Monday, July 3, 2006

Acknowledging the Gifts of the Spirit

I participated in a Friendly Bible Study yesterday that discussed Matthew 9:14-26, which includes Jesus healing a woman with a hemorrhage and also raising a young girl from the dead. I had felt that one of the points of this section was that Jesus healed people. I was a little surprised that more than half of the group was uncomfortable with the idea of Jesus healing people, and less comfortable with the idea that any of us might be able to do the same. Some expressed difficulty with the idea that some people are healed and not others, and that it made God seem arbitrary or capricious. This was not really new to me, I have heard those comments before, but I think I was struck by the fact that the majority of this small group felt that way. Since then I have been reflecting on the possibility that the majority of (Liberal?) Quakers also feel this way.

It is interesting to apply this same line of thought to vocal ministry. Why does God speak through some people more than others, some never at all? Why can't God just speak directly to people? Doesn't that make God seem arbitrary or capricious as well? Why does God need or want our participation in getting her message out? If we can accept the idea that God may speak through us at times, why is it not possible that God may use us in other ways as well?

I specifically mention vocal ministry because I think that it is one (or maybe a combination of several) of the gifts of the Spirit mentioned by Paul in 1st Corinthians 12 (7-11):

To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all. For one person is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, and another the message of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another performance of miracles, to another prophecy, and to another discernment of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things. (NET Bible)

So for Paul and the early Christians, healing wasn't just something Jesus did, some of them were also able to do it. They also recognized various other gifts amongst each other. I quoted this passage a few months ago when I was talking about speaking in tongues, and I was led to read it yesterday morning before Meeting for Worship. What stood out to me more yesterday was the passage that follows (12-26):

For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body – though many – are one body, so too is Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit. For in fact the body is not a single member, but many. If the foot says, “Since I am not a hand, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. And if the ear says, “Since I am not an eye, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. If the whole body were an eye, what part would do the hearing? If the whole were an ear, what part would exercise the sense of smell? But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided. If they were all the same member, where would the body be? So now there are many members, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor in turn can the head say to the foot, “I do not need you.” On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential, and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our unpresentable members are clothed with dignity, but our presentable members do not need this. Instead, God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another. If one member suffers, everyone suffers with it. If a member is honored, all rejoice with it.

Not only is it important to recognize that there are different kinds of gifts beyond just vocal ministry, but that we don't all have the same gifts. I think that has fallen away somewhat within Liberal Quakerism from what I can see. It seems like we are hesitant to acknowledge a gift or try to nurture it because we feel like it creates an inequality. We don't really have recognized "elders" so much as people we privately consider "weighty Friends", and recorded ministers seem rare. I think the community and God would be better served if we were to acknowledge and nurture the various gifts within in the community. Recognizing that someone has a particular gift doesn't mean that other people aren't also given that gift from time to time, and it isn't necessarily permanent - someone may lose their gift. The recognition is more of the community taking responsibility for that gift - the individual for the exercise of the gift, and the others for the care and nurture of the individual. While the idea of having recorded ministers and elders seems like it sets up some kind of hierarchy, I think Paul's description of the Church as a body casts the idea of recognized gifts into a more egalitarian light. Not everyone can be the eye, and while the eye is important, it needs the protection of the eyelid. While the eyelid isn't a glamorous job, the eye may soon be unable to function without it - everyone is important, no matter what they do.


  1. Mark,

    I sometimes wonder just how out of it I can be. I had no idea that most unprogrammed Meetings (both Yearly and Monthly) no longer record ministers.

    We have two recorded ministers in our Meeting and what you write seems very reasonable for all Meetings to consider. Both of these Friends are very gifted in speaking. That doesn't mean that other Friends cannot bring forth vocal ministry in Meeting. In fact, our two recorded ministers speak less than other Friends in Meeting.

    Blessings...we'll be seeing you at NCYM-Conservative YM. Won't be there until Friday, but we'll look for you.

    God's peace,


  2. Early Quakers also went about doing healing like early Christians. George Fox is reported to have raised someone from the dead. There is a whole book of healing works of the time -can't remember the title now.

  3. Mark,

    I really don't think a recorded ministry creates a tiered ministry at least as expressed in NCYM-C. In some Meetings, these "gifted" Friends are looked upon as "weighty Friends" but nothing more. Of course, some of the more "weighty Friends" in our Meeting are not recorded at all.

    So, my experience in NCYM-C, while limited, has been that everyone is on equal footing. Heck, if you didn't look in the YM Minutes, you'd probably have no idea of who are recorded ministers are anyway.

    My regret is that in our Meeting we do not have elders. What happens when there are no elders, it seems, is that Ministry and Council take on that role. And perhaps the Friends on M and C are indeed the modern day elders in our Meetings. It just seems that "elder" is a more Bibliocentric word and reflects more truly our Quaker heritage.

    I have read Chuck's reasons against recording ministers and I understand them, however I don't agree with him on this. Perhaps one need look no further than some of the unaffiliated FGC Meetings to see that "anything" really does go. And perhaps I am hyper-sensitive around this issue as I was a Unitarian Universalist before rediscovering Jesus.

    Having said all that, Chuck is a great guy and fun to disagree with :-). I think he'll be at Yearly Meeting this year. I'll have to discuss his reasons against recorded ministers with him there.

    Again, looking forward to meeting you.

    God's peace,

  4. Hi Christopher,
    You are absolutely correct. The book you are probably thinking of is George Fox's "Book of Miracles". While we don't have the original book, Henry Cadbury was able to piece bits of it together. It records over 150 healings or other miraculous events during Fox's ministry.
    With love,

  5. I was thinking about your question about why some get healed and others don't - the seeming arbitrarinous of God. Recently I heard someone comment, "There's no point in asking, 'Why, God?' The whys will never be answered in this lifetime. But rather, we should be asking, 'What for, God?'" When I ask "What for," I'm asking God, "What do you want to be for me in this situation that You can't be otherwise?" A great book to read about a giving God is "Free of Charge" by Miroslav Volf.

  6. Craig, it was wonderful to meet you at NCYM-C! What a wonderful experience that was for me!

    AJ, thanks for your insight and for the book reference!

    Johan, your understanding of being a recorded minister is similar to what I have heard from other recorded ministers and echoes what Lloyd Lee Wilson told me over the weekend. There were a number of recorded ministers at the NCYM-C gathering, and I never got the impression that any of them were elevated to some position of power. Certainly they were looked to for insight, but it didn't seem like it was ever a situation where what they said must be done.

    I must confess a brief moment of "minister envy" when Deborah Fisch delivered a message during the closing worship. I thought "Why can't I be like that?" But then, I realized that we are different, and that I should just worry about being faithful in discerning what I am to do. As I said before, some of us are meant to be eyelids.

  7. Mark, you envied Deborah's message at closing worship, when your own was so beautiful! Recognize you also have a gift and nurture that. You have a lovely clear way of delivering a message, just as you write so clearly in your blogs.