Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Garry Wills on Community Functions in Paul's Epistles

Garry Wills (self-identified Catholic, though he does not accept Transubstantiation and the priesthood) in "Why Priests?" describes the evidence in Paul's epistles regarding the community functions (pp. 10-11):
Thus community functions (not offices) are direct gifts (charismata) of the Spirit, making the early community charistmatic in the root original sense, entirely guided by the Spirit, not by hierarchical rule or appointment to offices. Paul mentions eleven such charismata in his First Letter to Corinthinans:
There are diverse charisms, but from the same Spirit. There are distinct ways of serving, but of the same Lord. There are distinct ways of acting, but the same God is at work in all acts of all the actors. The Spirit makes itself known in a particular person for the general good. One man, through the Spirit, has the gift of wise speech, while another, by the power of the same Spirit, can put the deepest knowledge into words. Another's fidelity is from the same Spirit. Another has the gift of healing and it is still one Spirit. Another can work miracles, another can prophesy, another can read spiritual impulses, another can speak different languages, another can interpret languages. At work in all these things is the single and shared Spirit, distributing them as seems best individually. (12.4-11)
You are the body of Christ, each individually a part of it, from which God has provided for the gathering--first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then miracle-working, then healing gifts, help-providing, guidance-offering, kinds of speaking in tongues. Are all people apostles, all prophets, all teachers, all miracle workers, all with the gift of healing, all speaking in tongues, all interpreters of tongues? Strive for higher gifts than these. (12.27-31)
At Romans 12.7-8 he mentions four other charismata--for the supporter (parakalon), the servant (diakonos), the almsgiver (metadidous), and the representative (proistamenos). At Ephesians 4.11 he adds another charism, that of the shepherd (poimen). That makes sixteen actions prompted by the Spirit, none of them an office, each distinguished from the rest. Nowhere is the word "priest" (hierus) used in describing the services rendered by those receiving charismata.
Wills' point is more significant to the debate with Roman Catholics than one may immediately realize.  If Christ had left a church resembling the Roman Catholic Church, with its massive emphasis and central role of the priesthood, it would be absolutely remarkable that when Paul writes about the gifts given to the church, the gift of the priesthood is not among them - everything from apostle to almsgiver is mentioned, but not priest.


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