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"The Devil Told Me the Same Thing" -- A Reëxamination of Gifts

Posted on Sunday, November 12, 2006 at 05:00PM by Registered CommenterMarshall Massey in , | Comments7 Comments

I try not to write essays that are focused on concepts and lack concern for practice. My fear is that such essays will be merely notional, and of little worth as helps either to my own salvation or to anyone else’s.

Real life doesn’t make the shunning of concepts easy, though. For it seems that, in real life, one cannot talk long about a practice before one is forced to start grappling with the understandings that underlie it.

If our practice is love, for example, and we’re trying to do a more perfect job of loving, we will quickly find that we have to consider the puzzle of what “love” is and what it is not. (Is indulgence love? Is “tough love” love?) And thus conceptual explorations are unavoidable.

The danger is that this sort of exploration will devolve into a discussion totally about abstract concepts — such as that of “love” — and, in doing so, distract us from our focus on practice. It does happen. And then we wind up with a form of religion that talks, talks, talks, and neglects to do.

Can we discuss “gifts” (my topic in this present essay), remembering that this is supposed to be an attempt to grapple with the challenge of living out our faith?

I think we can. But it may take conscious effort.



Well, to begin with — there is clearly a tendency in Quaker circles to glamorize the possessors of skills by calling these people “gifted”.

This frequently leads to fussing over them as if they were a cut above ordinary mortals, or to elevating them or their opinions in inappropriate ways.

And it’s not just the people skilled in “eldering” who are glamorized — and it’s not just our valued friend RichardM who glamorizes them, either: not by any means. Some other examples, off the top of my head —

  • Not long ago, a friend sent me an e-mail in loving support of a person who’d taken a position disagreeing with my own, saying that this person was a recorded minister (that is, recorded as being “gifted” in the ministry) in three separate meetings.

    I certainly don’t want to belittle the esteem in which those meetings hold him, but what did that have to do with the validity or invalidity of the position he had taken?

  • In a yearly meeting I used to belong to, no one was actually recorded as a minister, but certain prominent members were openly regarded as especially gifted in ministry, discernment, and practical witness. I vividly recall a session of that yearly meeting, back in the 1980s, where one of these prominent Friends led a workshop. He sat on a chair under a tree and held forth about how “we are not asked to be perfect, for example the Friend I’m going to tell you about was a hard drinker and had affairs but he wrote good poetry,” while a semicircle of maybe two dozen people sat on the ground at his feet and gazed up at him adoringly.

  • On a higher and better note: when I was at Baltimore Yearly Meeting just last August, the first of its keynote speakers spent most of her appointed hour talking about “the importance of naming our gifts”. There were enthusiastic nods throughout the audience as she spoke. She herself was repeatedly described to me as a “gifted” person by many members there.

    She was certainly a fine speaker: articulate, assured, and focused on the good of our Society. I could appreciate her desire to encourage back-bench Friends to dust off their talents and start putting them to work. But naming people’s gifts and naming those who are gifted strikes me as a completely separate thing from applying one’s talents to God’s work, and I puzzled over the heavy emphasis on the naming rather than the work.

I could name other examples as well. And doubtless many Friends who read this will think of examples of their own.

Now, I myself belong to a different school of Quakerism: one that says a person should do what is given to her or him to do, whatever it is, without any fuss for doing it. Letting yourself be fussed over for what you did is tantamount to taking credit for it, rather than leaving the credit with God where it belongs. (Christ gave a teaching to this effect, as I recall, in Luke 17:7-10.)

Does anyone besides me remember the old story about the person who rushed up to a seasoned Friend right after meeting for worship? The person gushed, “Oh, dear Friend so-and-so, I wanted to thank you for what you said in meeting — it was so inspired and wonderful!” And the seasoned Friend replied with a smile, “I know: the devil told me the same thing as I was sitting down.”

That’s my cosmology in miniature. Congratulating one another on what we have done is an opening to the demon of vanity, a demon that fills the poor victim’s head with conceits and self-importance, and can easily hinder true discipleship. And making a fuss about one another’s gifts poses similar dangers. In my personal opinion, neither one should ever be done except in special circumstances — as, for example, to help shore up a person whose self-confidence is shaky, or when giving thanks to God for His [Her] help in a time of heartfelt need.

