Gifts of the Spirit
Posted on 04 August 2013, 7:54
“We are participants, sometimes conscious participants, in a psychophysical whole.” “God is in all, through all, and above all.” Two ways of saying just about the same thing. In one way, we would have to say that there is nothing that is not a gift of the Spirit, for all our experiences in the physical are in some sense a product of Spirit.
We do acknowledge this in church worship and especially in Celtic worship when we thank the Creator for all the wonders and mercies that we daily experience. But often we are thinking more narrowly of such spiritual gifts as healing, prophecy, love, and teaching,
From the point of view of some leading quantum physicists there would be agreement that the world apperceived by the physical senses is the product of an indivisible mental realm.
From the point of view of psychic research that focuses on paranormal phenomena, a study of synchronicity, studies in mediumship. Psychic research with mediums and parapsychology laboratories is very important because it makes very clear that the dimension of spirit is a reality, that there is an afterlife, and that the so-called dead can communicate with and sometimes guide the living, and that post death experiences are something to be looked forward to.
Generally speaking psychic research focuses on interactions between individuals.
In the various branches of the Pentecostal movement the focus has been on speaking in tongues, words of knowledge, and healing. I’ll further discuss this movement shortly.
The mainline Churches on the other hand focus on the corporate: they often talk about Spirit that is in all, through all, and above all, even though they can be inward looking and parochial. They do affirm that (at least the church) is corporately part of what is called, “the Body of Christ,” and that we perform different functions in that body: St Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, writes: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”
Those words are usually interpreted narrowly to refer to the institutional Christian churches, but they surely should not be seen as setting any limits to this mystical concept “The Body of Christ.” As said, spiritual/physical reality is an indivisible and interdependent whole. And therefore must include all human beings, whether or not they are conscious of this participation in this Whole.
We should often remind ourselves how utterly dependent we are for our very survival of the cooperative activities of many millions of our fellows, regardless of nationality, religious belief or lack of it, whether we like them or not. On how many millions of people are we dependent for the very language we use, on how many thousands of people are we ultimately dependent for the loaf of bread on the table, on how many thinkers and scientists, how many health workers are we dependent on? Following that line of thought we can see the immense complexity of a vast network of the sharing of gifts in which each of us is involved.
Thoughts about Gifts of the Spirit and social service
If we focus on those gifts which make us aware of the spiritual dimension we will notice that the mainline churches have a hierarchical structure, and tend to focus our attention on spirit mediated through prayer and the sacraments.
Some knowledge of teaching agreed on in the churches is assumed, and at least in the past they have been the glue that held societies together. The churches have been organised by the better educated, and the more well-off. Focus on those spiritual gifts that are described by St Paul leads people to be less self-centred. Often the mainline churches have been very good with caring for social services for those in need.
Often mainline churches have been (usually beneficent) organs for the governance of the state, with strongest appeal to the upper and middle classes. This fact often left working people outside the orbit of such churches. This was true in the 18th century England. The spiritual leader, John Wesley, (below) was amongst those who addressed this problem. Like a previous leader who attempted to prise Christianity out of the hands of the ruling classes, George Fox, founding the Quakers, or the Society of Friends, John Wesley preached the gospel in the open air to tens of thousands of working people. Both men had strong experiences of being “filled with Spirit”, both men vastly enlarged the understanding of the meaning of “the gifts of Spirit,” both reached out mightily to others. I would understand the expression “filled with Spirit” to imply a direct experience of Spirit bypassing the verbal formularies of established religion.
In the 20th century the Pentecostal movement accomplished something similar. Like other forms of evangelical Protestantism, Pentecostalism adheres to the inerrancy of scripture and the necessity of accepting Christ as personal Lord and Saviour. It is distinguished by belief in the baptism with the Holy Spirit as an experience separate from conversion that enables a Christian to live a Holy Spirit–filled and empowered life. This empowerment includes the use of spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues and divine healing—two other defining characteristics of Pentecostalism. Because of their commitment to biblical authority, spiritual gifts, and the miraculous, Pentecostals tend to see their movement as reflecting the same kind of spiritual power and teachings that were found in the Apostolic Age of the early church. For this reason, some Pentecostals also use the term Apostolic or full gospel to describe their movement.
The majority of Pentecostals around the world are found among the poor and the working classes, the same socio-economic groups that gave rise to Pentecostalism in North America early in the 20th century. Strangely, in North America especially, they have not espoused social reform, and their politics has been right wing.
In Sweden, on the other hand, under the charismatic leadership of Levi Pethrus, Pentecostalism became associated with the Trade Unions, and very effective efforts to improve the lot of the workers. Perhaps because of this leadership Pentecostalism has not split up into numerous splinter groups as in other countries, and even managed to establish a national daily paper, Dagen, which continues to this day.
In The Roots and Fruits of Brazilian Pentecostalism, John P. Medcraft writes, “One does not want to lose sight of the undeniable therapeutic and psychological help Pentecostal believers receive from their beliefs and practices. W. H. Cesar observes that Pentecostalism is primarily attractive to the lower classes ‘who need greater comfort, a more dynamic religiosity to help them overcome the threat of secularization’. Camargo says that Pentecostalism grows because its congregations create a warm, receptive, small-sized community for immigrants and those largely on the margins of society, teaching them that in Christ all their problems have solutions. It gives their lives new meaning and generally brightens an otherwise drab existence, helping to fulfill their needs and aspirations within a situation of change, suffering and marginalization. D’Epinay speaks of Pentecostalism being ‘a communal religious answer to the confusion of large sections of the population, caused by the gnomic character of a society in transition’. Clearly the fact that Pentecostalism has met with such a phenomenal response is because, in market terms, it supplied a demand, from the 1930s onwards, caused by the upheaval of a society in change.”
A similar story could no doubt be written in the rest of Latin America.
As I understand the situation, it would be very good if spiritualists, psychic researchers, Pentecostalists, Christian Scientists (with their emphasis on spiritual healing), and the mainline churches, could be less suspicious of each other, be less one-eyed, more willing to explore and understandings of spiritual gifts afforded by each of the others. Of course, since there is nothing in the universe that is not the result of activity of spirit, there will be no limit to the discoveries of aspects of activity of Spirit. And that was the point I was making at the beginning of this blog.
Interesting links about Pentecostalism, Methodism
Michael Cocks edits the journal, Ground of Faith.
Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr by Michael Cocks is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.