Spirit and Sacrament: An Invitation to Eucharismatic Worship

Category: Family, Featured, General, Outreach

One thing that has always been true of this movement labeled “the New Calvinism,” is that it has included more professing charismatics than practicing charismatics. Though from the very beginning many, and perhaps even the majority, of its adherents have been open to the ongoing miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, very few have lived or worshipped in a way that is distinctly (or even vaguely) charismatic. Though many of the theological leaders of the movement like Wayne Grudem, John Piper, and D.A. Carson have taken continuationist positions of varying forms, few people have actually enacted such positions on a local church level. This has led to a noticeable gap between theology and practice. I suspect, though, that this is about to change.

This is about to change because several noteworthy pastors and leaders who are both Calvinistic and charismatic are committed to calling their own churches and others’ to practice what they preach. Sam Storms recently released Practicing the Power (my review), a kind of guidebook for bringing a church into charismatic practice, and now Andrew Wilson has released Spirit and Sacrament, a book that attempts to set charismatic practice alongside better-known and more traditional Christian forms of worship. Notably, both books have forewords by Matt Chandler and all three of these men spoke at the recent Convergence Conference which exists “to instruct and encourage individual believers and local churches to eagerly embrace the functional authority of the written text of Scripture and to experience the full range of miraculous spiritual gifts, all to the glory of God in Christ.” A movement is afoot!

Spirit and Practice coins the portmanteau eucharismatic to define the kind of worship Wilson believes the Bible calls us to—worship that is both eucharistic and charismatic. Hence the book’s subtitle is “An Invitation to Eucharismatic Worship.” He begins the book by saying it is his attempt to join two things that are often kept separate. “It is a theological vision for a church that treasures all of God’s gifts, the eucharistic and the charismatic, beginning with charis (grace) and culminating in chara (joy). It is a call to pursue the best of both worlds, an appeal to bring out of the church’s storehouse both old and new treasures, so that God’s people can enjoy his grace in Spirit and sacrament, with liturgy and levity, raised hands and lowered faces, confession and dance. It is an invitation—to Christians, to pastors, to you to be Eucharismatic.”

When he refers to eucharistic, he means not only the celebration of Communion in corporate worship, but the whole of Christian tradition. To be eucharistic is “to be historically rooted, unashamedly sacramental, deliberately liturgical, and self-consciously catholic.” When he refers to charismatic, he means emphasizing the pursuit and practice of all the spiritual gifts as well as a form of worship “in which personal and deeply emotional encounters with God occur, and a clear and direct sense of God’s presence and communion is felt by the worshipper.” He hopes to convince the reader that pursuing this kind of eucharismatic worship will “make our worship richer, our churches deeper, and our joy greater.”

He makes his argument through five chapters. In the first two he provides a brief theology of charis and chara—gift and joy. He shows that all of creation and all of theology depends upon grace and, in a sense, is grace. He shows that we are to respond to God’s gifts with thankfulness, worship, stewardship, and pursuit—we are to thank God for them, worship him for and through them, steward them faithfully, and pursue them earnestly, believing that “the church will mature and flourish to the extent that she makes use of all of the gifts God has given her.”

As for chara, he wants us to consider that joy is to mark the Christian in his life and worship, even as it marked Jesus in his. (“When we consider the mood of the Jesus we meet in the Gospels, he seems—and I think this is the right word for it—jolly.”) Though certainly we are at times sorrowful, we are marked by a deep joy. As he gets deeper into the New Testament understanding of joy by way of metaphors related to wine, he says our worship should often be expressed in a spirit of exuberance. “Given the explicit instructions of the Psalms, and the fact that Christians are urged to sing and teach one another with them, it is even worth asking whether churches that never play loud music, sing new songs, clap, raise hands, shout, or dance are not just reserved or conservative but actually unbiblical.”

He then turns to the term eucharistic to show how Christian worship should be sacramental, catholic, and liturgical. The sacraments of baptism and Lord’s supper should be foundational to our worship, not peripheral. The long history of the church should inform our worship and remind us that we do not stand alone in this generation. It should be thoughtfully liturgical in such a way that each element of our worship is faithful to Scripture and meaningful within the ebb and flow of a service.

Then comes charismatic, which is the one term that, more than any other, separates this book from so many others. There is plenty of material about gifts and joy and sacraments and catholicity and liturgy, but few that add charismatic practice to the mix. He makes the argument that these gifts continue in the church today and are meant to form an essential part of Christian worship. He demonstrates this from Scripture, using texts that are both descriptive (e.g. Acts) and prescriptive (e.g. 1 Corinthians). “The claim I am making here … is not just that the miraculous gifts were given throughout the New Testament period. That much should be uncontroversial. I am also arguing that they continue to be given today—prophecy, languages, interpretation, teaching, miracles, healing, and the rest—and that, like every good gift that our Father gives us, they should be pursued as a result.” He then offers defenses of his position historically, hermeneutically, and eschatologically. Along the way he counters the most common cessationist arguments against the gifts—the “low quality” contemporary miracles and the tension between ongoing revelation and a completed canon. Admitting the many excesses of the modern charismatic movement, he argues for proactive biblical discernment in place of reactive hesitant caution. “I find it ironic that perhaps the most common evangelical approach to spiritual gifts, especially in North America, is the one approach that simply cannot be defended from Scripture: that the miraculous gifts continue, but that we should not particularly pursue them!”