So the trend in our Society toward making a fuss over gifts and the gifted is one that I feel wary of. I fear it may distract us from a closer focus on the Giver.

And yet the apostles themselves talked about people’s gifts.

Why did they do this?



Actually, the apostles recognized two categories of gifts.

The first category was one they described by words, such as dosis and dôrêma, that were derived from the root verb didômi, “to give”. These were the words the Greeks used to speak of concrete gifts that ordinary humans gave to one another — things like presents on special occasions — although gifts from God could be identified by these words as well.

When James wrote in his epistle that “every good act of giving and every perfect gift is from God” (verse 1:17), the words he used for “act of giving” and “gift” were dosis and dôrêma.

The other category of gifts that the apostles recognized were the charisms. In Greek the word for charisms (in the plural) is kharismata, pronounced with a sound like the throat being cleared at the beginning. A single charism, in Greek is a kharisma.

The words kharisma and kharismata are derived from khairô, a verb meaning “rejoice”. Christ calls on us in the Beautitudes (Matthew 5:12) to “rejoice” (khairete) when we are persecuted, giving as reason that this is how the prophets were persecuted before us, and our reward in heaven will be as the prophets’ was. Peter echoes this invitation in I Peter 4:13, giving as his reason, that we are sharing in Christ’s own sufferings, and so will share in his joy to come.

This whole idea — that there is a peculiar joy that comes from emulating the truest servants of the Lord, even in their sufferings, and receiving one’s reward for it from the Lord afterward — becomes wrapped up in the idea of what the kharismata are.

The route from khairô to kharismata passes through the word kharis, which means favor, graciousness, liberality, generosity — especially, in the New Testament, the favor or generosity of God — and the impact of that favor or generosity on the human heart, and its reflection in the human life, of the recipient, which is expressed in (among other things) the recipient’s rejoicing.

Kharis was a tremendously important term in the life of the early Church. It appears 156 times in the New Testament alone, which is a whole lot of appearances for such a very technical term.

Some special points: We are told at several points that Paul received a special grace (kharis) along with his apostolic commission. This seems to mean something like, Paul received a guarantee that the workings of the Holy Spirit would be felt through his presence and activity.

Also, in II Corinthians 1:15 Paul says casually that his very presence in the Corinthian church means the presence of grace (kharis) there. And in Romans 1:11 he says something quite similar.

Paul, of course, knew himself to be walking in the footsteps of Christ; he wrote to the Corinthians, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1), and to the Thessalonians, “You became imitators of us (the apostles) and of the Lord…” (I Thessalonians 5:6).

So now we see that the idea of Matthew 5:12 and I Peter 4:13 — the idea that imitating the Lord’s truest servants gives one reason to rejoice — is carried over here into the idea of kharis, but with a difference: the imitator of the true servants now not only has reason to rejoice, he also has a grace or favor from God, a blessing, that falls upon his life and the lives of those around him, transforming them and giving them reason to rejoice further.

“Every perfect gift” — dôrêma — “is from God”. Yes indeed. As I write these words, it is a beautiful day outside, and that is a dôrêma from God. I can dress myself, spell my own name, add simple sums, and find Council Bluffs on a road map — and these too are dôrêmata (the plural) from God.

Every breath I take is a dôrêma from God. This teaching of James echoes Christ’s own teaching that God takes care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, and sends rain to fall alike on the fields of the just and the fields of the unjust.

But such dôrêmata — lovely days, the ability to dress myself and spell my own name, the bare gift of breath — these are gifts I’d have had whether I followed the practice of the perfect servants of God or not. My sins would not deprive me of them. They fall like the rain on the fields of the unjust. I feel no sense in these dôrêmata of favors granted me by the Holy Spirit especially because I have walked in the footsteps of its truest servants.

Kharismata are different; they are clear marks that one has, indeed, been granted a favor by the Spirit. Paul made this point, of the special relationship between kharismata and the Spirit, at some length in I Corinthians 12:1-11, and it is underscored by his reference to the kharismata, at two separate points in that epistle (I Corinthians 12:1 and 14:1) as being pneumatika — “of the Spirit”.

