Reclaiming a Biblical Pattern of Worship?

Last week Andrew Wilson’s latest book on the merger of eucharistic and charismatic worship landed in the mailbox and I think it presents a clear, if brief, argument for a wise way or pursuing a biblical expression of the church.

Wilson, well known to those in the “Reformed” and continuationist camp (holding to more Calvinistic theology and the belief that the miraculous gifting of the Holy Spirit continues today), invites the church to go both deeper and higher in a way that sounds nearly unfeasible but is actually quite intriguing.

Spirit and Sacrament is a “theological vision for the church that treasures all of God’s gifts, the eucharistic and charismatic, beginning with charis (grace) and culminating in chara (joy).” Marrying the passion of the church for the sacraments (communion, baptism as examples) along with historic creeds and prayers of the church with “low church” expressions where the gifts of the Spirit are passionately pursued.

Given my background and doctrinal positions, the book speaks to my desires in the life of the church but to be fair, it has enough to make each side anxious toward what could come of such a vision.

Wilson warmly persuades those unlikely to call their way of doing church “liturgical” to recognize their own liturgy and inject more of the tested and biblically taught things that adorn the gospel. A call to worship, reciting a creed, call and response, the reading of Scripture (apart from the sermon), and confession etc.

At the same time, he attempts to bring an embrace and fervent pursuit of supernatural gifts to places typically more reserved and cautious.

While ardent cessationists (those that presume the gifts ended with the end of biblical canon or ministry of the original apostles) will not be convinced, since Wilson takes just a brief moment to present a Charismatic basis, the interaction with the church fathers’ experience of the miraculous is worthwhile.

Throughout I was struck that what Wilson is presenting is a full-bodied biblical church. This is the model of the New Testament and should be a rich way forward for the church.

Wilson says this way of worship is aspirational, not descriptive, and aspire toward it we should. All said I imagine this little book will become the start of an increasing call to such things and it is something that I welcome with expectancy.

Here are some key quotes from the book:

“The historic church has always been more “charismatic” than either the cautious conservatives or sectarian enthusiasts have been willing to admit.”

“It must be possible to lament and celebrate, be serious and joyful, at the same time. It is important to consider how this kind of both/and can be cultivated and how being Eucharismatic can help us.”

“Gifts… are like vessels that carry us back to our homeland; they should be enjoyed, but only in that they are taking us to our true source of joy and our true love.”

“We need to plunge ourselves into the depths of our tradition, so as to spring to new heights. Down, into historic prayers. Up, into spontaneous ones. Down, into confession of sin. Up, into the celebration of forgiveness. Down, into the creeds. Up, into the choruses. Down, into knowing God’s presence in the sacraments. Up, into feeling God’s presence in song. Call, and response. Friday, then Sunday. Kneel, then jump.”

“The sacraments should be at the heart of our corporate worship, not peripheral and occasional interruptions to it.”

“If you want to be gospel-centered, be Table-centered. If you want to be truly evangelical, be eucharistic.”

“The chief actor in the sanctification of the believer is not a message, but a Messenger: a person who can be grieved or honored, not just a word that can be rejected or believed.”

“We are under the same covenant as our first-century brothers and sisters, and as such, we should assume that what the apostles taught them, they would also teach us.”

“It is possible, and in fact required of us, both to earnestly desire spiritual gifts – knowledge, wisdom, faith, prophecy, languages, interpretation, distinguishing spirits, teaching, healing, miracles, helping, administering, leading, giving, showing mercy – and to do so with scriptural wisdom, so as to build us the body, serve the common good, love one another, and exalt the risen Christ.”

Reclaiming Charismata…

I am coming off of a week of some great conversations about the Charismatic movement and have launched myself into a fuller study of what it would mean for a new generation of leaders to “reclaim” Charismatic expression and pair it with solid biblical theology and teaching.

