Division, Diversity, and Unity

A Theology of Ecclesial Charisms

by James E. Pedlar (Author)
©2015 Monographs X, 279 Pages
Series: American University Studies , Volume 351


The term «charism» is drawn originally from Pauline literature and refers to a gift given by the Spirit for the upbuilding of the body of Christ. Since the mid-twentieth century, Christians from a broad spectrum of theological positions have applied this term, in varying ways, to groups within the Church. However, no book thus far has provided a rigorous and sustained critical investigation of this idea of ecclesial charisms. In Division, Diversity, and Unity, James E. Pedlar provides such an investigation, drawing on biblical and systematic theology as well as literature on church renewal and ecumenism. Against those who justify denominational separation in order to preserve particular gifts of the Spirit, Pedlar insists that the theology of charisms supports visible, organic unity as the ecumenical ideal.
Division, Diversity, and Unity argues that the theology of ecclesial charisms can account for legitimately diverse specialized vocational movements in the Church but cannot account for a legitimate diversity of separated churches. Pedlar tests and develops his constructive proposal against the fascinating and conflicted histories of two evangelistic movements: the Paulist Fathers and The Salvation Army. While the proposed theology of ecclesial charisms stakes out a legitimate and important place in the Church for specialized movements, it excludes any attempt to justify the permanent separation of an ecclesial body on the basis of an appeal to an ecclesial charism.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Division, Diversity, and Unity
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • Chapter 2. A Biblical Theology of Charisms
  • Chapter 3. Charism and Institution
  • Chapter 4. Charisms and Movements
  • Chapter 5. Charisms, Unity, Diversity, and Division
  • Chapter 6. The Charism of the Founder
  • Chapter 7. The Formation of the Movement
  • Chapter 8. The Movement in the Church
  • Chapter 9. Ongoing Interpretation of the Charism
  • Chapter 10. Historical and Ecumenical Implications
  • Bibliography
  • Index


The publication of this book would not have been possible without the guidance, help and support of many teachers, colleagues, friends and family members. The book began as a doctoral dissertation at the Toronto School of Theology, under the guidance of Ephraim Radner. He was a generous advisor, who gave insightful feedback and sharpened my arguments at every point. His provocative theological perspective along with his extensive knowledge of historical theology pushed the project in directions I would not otherwise have considered. The basic idea of approaching ecclesial diversity through the concept of “charisms” came to me while taking a course with Margaret O’Gara. She played a very important part in shaping the project before her death in 2012, and I am saddened that I was not able to complete it in time to receive her comments on the finished product. Joseph Mangina was my teacher throughout my theological studies, and his guidance shaped this book, as well as my broader theological perspective, in many significant ways. Gilles Mongeau graciously agreed to step into Margaret’s place after her passing. I am thankful for the wisdom he shared with me concerning this topic and many others during my time on the staff of the Canadian Council of Churches. Several other colleagues at the Council shared in significant conversation about the project, including Mary Marrocco, Robert Steffer, and Paul Ladouceur. ← ix | x → William Portier’s comments as an external examiner on my dissertation were also of great value in clarifying aspects of Isaac Hecker’s theological vision. Howard Snyder has been a generous mentor over the past several years, and proved an important interlocutor, especially on matters of ecclesial renewal and reform.

Crucial research assistance regarding primary sources was provided by the staff of the Interlibrary Loans department at the University of Toronto, as well as by Colonels John and Verna Carew at the Salvation Army Archives in Toronto, and the staff of the Salvation Army’s International Heritage Centre in London, UK. I am also grateful to Fr. Paul Lannon, CSP, who shared a conversation with me about the Paulist Fathers at an early stage in the project.

In preparing this manuscript for publication, I received generous financial backing from Tyndale Seminary, as well as the Tyndale Wesley Studies Committee, representing the Brethren in Christ, Free Methodist, Nazarene, Salvation Army and Wesleyan denominations. I am grateful for constant support and encouragement from my colleagues at Tyndale, especially Dean Janet Clark and Dennis Ngien, who offered wise counsel on a number of occasions. Donald G. Bastian provided invaluable editorial advice and direction as I searched for a publisher. Michelle Salyga and the team at Peter Lang Publishing have been very helpful and efficient in their handling of this project.

