficient clergy for North America, and the ecclesiastical chaos caused by the War of Independence, which led Wesley in 1784 to ordain four clergymen for America, and in later years a handful of clergy for Scotland and England.

At the end of his life, Wesley pondered the swift, deep extension of the revival to the very ends of the land.  Though he did not live to see it, the great work was to be repeated in the next generation in North America, the West Indies, Africa, Australia and the islands of the Pacific.  His own comment on it was: “What hath God wrought!”  and whether we take it affirmatively, or whether we turn it into a question mark, it is the question which John Wesley and his work ask of contemporary ecumenical theology.

From Gordon Rupp, “John Wesley: Christian Prophet,” in Prophets in the Church, Concilium 37, ed. Roger Aubert (New York: Paulist, 1968), 54-56.

07
Jan
11

Nature and grace, ability and charism

The discussion of the charismata inevitably turns to the question of how we can distinguish charisms from natural abilities.  Some wish to make a very sharp distinction between the two, while others prefer to stress potential continuities.  It seems to me that one’s approach to this question is heavily influenced by one’s presuppositions about the relationship between nature and grace.

The diversity of views can be illustrated by comparing the perspectives of James Dunn, Gabriel Murphy, and Ernst Käsemann.

Dunn, taking a typically protestant oppositional view of the relation between nature and grace, is adamant that the charismata are of a completely different order from natural abilities, and is at pains to draw a clear demarcation between the two:

charisma is not be confused with human talent and natural ability; nowhere does charisma have the sense of a human capacity heightened, developed or transformed…Charisma is always God acting, always the Spirit manifesting himself.” (Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, 255).

In making his point, Dunn references Kierkegaard’s “infinite qualitative distinction” as support for his claim, before allowing that natural abilities may “chime in” with charisma.  Dunn further underscores his point by insisting that charisma has an “event” character:

charisma is always an event, the gracious activity (ένεργημα) of God through a man. It is the actual miracle, the healing itself, the particular experience of faith; it is the actual revelation as man experiences it, the very words of wisdom, prophecy, prayer, etc., themselves, the particular act of service as it is performed.” (Jesus and the Spirit, 254).

Gabriel Murphy, articulating a traditional Catholic (Thomist)  interpretation of charisms in the wake of Vatican II, draws upon a more complementary understanding of the relation between nature and grace in describing the Pauline concept of charisms, noting that at times it is difficult even to discern the difference between natural ability and charism:

“…in spite of the fact that it can be stated a priori that all the charisms are spiritual gifts, it is not always possible in practice to discern or recognize this character in a particular charism…A successful preacher of the Word of God may only seem to be using abilities of his natural personality.” (Murphy, Charisms and Church Renewal, 51).

Murphy explicitly locates the answer to this dilemma in “modern theological concepts,” according to which

“grace is either the intrinsic elevation of the natural man to a supernatural state, or the assistance given to his natural powers in order to be able to perform supernatural acts.  In either case, the supernatural is built upon the natural – it is an elevation of the being or actions of a natural man.  Thus it is possible for the special gift of the charism to be grafted on a natural aptitude already possessed by the individual, elevating the action of this natural ability so that that the resulting act will be supernatural.” (Charisms and Church Renewal, 51-52).

Käsemann brings a rather different approach to the question, in which “the charismatic” can embrace any aspect of human life, including natural abilities, not through a divine elevation, but through  human recognition of the lordship of Christ:

“My previous condition of life becomes charisma only when I recognize that the Lord has given it to me and that I am to accept his gift as his calling and command to me.  Now everything can become for me charisma.” Käsemann, “Ministry and Community in the New Testament,” in Essays on New Testament Themes, 72.

I’m not quite sure how to characterize Käsemann’s perspective, but in this scheme, “recognition” becomes the key transforming nature into grace.  The difference between the two seems to have been collapsed, outside the subjectivity of the individual.

This is an area where I think it is difficult to separate theological presuppositions from exegesis.  Of course, these authors, particularly Dunn and Käsemann, would claim that they are simply doing unvarnished exegesis – but somehow they all come to have very different interpretations.

I’m still working out my position on this (which I’ll hopefully put into a future post), but it seems to me that we might be asking a question which these texts do not set out to answer.   What I mean is,  I don’t think Paul is writing about the difference between “abilities” and “gifts” – he’s trying to underline the givenness of all things.   This givenness is discerned by those who, through the Spirit, have discerned the ultimate gift of salvation in Christ, and through him have become inheritors to a great wealth of gifts (including the charismata of 1 Cor. 12-14).

“For all things are yours,whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”
(1 Corinthians 3:22-23)




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