And Paul noted that the relationship between faithfulness, the Spirit, and the charisms is cyclical. In Romans 1:11, he said, “…I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift (kharisma), so that you may be established….” In other words, although charisms come from faithfulness to the path, and from the Spirit, they also establish us in faithfulness to the path and to the Spirit. They lead us to their own Source.

One final point is worth noting here. Prior to the New Testament the word kharisma was apparently extremely rare: less than half a dozen appearances have been found in all the surviving pre-Christian literature put together.

So the apostles, when they made use of this word in the Pauline epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, and Timothy, and in the first Petrine epistle, were quite deliberately taking up a very rare word in order to signify a new and unfamiliar kind of gift, a gift of a sort that few in the world had ever seen before.



What, then, were these new and unfamiliar sorts of gifts?

As I noted in a response to comments made on my earlier essay “The Giftedness of Elders”, the outstanding examples of kharismata, in Paul’s lists of such things, are ministerial and/or apostolic in nature, and are all abilities such as Christ himself displayed, or that the early apostles displayed when dramatically empowered by the Spirit.

Thus, in I Corinthians 12:4-11, Paul listed nine types of charisms:

  • the “the word of wisdom through the Spirit” (that is, soul-reaching ministry),

  • “the word of knowledge through the Spirit” (factually instructive ministry),

  • faith,

  • gifts of healings,

  • miracle working,

  • prophecy (propheteia, literally the “speaking forth” of that which God wants said),

  • discernment (diakrisis, literally a “thorough sorting-out” of some matter),

  • speaking in tongues, and

  • the interpretation of tongues.

Each of these was an ability that had been clearly displayed either by Christ in his ministry, or by the apostles under the influence of the Spirit, or both.

In Romans 12:6-8, Paul explicitly listed the charisms of

  • prophecy (propheteia) and

  • servant-work (diakonia, the work of deacons in the early Church, who were appointed to provide table-service in Acts 6:2-3, and in general were entrusted with routine manual duties in the church),

and then he went on to refer to charisms that are available to

  • one who teaches,

  • one who exhorts,

  • one who distributes material goods (ho metadidous, meaning one who looks after widows, orphans, and the poor generally, or possibly one who renounces his wealth),

  • one who stands as a leader (ho proistamenos, literally “one who stands or is placed before others” — perhaps meaning an initiator of righteous acts, or an exemplar of righteous behavior for others), and

  • one who engages in acts of mercy (ho eleôn, one who nurses the sick, visits prisoners, aids the wounded, and the like).

Again we can see the connection to the activities of Christ and of the apostles under the Spirit, though in this case the parsing of the Spirit’s activities is quite different.

In I Corinthians 12:28-30 we have an echo of the list at I Corinthians 12:4-11, recapitulating most of the earlier list, and adding two charisms that Paul had omitted earlier —

  • acts of giving help (antilêpseis, which literally refers to the “taking hold of” people and their situations, “embracing” them in one’s care), and

  • piloting acts (kybernêseis, which refers to the acts of people steering a vessel; such “piloting acts” would involve discernment of the right course, as the pilot provides for his or her vessel, and might also involve directive action, telling the community what to head toward).

Was either the list in Romans 12, or the double-barreled list of I Corinthians 12, intended to be an exhaustive list of the charisms?

Possibly, yes — but we should still remember that they are only Paul’s attempt to point a finger toward what he saw going on.

Paul was offering examples of places where his readers could see the power of the Spirit erupting as people walked faithfully in the footsteps of Christ. The lists were somewhat different in each different place because, although the apostle was looking at the same phenomenon, he was approaching in somewhat different ways. But there is no reason to suppose that Paul would have refused to recognize other examples of kharismata if someone had called them to his attention.

Paul noted (in I Corinthians 13:1-3, directly after the last of these lists of charisms), that the powers he called kharismata were meaningless without love. This is an important clue, for it reminds us that to regard the powers themselves as kharismata, without considering whether there was any connection to the imitation of Christ or not, or whether there was any connection to the Spirit of love or not, would be altogether a mistake.

