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Division, Diversity, and Unity

A Theology of Ecclesial Charisms


James E. Pedlar

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.
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Chapter 10. Historical and Ecumenical Implications


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My method in this project has been rooted in a definition of the Church as a concrete body of people, enduring through time, and identified by objective marks which bear witness to its election (scripture, sacraments, confession of Christ, etc.).1 With the Church thus defined, ecclesiological reflection becomes a historical discipline which must engage in “thick description” of the Church’s concrete historical life. In other words, whatever scriptural and theological concepts are developed as ecclesiologically normative, they must be able to elucidate the Church’s historical life (that is, they must not project the Church as something which exists “behind” or “above” the actual empirical people and institutions). If this historically-identified body is the Church, then the Church’s history, including the history of seemingly obscure movements, has something to tell us about God and his actions in history through his chosen witnesses. I have thus proposed a theology of ecclesial charisms as a way of interpreting the conflicted history of specialized movements in the Church, and this has necessarily involved both systematic theological reflection and historical description. In this chapter I begin by drawing out some of the important theological implications of the historical investigation of the Paulist Fathers and the Salvation Army. I then conclude by summing up ← 235 | 236 → the implications of my argument for ecumenical ecclesiology, focusing on the place of movements in the Church, and the vision of Christian unity supported by the theology of ecclesial charisms...

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