I go to a fairly standard, utterly recognisable Presbyterian church. We do lots of things that used to irritate the life out of me but like our neutered labrador I’m pretty chilled about now. There is however one thing that can still get a rise out of me and that’s talk about spiritual gifts. Against my better judgment I recently got involved in a pretty intense, though respectable conversation (remember we are Presbyterians) on the issue.
I am almost convinced that we have allowed the current structures of church to dictate our interpretation of Paul’s writing on the matter in places like Ephesians 4. We talk about Paul’s imagery of everyone one of us being part of a body, hands, eyes, legs etc., when what we really mean is that everyone of us is a cog in the machine. We thus interpret the scripture in such a way as to serve the current operation, rather than allowing the scripture to critique our set-up. The ultimate priority is to keep the established institution going.
We help you discover how many teeth are in your cog, then we slip you in to the machinery, often as a replacement for another cog which has worn out. We tell you you have a spiritual gift which must be exercised in the service of this local institution and if you are not operating in your area of gifting then the whole lot of us are suffering.
Let me say a couple of things.
1. Spiritual gift inventories are of the devil! Is that plain enough?
2. I think we confuse gifts and service, and in my mind service has priority over gifts. Some things just need to be done, and waiting on someone gifted to do it lets some of the lazy ones off the hook. I shouldn’t be hanging about waiting to discover, or be told, what my gift is, I need to get serving.
3. Current teaching on gifting perpetuates the notion of the church as a separated community, outside of the stuff of the world. So we tell you that your gift is in the service of the church resulting in an introverted community whose function is increasingly to protect its members from a nasty world.