My parents, Ken and Elaine Pedlar, and parents-in-law, Ed and Carol Fisher, have provided great encouragement along the way, along with other friends and family members. In particular I must thank Ed for carefully reading through the manuscript. Most importantly, I thank my wife, Samantha, for her unwavering love, support, and patience, without which this project would never have been completed. ← x | 1 →

· 1 ·


It is difficult for us to imagine what a shock must have been given to the tender frame of second-century Christianity by the lapse of Tertullian into Montanism. It was as if Newman had joined the Salvation Army.1

Ronald Knox’s comparison of Montanism to the Salvation Army is amusing (especially for those of us with Salvationist heritage), but also indicative of the ways in which “enthusiastic” Christianity has been viewed by many scholars standing in the established Christian churches: as a country cousin, slightly embarrassing at best, and heretical at worst. The history of the Church bears witness to the perennial presence of conflict between such “movements” and the mainstream tradition. Such conflict has even, at times, marked the history of those Catholic movements which received the Church’s official approbation, such as the Franciscans. This book is, in part, an effort to provide a theological framework through which this conflicted history might be interpreted and understood.

“Charism” is a concept drawn originally from Pauline literature, and refers to a gift given by the Spirit to persons in the Church for the upbuilding of the ← 1 | 2 → body of Christ.2 Since the mid-twentieth century, Christians from a broad spectrum of theological positions have applied this term, in varying ways, to groups within the Church.3 My argument specifies the particular ways in which we can legitimately speak of “group charisms.” I begin with a constructive theology of ecclesial charisms and demonstrate the implications of this concept for the question of the limits of legitimate diversity in the church. I then continue to develop my position by an application of the theology of ecclesial charisms to two nineteenth century case studies: the Salvation Army and the Paulist Fathers. The specific question I am seeking to answer is, “how is the concept of ‘ecclesial charisms’ helpful for addressing the limits of legitimate diversity in the Church?” In other words, what kind of diversity is supported by a theology of ecclesial charisms?

I argue that ecclesial charisms must be understood as vocationally-directed in order to be consistent with Pauline theology. Charisms are gifts that bring an obligation to some specific service on behalf of the larger body of Christ. Strictly speaking, though I will speak of movements which are formed around an ecclesial charism, those movements themselves do not “possess” their charisms, but exist as means of grace that serve to facilitate and cultivate various charisms. The structures, traditions, and spirituality of the movement serve to further the exercise of their charism. The charisms themselves are given to persons, and those persons may be called to become part of a particular movement in order to fulfil their vocation. All of this leads to my central thesis: the theology of ecclesial charisms can account for legitimately diverse, specialized vocational movements in the Church, but it cannot account for a legitimate diversity of separated churches. In other words, a claim to an ecclesial charism cannot be ← 2 | 3 → used as a justification for continued separation among ecclesial bodies because charisms are, in part, constituted by their unity-building character.

In making this claim, I am situating the question of ecclesial charisms within the debate regarding the limits of legitimate diversity in the Church. My investigation focuses specifically on the question of structural diversity (the existence of distinct ecclesial bodies), and touches on issues of diversity in matters of doctrine, morality, liturgy, and spirituality only insofar as they intersect with the question at hand. In other words, I am asking what kind of diverse bodies (denominations? renewal movements? confessions? religious orders?) can be embraced as legitimate within the one Church? I argue from an ecclesiological position which takes visible, historic unity as its norm, along the lines of the definition given by the 1961World Council of Churches Assembly at New Delhi. Christian unity in its fullest sense, therefore, includes common faith, preaching, sacraments, prayer, corporate life, and witness, expressed locally in a fully committed fellowship, but also universally, in terms of shared ministry and membership.4 A break in any of these aspects of unity constitutes “separation,” and, as I will argue, separation implies the inhibition of a movement’s particular charism, as well as the impoverishment of the Church as a whole. The specific extent of this inhibition and impoverishment is one of the pressing questions which this project takes up, particularly in relation to the case studies. Though I begin with visible unity as a presupposition, I will also argue that adopting the language of charisms in discussing various ecclesial bodies leads inevitably to a vision of unity that is visible and historically continuous.