In the final chapter, he looks at eucharismatic, which is where he provides the vision for implementing this kind of worship, admitting that it is more aspirational than descriptive (which is to say, there are no perfect or near-perfect examples he can point to). Eucharismatic worship is the conviction and dream that he and others now mean to pursue.

Affirmations

The book has plenty of notable and praiseworthy strengths. The first is simply the quality of the writing. Wilson is a wordsmith who demonstrates great skill with his pen (or keyboard, if you will). He makes the book a joy to read through his excellent prose and crackling illustrations. He uses the repetition of words and phrases to fantastic effect. Though he writes as a scholar he writes for the rest of us.

I found his exploration of gifts and joy important and compelling. Too few Christians and too few churches have faithfully explored these terms and allowed them to impact their lives and worship. And I also very much appreciated his willingness to address a common weakness of the modern church in general, and the modern charismatic church in particular, in its failure to anchor itself in the long tradition of the Christian faith. This is the burden of his chapter “Eucharistic” and I very much enjoyed his call to be deliberately sacramental, catholic, and liturgical.

And then there’s this: I think this is the best defense of charismatic theology I’ve yet encountered. I understand this could be seen as damning his book with faint praise, but I mean it genuinely. Wilson makes as compelling an argument as I’ve read. That’s not to say I have embraced it, but that he has clearly been listening to cessationists as they express their concerns, and has done his best to carefully anticipate and answer their objections. This made me consider and re-consider my views. While that ultimately strengthened them, I’m grateful for the challenge.

Objections

But, of course, if I’m not convinced by his arguments, I must have some objections to them. Here are some noteworthy ones.

I believe he makes a far more convincing case that the gifts continue to operate than that what we see today are actually the gifts. If the burden of proof is on cessationists to show that the gifts have ceased (which is fair), the burden of proof is on continuationists to show that these gifts are those gifts (which is also fair). In other words, charismatics need to demonstrate continuity between what they say are the gifts of tongues, prophecies, and so on. And while Wilson answers the objection, I don’t think he does so satisfactorily. I continue to believe the shaky pillar at the heart of the charismatic position is that unknown languages that sound a lot like nonsensical syllables are actually real languages, albeit private or angelical ones. It’s that vague and hesitant prophecies are comparable to directive and explicit biblical prophecies. This yawning gap has never been adequately addressed.

And while Wilson rallies the early church to his cause, I find his readings uncompelling. We could just as easily follow the evidence laid out by Nick Needham in the first volume of 2000 Years of Christ’s Power where he demonstrates the likelihood that the miraculous gifts steadily declined through the second and third centuries (pages 112-119). In fact, the argument can be made that Montanism, (which, though less orthodox than the modern charismatic movement, bore some resemblance to it) gained such a following because it appeared to be a new and fresh movement of the Holy Spirit. In either case, both sides in this discussion have to grapple with evidence from the early church that is able to help and harm their case. And, to be fair, Wilson does embrace that tension, even if he doesn’t convince me with his explanation.

And then there’s one I’m not entirely sure how to describe, except to say that I found he sometimes forces Scripture a little farther than it wants to go. To defend joy, he describes Jesus as “jolly,” but I’m not convinced we see a jolly (or somber, for that) Jesus in the Gospels. I’m not convinced that exuberant worship necessarily shows a joy in Christ that is missing in traditions marked by greater formality. I’m not sure that being filled with the Spirit was or is a kind of Sunday-by-Sunday “drenching” experience bringing about an expectation of prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues, and so on.

Conclusion

The discussion about whether the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit remain operative today continues. It’s heartening to me that this discussion is happening in such kind and level-headed ways. Tom Schreiner’s Spiritual Gifts (my review) was a kind-hearted book meant to express full appreciation for the leading voices who take the opposite position before disagreeing with them. Wilson is every bit as careful and charitable in his volume. That elevates this conversation and these conversation partners far above so many others. If only all Christians could disagree so well!

As much as I appreciate the majority of Spirit and Sacrament, I still can’t embrace the “charismatic” portion of “eucharismatic.” While Wilson makes a strong argument that those who are charismatic also need to be eucharistic, he doesn’t convince me that those who are eucharistic need to also be charismatic. So perhaps I’ll say this: If you are convinced from Scripture that these extraordinary gifts remain operative, then please pursue them like this. Otherwise, the value of this book will probably be helping you better understand the opposite position.

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