by Robert Brow
The mystery of the church is mirrored by the mystery of the human body, and twentieth-century medical science has enriched the comparison. "We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love', (Eph. 4:15f.).
Everyone reading this book came originally from one fertilized cell. That cell grew and divided, and the two split into four, and the four into eight; and now we understand each other because our millions of cells formed us into what we are. The mystery is that the cells did not merely multiply, or we would have become a great lump of tapioca pudding. There had to be diversity. But how awesome were the millions of decisions without which we would have become monsters. Why did the eye cells decide to be retina, or automatic lens, or optic nerve? How did each bone know its shape and angles? And how does every one of our billion cells agree to cooperate in fighting sickness or a serious accident? And when did the brain cells first invent computers? Scientists expect to explain all this by means of DNA codes, and we will applaud the Ph.D.'s and Nobel prizes that are earned in the process. The greatest of them will, however, retain a sense of awe and mystery, because having described everything they will know that reality has still eluded them. When a rose is explained by science, the lover of flowers shakes his head and says, "They have described what remains after a rose is dismembered and dead."
Certain basic facts are apparent. Cells build up the body under the influence of something that may be called the life force. When death occurs, or cells are separated from the life force, disintegration begins. In Paul's illustration of the church as the body of Christ, the Holy Spirit corresponds to this life force. He creates, energizes, unites, and directs each cell, and apart from him we are dead.
Every cell has some things in common, and something that makes it different. The millions of cells of one body have identical chromosomes, and every member of the body of Christ is characterized by the family likeness. We should be recognizable by the fruit of the Spirit, love that has an eightfold spectrum of joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22; cf. I Cor. 1 3:4-7). Innumerable devotional books have expounded this Christlike pattern and noted its rarity among those who profess it.
Our task here is to concentrate on diversity. Every cell has that inner compulsion that should make it different from all others, a "gift" that enables it to do its work in the right place at the right time in the body. If the fruit of the Spirit makes a Christian grow into the family likeness, the gifts of the Spirit will make him mysteriously different. Just as cells can be grouped by function into bone cells, liver cells, muscle cells, epidermis cells, and so on, so Christians vary according to their function in the body of Christ.
Paul makes lists of these functions in three different epistles. Though scholars will disagree about their exact classification, we may group them roughly as follows:
Ephesians Romans I Corinthians 4:11, 12 12:6-8 12:28-30 APOSTLES APOSTLES PROPHETS PROPHECY PROPHETS EVANGELISTS PASTORS EXHORTERS TEACHERS TEACHER TEACHERS SERVICE HELPERS CONTRIBUTOR RULER ADMINISTRATORS DOER OF MERCY MIRACLE WORKERS HEALING GIFTS TONGUES INTERPRETERSEvidently Paul has not arranged these gifts in any exact order. The five mentioned in Ephesians are those usually associated with what we have called the ordained ministry (though in the New Testament there is no such distinction). Other gifts are listed in an earlier section of I Corinthians 12. It is tempting to fit wisdom and knowledge (gnosis) and faith with those in the chart, but we must recognize that there may not be any correspondence; and there could be discussion as to whether eight, twelve, or sixteen, or twenty different gifts existed in the early church. The important thing is to recognize the fact that there were spiritual gifts among Christians, and that in our modern church situations we have largely obscured these distinctions. If the church is to be renewed to do its task in the world today we need Christians who are gifted with a variety of gifts in every local church. Little progress can be made as long as we hold the strange idea that a minister can be hired who exercises all the gifts, while the laity listen to him, pay him, and get involved in what he chooses to organize.
Before turning to a tentative study of what these gifts are, and how they may be restored to full use in our churches, certain qualifications must be made. First, we must stress that these are gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are not thought up or produced or chosen by men. "All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills" (I Cor. 12:11). Every Christian who is indwelt and filled by the Holy Spirit will have one or more of these gifts, which he. is responsible to discover, develop, and exercise. He has no right to pick and choose: these are "gifts."
Second, we can infer from the New Testament that some men, like Paul, had several of these gifts, while others humbly gave themselves to exercising one. Paul certainly does not expect all Christians to have all the gifts (I Cor. 12:29f.). Most of us are one-talent people, some are gifted with two, and it is only occasionally that there is a great Christian leader with five talents. Whether we have five, or two, or one, the reward is the same, provided we use our talents to the full.
Third, Paul indicated that the various gifts of the Spirit are no proof of salvation. His great chapter on love, which follows the chapter on gifts, shows that it is possible to speak in tongues, to preach as a prophet, to understand all biblical truth, to work faith-miracles, and to sacrifice everything in generous giving to the poor, and yet be nothing (I Cor. 13: 1-3). Jesus taught the same truth when he said, "On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers' " (Matt. 7:22f.). The fact is that hypocrites can duplicate all the gifts, whether prophecy, or evangelism, works of mercy, tongues, or self-giving service. Every Christian should have one or more spiritual gifts, but no gift is a proof of righteousness with God. The spectrum of qualities that springs from love of God and love for man - the fruit of the Spirit - this is reliable evidence; and without love no man is anything.
One more question should be answered before we turn to a detailed study of the gifts. How do Christians find out what gifts they have? It is difficult to say much about this apart from the context of a functioning local church in which there is room for all the gifts to appear. In such a fellowship men and women have the opportunity to exercise themselves in many directions. A group of boys who gather to play football will gradually arrange themselves into the team positions where each can make the best contribution. Alone it would be impossible to determine one's gifts. The fact is that gifts are better recognized by others than by oneself. When others encourage someone to exercise his gift, he has some assurance that he has a contribution to make, and he will practice and develop in that direction.
The frustration of gifts that have been repressed has broken out into a large number of new Protestant movements, which have tended to organize churches according to individuals' gifts. Some consist of members who delight in deep Bible study or in evangelistic activities. Others gather those with the gift of tongues. Some churches devote themselves to works of mercy or intensive committee administration. The Roman Catholic Church has tried to restrict the exercise of the gifts to a highly disciplined full-time priesthood; other churches speak much of the priesthood of all believers and the ministry of the laity, but they are horrified if the gifts ever threaten to infringe the prerogatives of the professional association. No wonder laymen have found it hard to discover their gifts when faced with the choice of a one-sided but enthusiastic denomination or a church where only the ordained ministry is expected to have any gifts at all.
Any discussion with a group of Christian "laymen" will indicate that many of our best men feel that their gifts are unrecognized and repressed. This frustration keeps erupting into new movements organized by laymen where they can channel their energies. Against this fragmentation we must somehow recover the concept of the body of Christ. In every, congregation every gift of the Spirit should be encouraged, and every member should find his place. The problems of testing the gifts, rejecting what is spurious, controlling misguided enthusiasm, and maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, all these are tremendous. The risk of mistakes and deviations is serious, but surely it would be better than the certainty of frustrated ineffectiveness.