Thursday, December 14, 2006

Opening Your Spiritual Gifts (Day 12)

Since God is alive and infinitely creative and since the world in which the Church fulfills its mission is constantly changing, God is probably dispensing new spiritual gifts all the time.

Martin Luther, the founder of the Christian reform movement of which the congregation I serve as pastor is a part, once responded to opponents who wanted him to agree with them about how many sacraments there are. Traditional Roman Catholic theology says that there are seven sacraments. Luther and his fellow evangelical reformers said that there are two sacraments for sure--Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. But they also said that confession and prayer might be sacraments. Ultimately though, Luther wrote that only a blockhead would argue over how many sacraments there are.

The very title, sacrament, should give us a hint that Luther was right. It’s from the Latin word, sacramentum, meaning mystery. Trying to explain how a sacrament works or why Christ established it is, ultimately, a mystery beyond our comprehension. A sacrament is a means of grace that God defines, not we human beings.

The same is true of spiritual gifts. C. Peter Wagner has gone through the three major lists of spiritual gifts from the New Testament (found in Romans 12, First Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4) and distilled them to a single list of twenty gifts. I myself have always felt that in discerning one’s gifts, confining the search to the seven gifts Paul mentions in Romans is a great place to start.

But the simple fact is that only a blockhead would argue that there are only seven or only twenty spiritual gifts. Neither Wagner or I would say that the only spiritual gifts God distributes among believers are those listed in the Bible. All human attempts to box God in are silly, like trying to show the entire Grand Canyon in a 3”-x-5” -photograph, only even more futile. We may be skeptical of the claim a televangelist once made, that he had the spiritual gift of talk show host. But then, the only thing that’s unsurprising about God is that He’s always surprising us. And after all, the surprise is half of the fun in any gift!

Since God is alive and infinitely creative and since the world in which the Church fulfills its mission is constantly changing, God is probably dispensing new spiritual gifts all the time.

Bible Passage to Ponder: “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” (First Samuel 2:2)

[NOTE: My friend, Charlie Lehardy, in the comments, said it is hard to imagine Luther using the term "fathead." I realized that, instead, Luther used the term "blockhead," a term which in his day as well as ours, connotes someone who is thick or impenetrable, either in intellect or attitude. Luther used this term, for example, in his essay excoriating the theology of Henry VIII--no mean theologian, by the way--and in his essay aimed at the Lutheran nobility. However, I believe the comment to which I'm referring appears in one of his Table Talks. This is the problem with doing things from memory. But I was so certain that Luther made this observation that I went ahead and included it in the post. If anyone can lead me to the place where Luther said this, shared with me once by a Lutheran church historian, I would appreciate it.

[In any case, I am certain that Luther and the other evangelical reformers based in Germany and the Scandinavian countries thought it silly to argue over how many sacraments there are. The Lutheran Confessions, found in The Book of Concord, display their openness to as many as two other sacraments.

[Yes, Luther did call Henry VII a blockhead. At least five of his wives would probably have agreed.]

[I thank Charlie for linking to all the posts in this series.]


Charlie said...

I'm having a difficult time imagining Martin Luther using the word "fathead." Though, I'll bet it has a really nice ring to it in German!

Aside from that, this is a terrific insight. God is at work in the changing world and His church is changing to meet the challenges of modern times. So of course, His gifts are not limited to the 21 or so you find in all of the spiritual gifts books! Which means that we all need to be discerning, prayerful, and always encouraging each other to listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The Word of God is living and active... Thanks for this challenge to be creative, Mark.

Mark Daniels said...

I'm trying to track that quote down. He may have used the term "blockhead." Luther used terms like these, most especially in his table talks and often, in his preaching.

You're right, Charlie, Jesus Christ frees us to be creative.

Thanks for the affirming word, Charlie.

Blessings in Christ,

Charlie said...

You gave me a good laugh here, Mark. Thanks for the comments on "blockhead" vs. "fathead." And as I write this, I'm reminded that Lucy often refers to Charlie Brown as a blockhead. Perhaps Charles Schulz (whose father was German) was also a Lutheran?

Mark Daniels said...

I think that Schulz's family were Disciples of Christ. But he grew up in Minnesota, where, as they say, you can't spit without hitting a Lutheran.