Healing, prophecy, and the rest are only kharismata when embedded in the context of imitation and the Spirit. And in this respect, any hope of an exhaustive list of charisms is quite beside the point. If we look instead at those who do such imitating, and at how the Spirit chooses to manifest through them, we will see the concrete reality that Paul was only attempting to describe; and it is the concrete reality that matters most, not Paul’s attempt at a description.

Moreover, as Paul seems to have been suggesting in Romans 6:23, all these various charisms boil down to one single charism that they are special expressions of: the charism of eternal life in Christ. — Which means, among other things, that through faithfully walking in Christ’s path and in his imitation, we come to live in him, and as we do so, what Christ is comes to be permanently at work and manifest in our own lives.



Now, Christ’s ministry displayed powers and features that not only were news to the world, but amazed and deeply moved those saw them.

The outbreak of the power of the Spirit in the Upper Room at the Pentecost, and the subsequent ministries of the apostles under the guidance of the Spirit, likewise displayed powers and features (notably tongues) that were news to the world, and that amazed and deeply moved those who were there.

To the Christian community, these powers and features showed how the Spirit was at work in a new way in the world, breaking into mundane slumbers with their collective Good News. And so it was quite natural to lump these things together as new sorts of giftskharismata rather than dôrêmata: gifts that Christ had brought to a world for a clear purpose associated with his ministry.

Thus the particular natures of the charisms that had appeared, seemed to indicate to the Christian community what God’s purposes were in giving these things.

In I Corinthians 12, Paul looked at the matter in terms of God’s purposes for the universe:

  • The charism of healing, obviously, was to show how the God of Christ is a God who wills the good, aiming at the restoration of a fallen and broken Creation: sickness and death had entered the world with Adam’s sin and fall, but God is aiming at saving the world from all the consequences of that sin and fall.

  • The charism of miracle-working was to inspire confidence in God’s power to save (or so it seems to me).

  • The charisms of prophecy and tongues were for the guidance of the community by transmitting the will of God to humankind; the charisms of discernment and interpretation were for the discerning of what the prophecy implied for the community.

  • Other charisms were for the benefit of the saved community in its journey through time: faith kept the community in accordance with God, the sharing of wisdom and of knowledge instructed newcomers and the confused, acts of charity and mercy and political guidance helped in the community’s efforts to deal with worldly difficulties.

In Romans 12:6-8, on the other hand, Paul looked at the matter in terms of God’s purposes for the individual believer.

As the believer practiced walking in the footsteps of Christ, the reality of Christ, as the embodiment of God and the kind savior of all creatures everywhere, manifested through her. Not only healing and miracle-working and prophecy showed this, but acts of teaching and exhortation, charity and mercy and initiative, indeed, all the actions that Christ had called her to in his ministry — these showed it as well.

She could see and feel “all things working together for good to those who love the Lord — those who had been called out of the world to serve His purposes”. (Romans 8:28, paraphrased.) And those around her could see it, too.

All this helps us understand, I think, why the apostles understood these charisms as being available to all who walked on Christ’s path. For, certainly, the apostles did understand the matter in this way.

Peter preached to the crowd at the Pentecost of how the prophet Joel had foretold that God would pour out His Spirit on “all flesh”, causing “your sons and daughters” to prophesy (Acts 2:17). Since it was Joel, not Peter, who made this prophecy, this phrase, “your sons and daughters”, referred to the “sons and daughters”, i.e. the descendants, of Joel’s generation, not Peter’s — and thus to everyone in the crowd that Peter was addressing, and to everyone alive today as well.

And Paul told his Corinthian readers: “earnestly desire the best kharismata” (I Corinthians 12:31) and “desire pneumatika (a synonym for kharismata), but especially that you may prophesy” (I Corinthians 14:1). This is advice he would hardly have given them all if it would have only been a futile and frustrating exercise for most of them.

