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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 5. Charisms, Unity, Diversity, and Division


· 5 ·


My argument to this point has made it clear that the theology of ecclesial charisms cannot be used with a broad brush to explain the diversity of all discreet ecclesial bodies, and it certainly cannot be used as a justification for separation in the Church. In order to avoid confusion, however, I must return to an observation I made in chapter 2, regarding a necessary distinction between the use of the term “gifts” in a general sense as applied to separated churches, and the specific meaning of “ecclesial charisms.” It is certainly the case that ecumenical dialogue has shown that many aspects of Christian diversity are indeed complementary, and can be seen to be “gifts” which our separated traditions can exchange with one another. Approaching ecumenism as a “gift exchange” is a fruitful and appropriate means of sorting through ecumenical divisions, and discovering how some of our differences are in fact able to enrich the faith, life, and witness of the whole church. Indeed, since all that we have is received from God (1 Cor. 4:7), we can rightly call any grace discovered in any area of ecclesial life a “gift.”

However, a distinction should be made between these “gifts in a general sense” and the diverse vocational charisms of which Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. When we speak of our ecumenical differences as gifts, we are referring to those differences among the...

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