While I define the unity of the Church in catholic and organic terms, I maintain that a “separation” as outlined above does not necessarily lead to a de-churching of the movement in question. This assertion is grounded in an understanding of the Church that builds upon the work of George Lindbeck. Lindbeck argues that we should conceive of the Church primarily as the concrete, historical, visible people of God, identified by objective marks of God’s election (scripture, sacraments, confession of Christ, etc.).5 Rather than establishing a set of “minimum requirements” for ecclesiality, a group which possesses any of these objective marks is considered part of the Church, ← 3 | 4 → though a given ecclesial community’s embodiment of the Church’s calling and election might not be uniformly faithful.6 In continuity with Israel, the Church bears the marks of her election as either a blessing or a curse, witnessing to God in both her faithfulness and her unfaithfulness, as God’s mercy and judgment are displayed in the Church’s historical life.7 With regard to the question of ecclesial charisms, this perspective provides a means by which to affirm the specific ways in which movements are faithful (to their particular charism) without turning this affirmation into a triumphalistic celebration of all aspects of the movement’s history (because the affirmation of a charism does not imply that they are uniformly faithful). From this perspective, we can see the emergence of charismatic movements in the Church’s history as a witness to both God’s mercy and God’s judgment. The charisms may emerge in response to a particular lack in established churches in a particular context, but they also bring extravagances, tensions and strife. Separation necessarily brings judgment, which will be borne out in the history of both movement and Church (the above-mentioned inhibition and impoverishment), but it does not mean that the charismatic movement ceases to be part of the Church.

With these presuppositions identified, I can clarify the meaning of some key ecclesiological terminology as I will be using it in this book. “Church” when capitalized refers to the universal body of Christ, which, as I have noted, is a visible and historical body of persons known by objective marks of Christian faith: confession of faith in Christ, baptism, observance of the Lord’s Supper, regard for the authority of Christian scripture, and so on. I will use “church” in the lower case to refer to an identifiable body of Christians within the Church, whose common life is shaped by a plurality of personal charisms, and ordered by some form of historically continuous ministry of Word and sacrament. This would include those Christian bodies colloquially referred to as “denominations.” “Ecclesial movements,” for my purposes, are identifiable bodies within the Church that are formed for the pursuit of a particular purpose or agenda, and do not identify themselves as churches or as the Church itself. I specifically employ the term “ecclesial bodies” to speak of identifiable ← 4 | 5 → groups within the Church, without being specific about their form of self-identification, or the ecclesiological evaluations which other churches may make of the communities in question. Ecclesial bodies could be separated churches, religious orders, renewal movements, world communions, and so on. Thus I am employing this term as a descriptive umbrella concept for various types of “groups” within the Church, without implying any kind of judgment about the status of such bodies. However, the distinction between “churches” and “ecclesial movements” within this broad category is central to my argument, as will become clear in chapter 4.

In grounding the existence of ecclesial movements in the Spirit’s charismatic activity, I am granting significance to charismatic movements as an aspect of the Spirit’s guidance of the Church in history. However, much of my argument will be an attempt to set limits to such claims concerning the Spirit’s work, and these will have broad ecumenical applicability. One of my central concerns in taking on this project is to guard against the use of the theology of ecclesial charisms as a triumphalistic justification of the present state of the divided Church. Among divided communities, claims to the Spirit’s work have often been used as a way of providing pneumatic sanction for a given movement’s history, including (if applicable) its separation from other ecclesial bodies. The theology of ecclesial charisms outlined in this thesis will not allow for this kind of charismatic justification of division. Rather, a movement which is autonomous from the rest of the Church, yet claims to guard a particular ecclesial charism, must continue to acknowledge the sin of division and work to overcome its isolation if the movement’s charism is to serve its proper purpose. This allows for the movement to continue to lay claim to “divine origin,” in a sense, and to identify a “special gift” and “calling” without using the charism as a way of justifying all aspects of its history, especially those which resulted in division.8

The question as it is thus formulated has not received sustained attention, though it is common in ecumenical circles to speak of the different churches as possessing a variety of gifts.9 I will be bringing together literature from ← 5 | 6 → a variety of sources, including biblical theology, ecclesiology, theologies of renewal, and ecumenical theology, not to mention the historical literature on the Salvation Army and the Paulists, which will be taken up in chapters 6 through 9. While this somewhat eclectic mix of literature will be integrated into a sustained argument concerning ecclesial charisms, it does not fall neatly into a standard scholarly discussion. Rather, I am pressing these various bodies of literature into a critical and focused investigation of the concept of ecclesial charisms, with attention to the question of structural diversity in the Church. In a general sense, as noted above, this project is situated within the question of the limits of legitimate diversity in the Church, and specifically, the enduring place of separated ecclesial bodies within the larger Church. However, I do not continuously engage the literature on that specific question, but rather examine the particular way in which a theology of ecclesial charisms can contribute to this broader discussion of unity and diversity.