And this is an astonishing point of view, especially when one considers that Paul’s lists ranked miracle-working and healing alongside prophecy as among the “best gifts”. Ordinary people living according to Christ’s commandments, walking in Christ’s footsteps, taking up his Cross, and thereby receiving the power to work miracles, heal the sick and prophesy! Wow.

But all this was in keeping with Christ’s own teaching, that, if our faith is sufficient, we can tell a mountain to move and it will do so. (Matthew 17:20) Christ would not have said this, if only a few had access to the charism of miracle-working.

And it was equally in keeping with Christ’s teaching that, “…when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12) If a sufficient gift of eldership were given only to a few, Christ would have had to add, “But if the magistrates interview you in privately, then some of you had better keep your big traps shut, because you guys can’t elder anyone worth a hoot, far less a magistrate.” But Christ never said that.

Christ and the apostles were fully confident that everyone had total access to all the kharismata. Actual use of the gifts required reaching for them and wanting to put them to use — which is why Paul told his readers to “earnestly desire” them. But as Joel foretold, and Peter repeated, the gift is general.

This whole idea of kharismata drives home the fact that, for Peter and Paul, Christianity was not just about “accepting Christ as your personal savior”. Far less was it only about the liberal social gospel of political and economic justice for the poor, or the Christian Right’s agenda of stopping abortion, homosexuals and socialists, or the Quaker worshiper’s hope of having a nice deep meeting for worship.

Christianity was also, and above all that, about walking the path, and thereby opening a door through which Christ himself could re-manifest in the world.



But if the kharismata are as universally available to all faithful followers of Christ as all that, what are we to make of the fact that Paul spoke of “varied kharismata” (Romans 12:6), and observed that each person has his own? (I Corinthians 7:7)

What we need to do, I think, is to read these passages carefully.

Romans 12:6 says that we have “kharismata that vary according to the grace (kharis) that is given to us” — i.e., as the grace varies, so does the way it manifests. But this is not the same thing as saying that some people are given types of charisms (like the ministry type, or the eldering type) that others can never receive an equal measure of. It merely says that the overall charism given to every follower of Christ — the charism of eternal life in Christ — this overall charism will flash out of us in varying ways.

This statement can legitimately be read as meaning that, while every true follower of Christ has access to an equal measure of the charism of eldering (Christ’s own ability to see into people and reach them), and to all other charisms as well, this equal measure will express itself differently in different individuals’ lives, both according to the details of the individual’s ongoing relationship with God (the drama of his spiritual life, through which his experience of grace unfolds), and according to the particular situations that God puts the individual in.

There is no need to conclude from this verse that any true follower is deprived of full access to all charisms. As Christ himself said, “Whatever you ask for in my name, will be given to you, that your joy (khara — another relative of kharisma!) may be full.” (John 16:24)

Then to I Corinthians 7:7. Here we read, “…Each one has his own kharisma from God, one in this manner and another in that.” This is certainly a clear statement that charisms are unique to the individual. But it still doesn’t say that a particular type of charism, such as the charism of ministry or the charism of eldership, is not available to all. It may mean nothing more than that different faithful followers of Christ have gifts of ministry and eldership that are expressed as individually as their personalities are.

I think it is awfully easy to read things into Scripture that are not there. And sometimes it is appealing to do so, as well.

But when we say, “this group of people has an important gift, the gift of discernment, to a degree that no one else can share,” we are in essence setting up that group of people to be an elite doing the bulk of the decision-making for the community. That is a harmful act, both because it permanently denigrates the views and wisdoms of the ones not belonging to the elite, and because it undermines our Christian testimony of equality. And the scriptural passages we have looked at here do not support it.



Now, I think, we are ready to turn back to the modern Quaker views on “gifts” — so I would like to offer a couple of observations about the differences between these modern views and the views of the apostles.

The obvious difference is that many in the modern Quaker world use the language of “gifts” much more casually than the apostles did, because they do not recognize the distinction between ordinary gifts (dôrêmata) and the kharismata.

And failing to pay attention to this distinction, they also fail to notice the way in which those who fulfill Christ’s teachings, and take up his cross, do manifest the actual presence and miraculous power of the historical Christ, and continue to carry out his mission.

