“The church is divided by gifts,” observed Pastor Donald Rayno as we were finishing up our Chili burritos.
Don has served as director of the Raleigh-Area Concert of Prayer for twenty years. He has lunched with pastors of all traditions, Presbyterian to Pentecostal and everything in between. He has organized countless prayer meetings balancing the different ways congregations pray: silently, charismatically, liturgically, extemporarily. I was intrigued by his distillation,”What do you mean?”
“The charismatic churches emphasize the gifts of tongue and interpretation, the mainline churches, like your Presbyterian church, emphasize the gifts of teaching.” Suddenly the denominations of the church made sense, tragic sense.
“But isn’t that sad,” I replied, “Paul teaches Christ gave us gifts for the building up of the church but we have turned them to it’s very opposite? Using them to divide the church?”
here is one Lord,
one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all,
who is over all, in all,
and living through all.
In Ephesians 4, Paul declares the church united, grounded on our “One Lord, one Faith, One Baptism.” If we are one, then, why are we so different? How do we account for the variety in the Church? Paul’s answer: the gifts of Christ make us different.
It is a brilliant theological insight. We are all the same because we are saved by One Lord. We are all different because there are many gifts from our One Lord. By rooting our differences to the gifting of Christ, it removes a rational for making differentiations a reason for discriminations. Most societies connect differences to birthrights. Some are born to rule, some are born to be ruled. But now, differences can be explained by the gifting of Christ. As such, gifts are not our birthrights to flaunt but Christ’s accomplishment. There is no hierarchy in our differences — no gift is better than another.
But what was meant for differentiation has become means of division. Somehow, the church took this teaching but still ordered the gifts, discriminating the orthodox from the heterodox.
I understand why we might misuse our gifts and make them dividing walls. Gifts are not just external, skills we accrue. Gifts start from the way we see the world. We are gifted in certain way because we see the world in that certain way. An artist sees a flower and sees colors and shapes, a scientist sees a specimen, and a poet sees a metaphor. They were already seeing it that way before their respectively learned skills refined their expressions of their seemingly inborn perception.
We, naturally, see God through our gifts. The Charismatic sees God as the Supernatural, the Teacher sees God as the Truth, the Prophet sees God as the Judge.
The gifts of Christ emerge from how we are wired so we easily identify ourselves with our gifts. And once we identify ourselves with our gifts, we need our God to be exactly the way we see Him. That ossification buttresses our identity. God must be a Judge or all my prophetic work would be pointless.
We must return to Paul’s theological insight. Our gifts are not our identities for they were never ours to begin with. They are not our birthright thus not who we are. They were obtained by Christ. This is why Paul quotes from Psalm 68 in his Ephesus letter, to thoroughly separate gifts from birth.
However, he has given each one of us a special gift
through the generosity of Christ.
That is why the Scriptures say,
“When he ascended to the heights,
he led a crowd of captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
Once the gifts are firmly and solely rooted in the accomplishments of Christ, it frees us from demanding that our gifts, our way of seeing the world, be the only or even the best way. Because our identity is not tethered to our gifts, we are free to practice them passionately while recognizing the value of other’s gifts.
Yet we continue to equate gifts to our birthright. When we say only men can preach, or those of certain color lead better, we are connecting gifts to our birthrights. We have convoluted ways of holding onto this pagan mindset, of privileging one birth over another.
By making gifts the work of Christ, Paul opened all positions of the church to everyone: Jews and Gentiles, men and women, masters and slaves. When we honor the gifts of Christ in people wherever they may be found, we would witness the original intent of those gifts, the building up of the church.
He makes the whole body fit together perfectly.
As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow,
so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.