The question which forms the background for my examination of ecclesial charisms concerns the status of enduring confessional or denominational boundaries: are they a gift to be treasured, or a stumbling block to be overcome? As I will demonstrate in chapter 5, particular ecclesial identities were viewed as problematic early in the ecumenical movement, but a move towards affirming diversity beginning in the late 1960s pushed back against this position. In 1984, fears of the possible effects of an ecclesial “merger” caused Oscar Cullmann to publish his book Unity Through Diversity, in which he argued that each confession has its own particular charism, which must be preserved through the continued autonomy of the confessions.10 Cullmann’s argument provided the initial inspiration for this book, and in a sense it has provided a kind of “foil” for my argument as I have constructed it. I will argue that a theology of ecclesial charisms cannot properly be used to support the continued separation of ecclesial bodies, but can be used to support the presence of specialized vocational movements within the Church. In other words, the type of diversity envisioned and supported by a theology of ecclesial ← 6 | 7 → charisms is vocational diversity. “Charism” ought not to be used as a cipher for “diversity-in-general,” lest significant conflicts and disagreements between divided ecclesial bodies be simplistically construed as complementary gifts of the Spirit.

Method and Procedure

My method in this project is rooted in the above-mentioned definition of the Church as the visible, historical people of God. With the Church thus defined, ecclesiology is a discipline which must engage the Church’s concrete historical life. The doctrine of the Church must address and elucidate this visible, historical people, and not project an “ideal” Church existing behind or above history. And if the Church is this historical body of people, then the history of the Church and the history of seemingly obscure movements within the Church has something to tell us about God and his actions in history through his chosen witnesses. In this book I propose a theology of ecclesial charisms as a way of interpreting the conflicted history of movements in the Church, and this charism-based interpretation will involve both systematic theological reflection and historical description. Therefore I will begin with constructive work on the theology of ecclesial charisms, and follow this with critical reflection on the concrete life of two movements, the Paulist Fathers and the Salvation Army, interpreted through the lens of my constructive proposal.

I begin by investigating the scriptural roots of the concept of charisms, paying particular attention to the way that the Pauline literature has been used in recent theological work on this topic (chapter 2). Through a reading of the Pauline literature in conversation with post-Vatican II ecumenical literature, I demonstrate that Paul applies the term to persons, not to churches (though these gifts cannot be properly discerned or exercised by isolated individuals). The interdependent charisms are freely given by the Spirit for the building up of the body through particular kinds of service. Thus, they always carry a vocational obligation. The theology of ecclesial charisms must remain consistent with this scriptural foundation, though it will go beyond strict adherence to the Pauline concept. I argue that the Pauline theology of charisms must be interpreted in relation to the story of the people of God as it is found in the broader scriptural canon, drawing on Lindbeck’s “messianic pilgrim people of God” framework. This means relating Paul’s teaching on ← 7 | 8 → charisms to the significance of the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost, interpreted through the canonical shape of Pentecost as a first fruits festival. First fruits offerings have a provisional character, in that they anticipate a further harvest which is to come. Thus, charisms as pneumatic gifts also have a provisional character, and this guards against any person or group laying claim to a charism in a triumphalistic manner. First fruits are also sacrificial offerings, which point toward the figure of Christ, and therefore ought to be exercised in a self-denying manner, in accordance with the Spirit’s ongoing work of conforming human persons to Christ.


X, 279
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (July)
Charism ecclesial charimsn vocational church movement
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. X, 279 pp.

Biographical notes

James E. Pedlar (Author)

James E. Pedlar is Assistant Professor of Wesley Studies and Theology at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto and holds a PhD in systematic theology from the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto School of Theology. He is a member of the Canadian Roman Catholic–Evangelical Dialogue and previously served on the staff of the Canadian Council of Churches.


Title: Division, Diversity, and Unity
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