Thus the term “gifts” ceases to have explicit reference to the work of the Gospel, and comes to mean just “spiritual traits that Quakers have”.

But there is also another, subtler difference. And this second difference involves the answer to the question I asked way back at the beginning — why did the apostles talk about people’s gifts?

For ever since Friends started recording ministers, they have used the language of “gifts” — such as “a gift in the ministry”, and more recently “a gift of eldership” — to point to the person presumed to be so “gifted”.

But Paul, and the early church generally, do not seem to have used the vocabulary of “gifts” for that purpose.

When Paul spoke of “gifts”, what he was interested in — as we can see from his lists — was not describing the people who were gifted, and celebrating those people’s gifts, but rather, describing, and trying to understand, the work of the Holy Spirit as it was manifesting in his time and place.

Luke had a similar viewpoint — for all the stories of Acts are stories about the Holy Spirit’s continued work in the world, working through all the apostles and the whole Christian church in concert, to extend the ministry of Christ after Jesus died in the flesh.

And one gets a similar impression from the Didache, the first century Church’s book of discipline, which addresses the matter of people exercising gifts (apostles, prophets and teachers) only from the perspective of fitting those people in in to the overall project of the Church. (Didache xi, xii.)

One could say that where modern Friends use the language of gifts outwardly to honor the particular vessel, the minister or elder, the early Church preferred to use it inwardly, to point to the Spirit that all the vessels together were being filled with.

This is, I think, rich food for thought.

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Reader Comments (7)


This is indeed so much food for thought that I think I will have to save some for leftovers. I did read all the way through it, but I think I need to go back and spend some more time on it. I notice that you go from early Christians straight to modern Friends, but leave out early Friends. It appears to me that early Friends paid special attention to ministry, but not necessarily other gifts. From reading Samuel Bownas' A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister, it appears that early Friends thought of ministry as a gift and paid special attention to identifying those who had that gift and nurturing them. If I read your last few paragraphs right, you are saying that this wasn't a practice of the early church.

While I understand the contrast you are making between saying someone is "gifted" and recognizing that a gift has been bestowed, I am a little unclear as to what direction you think we should take with respect to gifts. Was the early Friends' recognition of gifts of ministry a bad idea? Are we also setting them apart as a group of people who have the gift of prophecy to a degree none can share? I don't believe that we do, perhaps you do. If we aren't doing that with ministers, why would our recognition of elders be any different?

With love,

Nov 12, 2006 at 07:22PM | Unregistered CommenterMark Wutka

Like Mark this bears multiple readings. Without calling to question the meaning of whole, I do have one quibble:

Prior to the New Testament the word kharisma was apparently extremely rare: less than half a dozen appearances have been found in all the surviving pre-Christian literature put together. So the apostles, when they made use of this word in the Pauline epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, and Timothy, and in the first Petrine epistle, were quite deliberately taking up a very rare word in order to signify a new and unfamiliar kind of gift, a gift of a sort that few in the world had ever seen before.

I'm not a big fan of arguments from silence. The none use in previous literature could only indicate that it wasn't a word used by literary folks -- it could still be in quite active use by the hoi polloi. In most cultures the diction of written language and of oral culture were different.

Not to say you're not right. Only that I don't think the prior non use proves it.

Nov 13, 2006 at 04:40PM | Unregistered Commenterdavid


Thank you for your very in-depth analysis, I apologize for not thanking you in my earlier message, it is obvious that you put a lot of work into this. I agree with you that the charismata are available to all, and it appears that you also agree that they do not necessarily all manifest in everyone (otherwise why would we need to earnestly desire them?).

With respect to modern Friends, I agree that there are many Friends who use the words "gift" and "gifted" in order to bestow honor upon an individual, but I do not think that is universally true among Friends. My understanding of the idea of recording ministers and elders is that it is more of an acceptance of responsibility than a glorification. It feels to me like it adds extra impetus to take care of one's spiritual life, although I have trouble with the idea of that extra push being limited to a few people - most of us need it. I think the main responsibility is to actively seek out places where that gift may be used. That doesn't preclude anyone from also exercising gifts, and doesn't (or at least shouldn't) convey any extra authority on someone. It seems to me that it lays more of a burden on someone - traveling in the ministry takes a lot of time, for example.

