One of the great problems that face faithful people is those who use faith to manipulate or control others. As you can imagine, this was a BIG problem for the early church as many would argue that it still is today. Paul is the great evangelist, and core to his teachings to his new faith communities is the importance of the community AND the individuals in it.
I emphasize the “AND” because often in the church of today and the past, that “AND” could be substituted by “or”, “with”, or possibly “in spite of” and so on. The truth is that a vital Christian community equally respects the community and the individuals. It recognizes that everyone adds their unique gifts and that there is a need for those gifts. Moreover, it celebrates the fact that no one person can do it all.
Through Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we witness that there is a problem with this new community. Leaders are claiming powers that are not theirs to claim, and there is an over-reliance on some individuals over the others. Culturally, this is understandable, especially when coming from a gentile culture that is rooted in the polytheistic Roman religion.
The Roman tradition was very individualistic. If you wanted something and had the resources, you could achieve a lot. One of the practices that we see alluded to in the section we are working through is the practice often would be that you could find the god that supported the gift you wanted, give an offering and be blessed with that gift. Each gift was individual to that god and it was yours to do with what you wanted. This poses a great problems for the early church because the Christian community was built on an understanding that all creation had a singular start and that life itself was a gift from God.
This raises a great question: if we are all from the same origin and under the same God, why are we then so different? The answer is easy; spiritual gifts, different, yet equal, among all believers. And this is where things get really important, because not any one person is gifted with the skills to do everything! I often laugh (to myself) when I meet someone who is an expert in everything. Pretty quickly you recognize that their “expertise” is not all it is cracked up to be and often is far more about their insecurities than it is their knowledge or skills. Though when you talk to folks like that you recognize that the world would really suck if everyone possessed all knowledge and skills! So each of us is blessed with our own special gifts, and we have a responsibility to nurture, use, and develop our individual gifts for the greater community.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen