Churches should embrace the life of God in the Spirit in all its fullness. That means both charismatic spiritual life and the sacramental life of the gathered church.
‘Eucharismatic’ is a term coined by Andrew Wilson in his excellent book Spirit and Sacrament, a portmanteau of eucharistic and charismatic. His book lays out his thesis, but I haven’t seen it picked up and practiced by anyone in the circles I run in. Most conservative evangelicals are allergic to both realms, and even in my charismatic circles they are typically very consciously unsacramental (perhaps even dissacramental) in what they do.
I’m out on a bit of a limb here, I think that this is what ordinary church life is meant to look like, but I don’t know of many people who want both of these things brought together. Of course, we should always be more careful when we recognise our views are unusual, though ‘unusual in our day’ is not the measure we use. Instead, we have to look at the breeze of the centuries and see how out of step we are with the tradition as a whole. I think both of these realms, the charismatic and the sacramental, have venerable traditions in church history, though I’m not replete with examples of them being brought together. What I’m proposing does involve a return to the tradition in some sense, but it’s a modern appropriation of the tradition, I think.
I don’t know many people who think similarly. Andrew Wilson clearly does, though I haven’t sought the opportunity to talk to him about it and should point out that my suggestions below don’t slavishly follow his book—he may well disagree! I know plenty of Reformed Catholic evangelicals (and the occasional Sacramental Baptist) who are recovering the riches of Protestant sacramental tradition. I know plenty of Charismatic evangelicals who are plumbing the depths of the Spirit’s gifts to us in this particular historical moment.
I would like to be all these things.
I titled this post ‘a manifesto,’ but it’s not really. This is, in academic parlance, ‘towards’ a manifesto. By which I mean I’m thinking out loud (most writing that isn’t formally published should be considered this way), attempting to summarise what I think this approach to church life would look like.
Towards a Eucharismatic Manifesto
- The Church exists to worship God. It is the Temple, where heaven touches earth and the heavenly temple is made manifest.
- When we move towards God to worship him, we find that he has first moved towards us. This is true in all areas of life, from our initial repentance onwards. Because of this gracious posture of the Lord, we can speak of Church as an ‘encounter’ with God.
- The Church is defined by four encounters with God which we can loosely define as prayer, preaching, the Lord’s Supper, and Baptism. If we’re feeling poetic: water & word, worship & wine. These are each sacramental, even if only two are sacraments.
- The Church’s worship should include ‘prayer’ both sung and spoken as an expression of our worship to the Lord who is worthy of it—we often refer to this by shorthand as ‘worship’. Every member of the church participates in this as priests. Every member of the church has some scope to lead the rest of the church in this under the direction of the Spirit. This is overseen by elders to keep it orderly. This includes the charismatic gifts such as tongues, interpretations, and prophecy, as well as the less dramatic charismatic gifts like reading from the Bible, prayer, or encouragement.
- The Church’s worship should include the preached word, where the people of God encounter Jesus in the text of the Bible. This is not primarily to ‘teach’ but to point us to Christ. When we plumb the riches of the text we will find Christ, so this is not advocating for simplistic preaching.
- The Church’s worship should include the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, as we eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood together in order to receive from him. The Lord is the host who has laid the table for us.
- Each of these three ‘encounters’ with God would ordinarily be weekly parts of the gathered Church worshipping together. We should not be scared of liturgical elements, and we should be open to the Spirit’s dramatic movement.
- Baptism, as part of Christian initiation, is also part of the Church’s worship. Most likely not every week, but as often as is possible. In Baptism we die and are raised with Christ, in obedience to his command and in imitation of his actions.
I’ve kept this focussed on the gathered worship of the church, but we could expand this manifesto in two further directions.
Firstly, as a way of living the Christian life. Eucharismatic life expects that God will speak and directly intervene into our daily lives, regularly. It also expects that ritual is not opposed to God breaking in and that rhythms of life— perhaps even the rhythms of the Church calendar—can be helpful in us discerning God’s voice and leading us towards him, rather than obscuring it.
Secondly, as a way of looking at the world. The world is itself sacramental and alive with the presence of God and the spiritual realm. This means both a cosmos open to surprise, as the Pentecostal ontologists have it, and a sense that everything is as spiritual as it is physical. Everything has spiritual causes. The Powers and Principalities are real and do not want you to follow Jesus. God has designed a world that, despite its overseers’ rebellion, teaches us of Jesus, his love, and his Way.
Friends, you may well disagree with what I’ve outlined. I’ve touched on many of these subjects before, so I hope it isn’t unduly surprising, but I would be surprised if all my readers want to follow me on all these points!
If you’re intrigued and want to talk further about this sort of church life, do get in touch. I’m not claiming to be an expert who has gone and done it, but I’m attempting to point the way to something I think I can see on the horizon.
If you’d like to nuance, critique, or develop this further, please do so and point me in the direction of your work, or get in touch for a discussion.
I’m hoping over the coming weeks to flesh some of this out, particularly the subjects that I haven’t written on directly before (I linked those I have, and will update this post as I publish them). They will be interspersed with other topics, so if you come here for the reflections on technology, or suffering, or hospitality, or finding Jesus in the Old Testament, then there will be some of that along the way too.
Photo by Robin Spielmann on Unsplash
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