Again, I appreciate your continued discussion of this issue, it certainly has made me think more about it. For one thing, if it is important to record ministers and elders, why not healers? What about people who perform acts of mercy, or distribute material goods? Again, not to glorify them but to convey the responsibility of putting those gifts to the best use of the body of Christ.

I wonder if one of the differences between early Christians and modern Friends is that in the time of early Christians, the charismata were bursting forth all over the place, and perhaps in our day we are not as in tune with the Holy Spirit as a community, so the charismata may be harder to see, or don't manifest as strongly. Because of this, we have developed practices to encourage and nurture the ones that do appear. That may be a stretch in that we are only focused on certain charismata, but it might be a reasonable explanation for why early Friends adopted the practice when it was not evident among early Christianity.

With love,

Nov 15, 2006 at 08:10AM | Unregistered CommenterMark Wutka

Some very thoughtful & insightful comments here! Thank you, friends.

Mark, you note that I go straight from the earliest Church to modern Friends, without talking about early Friends. Yes, that was deliberate, both to make the contrast between those two positions clear and to keep the essay short enough to be readable.

About Samuel Bownas: he doesn't actually qualify as an "early Friend" in the sense in which I myself would use that term. He wasn't born until 1676, when the second generation of Friends had already assumed most of the leadership in the Society; his convincement was in 1696, and his public ministry began shortly thereafter, which would make him a member of the third generation of public Friends. His thinking was shaped by the condition of the third- and fourth-generation Society in which he lived, a community torn between its growing material successes and the purificationist programs of reformers such as Joseph Pike.

Bownas's Description of the Qualifications was completed in 1750, when he was seventy-four. It was a time when the third generation was mostly deceased and the fifth generation (Friends such as John Woolman) was rising to prominence. Description of the Qualifications was a sort of final statement of third-generation Quaker purificationism, an attempt to pass that particular torch to later generations.

It needs to be said that the sort of purificationism that Bownas's book expresses was not such an obsession with first- and second-generation Friends. The first and second generations came to Quakerism out of sheer spiritual hunger, a hunger so great it made temptations and distractions seem easy to cast aside. The third generation did not begin so spiritually hungry, and so had to struggle hard, life-long, against the temptations of the laid-back life. Luke Cock's 1721 sermon on the Weeping Cross captures the whole spirit of that period.

And Bownas was describing that era -- his own generation -- when he wrote of true gospel ministers that "they are the more earnest to persuade men to repentance and amendment, both by reproof, warning of sinners, and threatening them with judgment, as having themselves so narrowly escaped." (Description of the Qualifications, 1989 edn., p. 12.)

Thus the initial burden of the Description, which is set out in its first chapter, is a purificationist one: "The tree must be good before the fruit can be so.... All vile and ungodly persons, while they continue in that natural and unregenerate state, are excluded from any part in this gift." (pp. 1-2) Self-purification is necessary to the ministry, Bownas says, because the physician must heal himself first, before he goes to minister to others. "...We shall find a law in our hearts that we have broken, and a Spirit in our inward parts that we have rebelled against ... being hurried in the pursuit of the pleasures of the flesh and vanities of this life...." (p. 5) Heeding this Spirit's directives in our own lives, teaches us the Path so that we can speak of it with a lovingkindness equal to the love that we ourselves have found. (p. 12) But conversely, failing to heed it, leaves us visibly disqualified both in God's eyes and in the eyes of others. (pp. 4, 8)

I have written all this, Mark, by way of preparation, so that when I now quarrel a bit with your own conclusions about Bownas's book, you can more easily see where I'm coming from.

You write, "from reading Samuel Bownas ... it appears that early Friends thought of ministry as a gift and paid special attention to identifying those who had that gift and nurturing them." Now, as I've already said, Bownas is no indicator of how the first two generations of Friends saw such things since his book was not even written until more than a century after the Quaker movement began. The first generation would have said, with George Fox, "What canst thou say?" -- a question that presumes every human being, if rightly grounded in God, should be able to speak in the ministry. But even in Bownas's time, Friends didn't yet appear to believe that there were any Friends who did not have the gift of ministry at least in potentio.

Reading Bownas's chapter III carefully, we can see that he spoke of each person as having a unique gift of her or his own, which should not be compared to the gift of any other person, and that this unique gift might, at a given time, involve speaking to others, or it might not. This is a rather different way of thinking from that which says, some people absolutely do not have the gift of ministry. It says something much closer to, As to whether your gift will require you to minister, well, we shall see.

And so, far from aiming to second-guess the Spirit's plans by "identifying those who had that gift", Bownas wrote that if the words of an "infant minister" seem unsatisfactory, "thee that is a hearer" should not "be thee rash to pull them down, but give time for proof, and consider the patience of the husbandman, how he waits for a crop after the seed is sown." (p. 28) In other words, all who act as if called to the ministry (and who were otherwise in good Gospel order!) should receive the Society's guidance and nurture, so that they can grow, even if they seem to show no talent. Such guidance and nurture should not be limited to those who seem to us to have some clear gift.

And in this context, we should recall how Bownas was saying, in the passages I cited at the outset: To become a minister, preparation is everything; if you will purify yourself, you yourself will find that "Spirit in our inward parts that we have rebelled against". This statement is significant because of Christ's promise that "the Spirit will teach [us] what to say". Bownas never said, some people have the Spirit and others do not. Nor would any Friend before 1950! But quite the contrary, consider what Bownas wrote on p. 18: "...This inspiration [which the minister speaks] ought to be rightly understood.... From my own experience I understand it to be an *inbreathing* of the divine Word into our minds.... I say, the inbreathing of this Word ... by Jesus Christ is made manifest unto all men...."

This inspiration .... is made manifest unto all men. Its perceptibility is not limited to the minister or prophet. The minister or prophet is merely the one who gives it tongue.

And thus the purpose of the self-purification that Bownas advises, yielding ourselves to the correction of that inward Guide that speaks in our conscience, becomes a little more clear: it is so that then, as Christ makes it manifest, we can be ready to give it tongue.

As to your final paragraph, Mark: you say, you are unclear as to what direction I think we should take. I would answer, I think we need to take the direction toward convincement, toward meeting with the Seed and submitting our own wills to its direction. From that will come the primary kharisma -- eternal life in Christ -- and all secondary kharismata that our circumstances may require. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven, and all else shall be added."

I hope this is helpful.

Nov 15, 2006 at 09:51AM | Unregistered CommenterMarshall Massey

David, you are certainly right to question arguments from silence. Thank you.

As regards the known appearances of the word kharisma outside the New Testament, they appear in pre-Christian literature only in Philo, Legum Allegoriæ iii.78 (a single appearance), in a single LXX version of Ben Sirach 7:33, 38:30 (two appearances), in Psalm 30(31):20 (Theodotion) (one appearance), and in Sibylline Oracles ii.154 (one appearance).

None of these are secular usages; all are connected with Hellenic Judaism; some are quite technical; none seem to me to suggest any reason for believing that the word was a common one in the oral vocabulary of the hoi polloi.

Nov 15, 2006 at 10:35AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

well friends,

as i can vow for the word "gifts", i have myself said things that came to be in the future for others, some of it was bad news, some good, i have seen the resurrection of my brother and sister basically seen them after their physical deaths and i have come to gather knowledge and know god and christ as before i wasn't really into searching as now i do, i was killed in 1993, i called out loudly whilst in a dark vacuum "christ forgive me" and i awoke, i was coma for 3 days, no time, but it felt like 5 minutes i was gone and i remember no accident,

we all will live eternally, either spiritually and then back again for another time on the earth this preschool to learn until we can move forward to the kingdom of our loving creator.

there's too much to write, but god knows our ending before our beginning, so let's all join together in love and peace..

Apr 19, 2007 at 01:28AM | Unregistered Commenterpaul h

Well, paul, you are talking about a different sort of spiritual gift from the sort that was the subject of my essay — but that's not such a bad thing, is it? Thank you for your contribution!

Apr 25, 2007 at 06:00AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

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