Sharing all the Charisms of the Spirit by Reverend Donald L. Gelpi, S.J.

In today’s Church, I believe that all Christians would agree that God calls us ultimately to resurrection with Christ; but we do not agree so easily about the proximate future to which God is calling us. We do not agree about the concrete shape which the kingdom of God must take here and now because we disagree, sometimes bitterly, about what it means for us to be a Church. Authoritarian, right-wing Christians want to pattern the Church on the Roman Empire. They want an authoritarian Church in which all movement descends from those in authority to those they command. Left-wing Christians want to democratize the Church and to pattern it on the democratic governments, which emerged politically in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

In the polarized Church in which we live, the Charismatic Renewal has, I believe, the divine call and responsibility to insist that no political model of the Church can grasp or articulate the social reality which the Christian community ought to embody. The Church derives neither from the Roman Empire nor from democracies of the Enlightenment—but from Pentecost. On Pentecost, the risen Christ sent the Spirit into the Church in order to create it as a community of shared faith. The Spirit accomplished that task on Pentecost by an outpouring of all the charisms. Moreover, only by sharing all the charisms of the Spirit can the Church experience shared faith consciousness.

The Church needs prophets and teachers to remind it constantly of the events which give rise to it: the incarnation of the Son of God, His ministry, death, resurrection, and mission of the Pentecostal Spirit. The Church needs teachers to remind it in season and out of the history of sin and of grace which links it to the paschal mystery. Without the charismatic activity of those teachers the Church will have no present sense of identity. In other words, without the kind of historical consciousness which teaching and prophecy inspire, the Church will not know collectively who it is and cannot therefore reach clarity concerning what God has called it to become.

In addition, the Church needs charisms of prayer, like tongues and the other prayer gifts, as well as gifts of healing if it expects to experience in a vivid way the saving presence of God in its midst. Without a vivid sense of God’s saving presence, the Church will forget that only the saving grace of God creates and sustains it as a community; and that kind of tragic forgetting will make the Christian community indistinguishable from any other natural or sinful human community. A Church that looks like any other natural or sinful human community cannot, however, mediate Christ and His Spirit effectively to a sinful world.

If charisms like prophecy, teaching, prayer, and healing create the Church’s awareness of its authentic religious identity, the charisms of the Spirit also endow the Church with an awareness of the common future to which God calls it. Prophets and evangelists must call the community to the kind of repentance and conversion that alone can open it to God’s future. Teachers need to remind the community of its past mistakes so that it will not continue to make them and so to divide the Church into sinful factions. Discerners need to help the community distinguish between true and false teaching, between sound and unsound community discipline, between authentic and inauthentic hopes if shared consensus about the future to which God calls us will ever emerge in a clear and focused manner.

The Church, however, needs more than a shared sense of history and a shared consensus about the future in order to reach full consciousness as a Christian community. In addition, all the members of the Church need to collaborate in making that shared future a reality. Mobilizing the Christian community in order to realize the vision of the kingdom to which Jesus called us engages all the action gifts, which facilitate corporate action on the part of the Christian community. By the action gifts, I mean gifts of administration, of pastoral leadership, of community organizing, of practical concern for the poor, for the marginal, and for their needs. Such gifts make possible our practical corporate witness to the gospel.

I am suggesting to you that without practical, living faith in all the charisms of the Holy Spirit, the Church will never reach full, shared consciousness as a community of faith. I am also suggesting that only by reaching full, shared, faith consciousness can the Christian community exist as a Church. I say that the Church must re-appropriate all the charisms of the Holy Spirit.

It may well be true that God called the Charismatic Renewal into existence as His chosen instrument for bringing the rest of the Church to renewed faith in the gift-giving Pentecostal Spirit. If so, then we in the Charismatic Renewal must acknowledge not only our failure to date to respond adequately to that call; but we must also acknowledge our part in that failure. In my judgment, the Charismatic Renewal has become to a great extent the victim of the chief institution, which it created--namely the prayer meeting.

Within the context of shared prayer only, we can only share a limited number of charisms: tongues, prophecy, word gifts, and teaching. Many of the charisms, however, require another context for their exercise. I refer to gifts like administration, pastoral leadership, and practical care for the poor, and a prophecy, which confronts social injustice and oppression instead of just talking piously in King James English. Narrow focus on prayer gifts has, in my judgment, caused the Charismatic Renewal to inculcate an inadequate and skewed charismatic piety by focusing too narrowly on gifts like tongues, healing, and ecstatic prophecy and by failing to cultivate the full spectrum of the gifts.

In other words, the Charismatic Renewal itself has failed to grasp fully what Paul the apostle meant when he said (that Jesus), "the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit." Only openness to all the charisms of the Spirit can create the kind of balanced charismatic consciousness that creates the Church as a Church. At the Denver Symposium on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Renewal, which assessed the progress of the Charismatic renewal, I sensed an incipient consensus developing among the leaders of the movement that the name which the bishops gave this movement—"The Charismatic Renewal of the Church"—can have misleading connotations. The total charismatic renewal of the Church involves much more than what goes on in the movement which calls itself in obedience to the bishops, "The Charismatic Renewal." The total charismatic renewal of the Church involves all the renewal movements which contribute to the Church’s shared faith consciousness: movements like the RCIA, the Cursillo, marriage encounter, Christian Life Communities, the Jesuit Volunteers and other volunteer groups in the Church which work for a justice inspired by faith.

If the Charismatic Renewal hopes to respond effectively to the call of God to bring living faith in all the charisms to the heart of Catholic piety, then, in my judgment, the Renewal needs a spirit of repentance and of humility. We need to enter into effective dialogue with all the other renewal movements that contribute to the Church’s total charismatic renewal. We need to enter into that dialogue with an expectation that those movements have something important to teach the Charismatic Renewal about the full spectrum of the Spirit’s charismatic inspirations.

At the same time, we should enter into dialogue with these other renewal movements with a consciousness of all the important things which the Holy Spirit has taught this movement about the exercise of the gifts and which other renewal movements need to learn. The Spirit must, of course, guide such dialogue; and with the guidance of the Spirit that dialogue will, God willing, advance the day when the entire Church can confess that "the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit" and actually experience the reality of what it confesses.

Fr. Gelpi is a professor at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. This article was condensed from his presentation at the Liaison Theological Symposium, The Last Adam Became A Life-Giving Spirit: An Important Key to Spirit Christology, pp. 21-25.

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