Roger Olsen’s comments are getting a lot of attention from those closer to his own ascribed Arminian leanings. But I wonder how this looks mingled with more Reformed theology. Groups like Sovereign Grace and New Frontiers are merging what some would see as two opposites but times are changing and thinking is shifting.

Our goal is not to see a movement gain credibility or start to exclude impostors among them, but instead that people would realize what Christ has done for them and pursue him. I might lose Reformed points for believing that God desires for everyone to be saved to it is toward this goal that I wonder how we can reclaim the Charismata of Paul and the first century church.

Onward to finding the answers…


New Frontiers in the UK has launched a new blog as a place for reformed, charismatic and missional Christians to interact. With a trend toward reformed theology in the US it will only be a matter of time before those in traditionally charismatic environments will respond well to good doctrine but maintain the style they are used to – along with biblical embrace of the Holy Spirit. (Perhaps I am tipping my hand here…)

I like what they are doing on the new blog and I think this sort of “confluence” will be more readily available and normal in the Christian realm soon.

I look forward to watching this site develop and others along the way. To give you a taste of Confluence, Adrian Warnock has some great insights.

Loving Scripture

Reformed people rightly emphasize doctrine. The reformers began a great tradition of raising a battle cry “back to the word.” We learn from them that human ideas cannot be trusted, only God’s infallible word. They also had a remarkable emphasis on the sovereignty of God. I do not know how any Christian can survive long in this fallen world without trusting that, despite frequent appearances to the contrary, “all things work together for God for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). Knowing that it is God who both began and will complete his work of salvation in me also gives me great confidence. But there are two major weaknesses that can easily arise.

Firstly, our honor of the Bible can give rise to us seeking a relationship with a book rather than a person. Cold intellectualism which despises all emotional response to God is not an inevitable result of being reformed, but it is a real danger. Secondly, it is possible to so trust in the sovereignty of God that we begin to resemble stoics, passively waiting for God’s will to unfold. We might even stop working out or own salvation and foolishly “let go and let God.” Prayer becomes mere formalism, since we are so convinced God has the whole universe in his hands, that we do not see the need to wrestle in the quiet place seeking for his kingdom to come. We can also become locked in defeat and condemnation in our personal lives, not expecting to be transformed. Evangelism can become halfhearted at best, since we conclude that God can save the unbeliever without our help if he so wills it. One could argue that reformed people risk discovering to our shock that we love books more we love God or the world.

Loving the Spirit

Charismatics pursue a vibrant relationship with God, who is alive and active and speaking to us today. Next to the latest encounter with God, academic study of his word can seem boring. We do not have a reputation for intellectualism. The temptation is to cast aside the anchor of the truth of God’s word, and, instead of testing prophecy, naively believe that every thought which comes into our minds is a now word from the Lord. Doctrine may be weak at best, and frankly heretical at worst. For all the emotion, and power on display, many charismatics simply do not have a deep root that will help them stand when things get really tough. We may feel on top of the world when we are in the latest conference, but what happens when we get back home and face the troubles which Jesus promised us in this life?

Charismatics can also become very inward looking, and, seeking a deeper experience with God, many congregations have the feeling of an intimate family that any unbeliever would struggle to join. Gifts of the Holy Spirit often flow freely in such an environment, but may well lack any real content, and to an outsider seem frankly weird. A lost world can be forgotten as we are lost in wonder and praise. No wonder many charismatic churches do not grow, since perhaps charismatics risk loving God, but not loving his world, or his unchanging Word.

Unless we study God’s word with vigor and grasp it’s teaching as strongly as any reformed believer how can we know what message to bring the world? Unless we know God as clearly as any charismatic, and experience his life-changing power, how can we expect our neighbors to believe that Jesus is alive and in the business of setting us free? God’s word was given to help us learn what to say to a lost world, and his Spirit was given to empower us, and equip us to be able ministers of the gospel. As this new blog begins, I pray it will be used by God to raise up a people who will love God like a charismatic, love his Word like the Reformed, and love the world like every missionary should. What God has put together, let no man try and separate!