July 2, 2009

Spiritual Gifts- Use Them or Lose Them?

"Pray and give yourself anew to the Lord and His work. Then look around at what others are doing in your church and ask if you can join in. ... Your church needs you.
For a healthier church, exercise your spiritual gifts." [RBC ministries]

The above advice was recently presented in a 'thought for the day' by a popular Christian organization. The author obviously assumed first, that any Christian reading it would be a member of a church, and secondly, that 'your church' will be happy to have you exercise your spiritual gifts in their environs. Yes, it all sounds perfectly reasonable, and quite normal assumptions by most readers. Well, the surprising news for all those gullible readers is 'It ain't necessarily so!'

Take the first assumption-- that all Christians 'belong' to a church. Not! The current generation of Christians no longer simply takes it from tradition that they must belong to a recognizable church to be saved... not at all. Why should some self-generated body of people decide that they are authorized franchisees for God? Why should any believer have to subscribe to some man-made corporation to appropriate the blessings of the Creator? Why do we need professional clergy to spoon-feed religious truth to us? These are all burning questions that stick in the spiritual craw of a growing number of modern believers, and so far, there is little evidence that the mainstream churches, and also splinter groups, have any idea of how to respond.

Looking at the second assumption, we find that it is equally glib. Accepting for the moment, that one is a member of a duly constituted church, it is my experience that there is no guarantee whatsoever that either the pastor or other members will be pleased to have you 'exercise your spiritual gifts' in their midst. Far from it. Oh sure, if you are willing to just do whatever the pastor or church board wants you to do, then they'll be happier than clams. But that is hardly using your God-given gifts, is it? If your 'gift' happens to be something like spiritual discernment, or understanding the signs of the times, (perhaps fancy terms for 'BS-detecting') then you stand a high chance of being rebuffed by your church. You will be accused of being a disturber of the sheep, of not being a team player, and in the extreme, of being a pawn of Satan. If you are in a conservative church, they will ensure that you don't exercise those gifts for long, and if you don't submit to suggestions, they will impose sanctions of some kind, restricting your ability to exercise those gifts or influence anyone else in the company. If you are seen as persisting, you will end up disfellowshipped.

In a 'progressive church,' a person who upsets the doctrinal or spiritual apple-cart in some way will probably undergo more subtle, marginalizing treatment. You will be re-assigned to more suitable roles, like baby-sitting the toddlers, or making coffee for visitors, but not leading a Sunday school class, certainly. Faithful church apparatchiks will keep a wary eye and ear on your verbal or written comments, to provide early intervention in sticking to the doctrinal line. In such an environment, only the most docile continue to put in an appearance on a regular basis.

Those with an aptitude for finding discrepancies in matters of official dogma, or of voicing alternative interpretations of scripture, will eventually find themselves on the margins of their church. There's little point in fighting the system to try to convince the powers that be within the organization to change their views. Organizations do not change their official articles of faith easily, if at all. And individuals do not take kindly to suggestions that their cherished views are in need of adjustment, or that their organization needs reform. The leaders may make all the positive statements possible about encouraging diversity and promoting renewal, and so on; but, mark my words, it is pure hog-wash! Such progressives may actually believe what they are saying... at the moment. But, upon sober reflection-- and serious reprimand by the rest of the establishment-- they will find a convenient way to let hierarchical nature take its course and extirpate any and all attempts at genuine reformation. It's not a problem with churches-- it's a universal problem with all human structures.

So, in conclusion, I have to temper the enthusiastic and well-meaning advice of the writer for the electronic ministry. Within a church structure, you will be welcome to work to advance the goals of the management board-- in fact, they'll love you for it. But, dear Christian, harbor no illusions about exercising your spiritual gifts if they involve any call to seriously change the basic outlook of the organization. For that kind of exercise, you will most likely have to leave the company and operate independently. Don't lament; that's just the way things work in the realm of 'sinful flesh.'

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