. . .or How Spiritual Gifting is like Christian Horoscopes
“I’ll trade you two Paul’s and a Barnabus for one John Mark.” Hey, We’re Christian men—it’s what we do when we’re not having tedious arguments about the fine points of theological dogma.
I read a fair number of blogs and polemics on Fb posted by my believer friends, as well as the online forum of Christianity Today, and I’m often struck by how passionately men care about their belief systems, and their inclination toward rousing hair-splitting arguments about non-essential doctrine. However, I gave up participating in the give and take of commentary. It tends to get my Scot’s blood riled up—I suspect Presbyterians in my genes–perhaps even Calvinists, and I know me well enough to know I’m just a heartbeat away from burning an adversary at the stake. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as long as they’re properly labeled: “HERETIC.”
However, when the mood suits me, I’m not above discharging a little self-righteous anger. I tend to pick my battles, lying in wait for the proper moment to spring. What gets so many of my fundamental-oriented evangelical brethren cranked is to announce during pretty much any discussion of End Times that I do not believe in The Rapture. I cite John Nelson Darby and his invention of the theology of the rapture and the fact that it has only been part of protestant church doctrine for a little over a century or so. I cite the eminent theologian N. T. Wright’s book Surprised By Hope. He states that the doctrine of the rapture is a complete misinterpretation of what Paul is saying in Thessalonions. Wright says that Paul’s remarks about meeting the Lord in the air have to be considered within the context the Semitic culture two millenia ago, etc. Well, my friends usually look at me with a mixture of irritation and pity—the ones who truly care feel quite badly about me being left behind here with Pope Francis as opposed to being in heaven with them, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins—but the ones who I irritate are actually secretly glad and think, “You’ll see!”
But The Rapture, that’s pretty light-weight stuff. Let’s argue instead about the doctrines of election, Arminianism or cessationism. Reading the give and take of these testy forums can get really interesting—but disagreeing about dogma is maybe the one safe way serious Christians can discharge anger. That is, as long as we don’t kick them to the curb along with their beliefs.
None of which brings me to my original intention of writing a blog about spiritual gifts, specifically the seven motivational gifts spelled out in Romans 12:5-9—gifts of teaching, prophecy, mercy, helping, leading, giving and exhortation. I first encountered them in a presentation to a singles group 18 yrs ago. . .and the lightbulb over my noggin went on, and in that instant I knew why I was such a softy, such a sap. I was a Mercy person. It’s what I do for a living. I listen to people with troubles. I am a counselor, and I’m pretty good at the listening part. Like dentists have a talent for causing pain, I have a talent for sitting and listening, suffering emphatically with my clients. Though, I must say after so many years, the “milk of human kindness” is running a bit thin—you know, the compassion fatigue thingy.
Seriously though, the teaching on spiritual gifts did clarify quite a few issues. The whole Body of Christ, and that Body having essential members suddenly made sense. It is part of the divine economy; it’s why we NEED each other, and it’s how we can all fit together to do God’s work. Before that moment the relevance of the Body and its workings was one of those mysterious doctrines that I had to take on faith.
However, in that first presentation, and in subsequent readings about the seven motivational gifts, I was struck by how much it all sounded like Christian astrology. Now, I have to confess, astrology is a pseudo-science with which I was very familiar—and comfortable. I’ve been interested in astrology since about 1969, a full decade before I became a Jesus-follower, and I’ve been a closet astrologer ever since. I still read my horoscope many days, tho I don’t take it seriously. The day just doesn’t feel right beginning without knowing if romance or riches is in the stars for me that day.
So Mercies (softies) needing Prophets (truth tellers) in their lives sort of made sense like Virgos needing Scorpios to balance them, etc. And like any good sun sign personality description we each have our strong points and weaknesses. We Capricorns are loyal friends, tho at times can be quietly ruthless, etc.
Seriously, however, I was reading Return of the First Church by John Fenn this week. It’s about the house church movement, and he made several points about gifting that impressed me. In a chapter titled “God Living Among and Through His People” he quotes Eph. 4:8 stating: “Jesus gave gifts to men. But Ephesians 4:8 is a quote from Psalm 68:18. Paul only quoted the first part of this verse and his point was made, however by looking at the rest of this verse we can see the fullness of the Lord’s thought. Psalm 68:18 says; “You have ascended up on high, you have led captivity captive: you have received gifts for men (quoted in Eph. 4:8); yea, for the rebellious, also, that the Lord God might dwell among them.” (KJV)
“For the rebellious also. . . Wow! The gifts were given so that God could live among the rebellious, not be locked away in some building and seen only on a Sunday morning. He wants to live among the rebellious, and he does this by people flowing in their gifts!”
The rebellious?–that be you and I. And it’s through our gifts that we both need each other–and we minister to each other and to the unsaved world as well. WOW! indeed!