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28th February 2019

Spirit and Sacrament – Part Three

This is the third and final instalment of a three-part series based on my new book, Spirit and Sacrament: An Invitation to Eucharismatic Worship. This section is focused on the call to be “charismatic.”

The pages of the New Testament reveal a charismatic church, characterized by an experience both of the person of the Holy Spirit—one that could be described in very tangible ways, including drenching, filling, drinking, crying out “Abba!” and so forth—and of angels and demons, languages and interpretation, prophecy and teaching, healing and miracles. Biblical Christianity was charismatic Christianity.

The claim I am making here, however, is not just that the miraculous gifts were given throughout the New Testament period. 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. Put differently, I am arguing that Romans 12:6, 1 Corinthians 12:31, and 14:1 still apply: believers are urged to use, to be zealous for, to earnestly desire, and to strive for spiritual gifts. This much is highly controversial, of course, as a few minutes on the internet will quickly reveal. Even so, I say it for three main reasons.

The first, perhaps surprisingly, is historical. That is, one of the best reasons to think the miraculous gifts continued is the fact that, according to many of the church fathers, they did. In the context of contemporary debates, this point is often lost, not least because the gift that has proved the most divisive in the last hundred years or so, namely the gift of languages, is the one over which the patristic evidence is least clear. Charismatics are also, to generalize for a moment, less interested in the fathers than many more conservative branches of Christianity, in part because our narrative is so often presented (unhelpfully) as a bold rediscovery of something the church had lost for nineteen centuries. As a result, cessationists have leaned into the historical evidence, and charismatics have leaned away from it, even though much of it indicates that the gifts continued (a position often called “continuationism”).

The second reason for pursuing the gifts today is hermeneutical. Put simply, this is the principle that explicit New Testament instructions to Christians should be followed, unless there is a clear reason from the context why they should not be. This presumption of obedience, it seems to me, should be a fairly uncontroversial rule of thumb for anyone who follows Jesus; 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. In other words, the burden of proof should always be on the person who says we don’t have to obey an apostolic instruction, rather than on the person who says we do. If we flip that round, we quickly end up in pick-and-choose territory.

This has big implications when it comes to the pursuit of the gifts. “Zealously desire spiritual gifts,” Paul says (1 Cor 14:1). Or, fourteen verses earlier, “Zealously desire the greater gifts” (1 Cor 12:31). Or, later in the same discussion, “Zealously desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Cor 14:39). Or, as part of his exhortation to humility in Romans, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith” (Rom 12:6). Or, in his conclusion to 1 Thessalonians, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess 5:19-21). Sometimes the debate over the pursuit of the gifts can look like a no-score-draw, with continuationists pointing out that the New Testament never says the gifts will cease, and cessationists responding that it never says they won’t, either. But in light of the hermeneutical principle we would normally use—and I tend to call it the Presumption Of Obedience, although I am not wild about the acronym—the reality is different. Our default setting, if you like, should be one of obeying these passages, and eagerly desiring spiritual gifts, unless a clear case to the contrary can be made from the text.

And the third reason is eschatological. The gifts of the Spirit, and prophecy in particular, are seen by the apostles as characterizing the entire era between Pentecost and Parousia, the coming of the Spirit and the return of Christ. The kingdom of God is currently spreading throughout the earth like the little stone of Daniel’s vision, dethroning kings and crushing empires before it, but it has not yet fully arrived. As long as we still live between the inauguration and the consummation of the kingdom—between D-day and VE-day, in one analogy—we should continue to expect, and pursue, all the spiritual gifts.

This expectation is clear on the day of Pentecost itself. These people aren’t drunk, explains Peter; they’re doing exactly what the prophet Joel predicted: “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18). It is interesting that here, right at the start of the first sermon ever preached by a Christian, Peter so explicitly connects the last days, the pouring out of the Spirit on all nations, and the gift of prophecy. The “last days,” between the ascension of Jesus and his return, are described in the New Testament as a period of sinfulness in the world and difficulty for the church. But they are also, according to Peter, a period both in which the Spirit is poured out on all flesh and in which male and female, slave and free, will prophesy, see visions, and dream dreams. The latter, in fact, will be a clear sign of the former. So the Pentecost story itself leads us to expect that as long as we are still in “the last days,” we should expect the pouring out of the Spirit, accompanied by prophecy.

You can find out more at spiritandsacrament.com.

Andrew Wilson is the Teaching Pastor at King's and is responsible for much of the preaching and teaching. Andrew has a PhD in theology, has written numerous books and regularly blogs at thinktheology.co.uk.



Andrew Wilson

Posted by Andrew Wilson
08:30


21st February 2019

Spirit and Sacrament – Part Two

This is the second of a three-part series, based on the argument of my new book, Spirit and Sacrament: An Invitation to Eucharismatic Worship. This section focuses on the challenge to be more “eucharistic” in our worship.

Architecture tells you a lot about what people value. A century ago, when the street I live on was being built, architects were carefully separating kitchens from dining rooms with walls and doors, so that domestic work could happen in an environment designed for it, without being seen or obstructed by guests or children or even men, and the spaces where people were received (“reception rooms”) could be as pleasant and uncluttered as possible. For the last two decades, builders on the same street have been knocking those walls down to create larger kitchens, so that all of life can happen in one place: children’s play, food preparation, the welcoming of guests, the serving of meals, audio-visual entertainment, maybe even paid work. The floor plans in my street reflect changes in society as a whole. We separate work and play, domestic and social, men and women, less than we used to; we also regard family meals, in which everyone sits down together without any distractions, as less important than our grandparents did. We can celebrate those developments or we can lament them, but they are there for all to see in the way we design our buildings. Architecture reveals priorities.

So it is with church buildings. Show me your architecture, and I’ll show you your theology. Admittedly, some of the differences between church buildings across the centuries are merely a matter of technology (the availability or not of electric lighting, projector screens, amplification, heating, and so on). But most of them reflect—and then reinforce—theological priorities. High vaulted ceilings communicate grandeur. Stained glass windows with gospel scenes assume the legitimacy and importance of teaching through visual images. Crypts and graveyards communicate something about the memory of the faithful departed. Chancels, steps, and screens indicate a separation between the people and the priesthood. Bells, pews, soft chairs, kneelers, towers, coffee lounges, lecterns, video screens, spires, vestries, breastfeeding rooms, lighting rigs, organs—all of these embody assumptions about what the church is and how it functions. If a church has a cross-shaped layout or has the children’s ministry in a separate wing or sits on top of a hill or faces east, it speaks to us. The very stones cry out.

Most striking of all is whatever is central. In all worship spaces, there is one central spot that our eyes are naturally drawn to as we enter the building. In an Orthodox church building, this might be the icon of Christos Pantokrator. In a Roman Catholic one, it would probably be the altar, where the Mass is celebrated. (In yet another sign of how layout communicates theology, the Protestant Reformers turned the “altar,” which implies we are offering a sacrifice to God, into a “table,” which makes it clear that God is offering a meal to us. Tweaking the furniture can have profound significance.) In many Presbyterian and Baptist sanctuaries it is the pulpit, where the Word of God is preached. In contemporary evangelical buildings, whether they are purpose-built warehouses, chapels, school halls, or theatres, our eye is usually drawn to the stage, on which you can see a band of musicians and, behind them, a screen. The centerpiece of a church’s architecture usually reflects the centerpiece of its worship: singing, Communion, the preaching of the gospel, or whatever it may be.

So you can tell a lot about a church’s theology and practice by simply standing in their building with your eyes open. In many worship spaces, for instance, one of the first architectural features you encounter on your way in is a baptismal font. You cannot find your seat without walking past it. So every time you come to worship with God’s people, you face a small but insistent physical reminder that you have been baptized (or, of course, that you have not been baptized). As soon as you have walked past it, you head down the nave—the chairs, or pews, are on either side—toward the large table that will later be used to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. So in the very mundane act of entering the building and finding a seat, you walk unthinkingly between font and table, baptism and Communion. The message from the architecture is clear: sacraments are central to the Christian life around here.

Now consider a different experience. You enter the church building and see no physical features whatsoever that would suggest the sacraments exist. There is no font, no baptism pool, no altar, and no table. If and when baptism happens, it happens in a nearby swimming pool. If and when the Eucharist happens, collapsible tables appear at the back, or in the aisles. In such a context, the message from the architecture is equally clear: sacraments are occasional intrusions into our normal patterns of worship. They are like a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

My point is not to recommend reshuffling our worship spaces, although in many cases that might not be a bad thing. Many New Testament churches met in homes and baptized people in rivers, and Jesus is present in the breaking of bread whether the table we use is made of oak, plastic, or nothing at all. My point is that the layout of our buildings reflects, and over time reinforces, our approach to the sacraments. What we find space for, we will usually find time for. And lots of us, including most charismatics and many of those in garden variety evangelical churches, have less space and less time for the sacraments than Christians have typically had for twenty centuries. In other words: we are not as eucharistic as we could be.

You can find out more at spiritandsacrament.com.

Andrew Wilson is the Teaching Pastor at King's and is responsible for much of the preaching and teaching. Andrew has a PhD in theology, has written numerous books and regularly blogs at thinktheology.co.uk.




Andrew Wilson

Posted by Andrew Wilson
08:00


14th February 2019

Spirit and Sacrament – Part One

Steve has kindly offered me the chance to introduce the argument of my new book, Spirit and Sacrament: An Invitation to Eucharismatic Worship. In some ways the whole idea is summed up in that one word “eucharismatic”, which is a word I invented to combine the words “eucharistic” and “charismatic,” with the word charis, meaning “grace,” in the middle. But like any new term, it probably needs a bit more explanation than that.

When I talk about churches being “eucharistic,” I obviously mean to refer to the celebration of the Eucharist (or Communion, or the Lord’s Supper) in corporate worship. But I also mean to evoke the entire Christian tradition in which it plays a central role. If I see a church notice board proclaiming that it has a “sung Eucharist at 10:00 every Sunday,” I know rather more than that the congregation comes together at some stage to share bread and wine. Somehow, the word is richer than that. I assume that the service includes some combination of prayers, formal liturgy, confession, hymns, psalms, readings, silence, sermon, offering, benediction, and commission. I also assume that it does not include spontaneous spiritual gifts, lengthy times of extended corporate singing, sermons that last more than twenty minutes, video presentations, or ministry times. To be eucharistic, in this sense, is more than merely to celebrate the Eucharist, although it is certainly not less. It is to be historically rooted, unashamedly sacramental, deliberately liturgical, and self-consciously catholic.

The word charismatic has an even wider range of meanings. In its narrowest form, to be charismatic means to be part of a church that traces its roots to the charismatic movement of the 1960s and 1970s, often as distinct from the Pentecostal movement (usually dated from 1906). More casually, and inaccurately, the word is sometimes used to describe churches with a contemporary and expressive form of worship, so that a church could seem “charismatic” for having a band on the stage and extended times of singing, raised hands and dancing, even if most of the charismata never made an appearance. More often, charismatic is a bucket term for any contemporary church that emphasizes the reality of supernatural experiences and the availability of the New Testament gifts of the Holy Spirit to ordinary believers today: speaking in other languages, prophecy, healing, miracles, and so on. In its broadest sense, it can also connote a particular type of experiential, pietist, or mystical Christianity, in which personal and deeply emotional encounters with God occur, and a clear and direct sense of God’s presence and communication is felt by the worshiper. Given this diversity, it is probably worth specifying that I have the last two of these meanings in mind (use of the gifts and experientialism), rather than the first two (emerging from the 1970s, and contemporary in style). Whatever our denominational origins, to be charismatic is to expect spiritual experience, pursue and use the charismata, live and pray as if angels and demons are real, and express worship to God with all the joy and exuberance of a Hallel psalmist.

To be Eucharismatic, then, is to hold to the hope that it is possible to have one’s ecclesiological cake and eat it. There is no reason, beyond a series of historical accidents, why there cannot be churches in which set prayers are followed by spontaneous prophecies, and the “altar call” summons people to the Communion Table, and the rhythmic recital of the Nicene Creed builds into an explosion of musical celebration, with dancing in the aisles and angels in the architecture. That is the vision that I am trying to cast in this book, and I am convinced—and hope to convince you—that the pursuit of it will make our worship richer, our churches deeper, and our joy greater.

You can find out more at spiritandsacrament.com.

Andrew Wilson is the Teaching Pastor at King's and is responsible for much of the preaching and teaching. Andrew has a PhD in theology, has written numerous books and regularly blogs at thinktheology.co.uk.


Andrew Wilson

Posted by Andrew Wilson
11:30


21st April 2016

When the Spirit Comes

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Act 1v8

When I was young my parents took me to church every week. Maybe ‘dragged me’ would be a better phrase, as I was a reluctant church-goer – it was definitely something to be endured rather than enjoyed. As I got older my interest in going along began to grow, but that was only because I met girls there! At that time I had never heard of the Holy Spirit and the services I sat through seemed irrelevant, lifeless and stuck in the past.

Then during my teenage years I began to notice some changes occurring at the Baptist church we attended. People started talking about the Holy Spirit and meetings were gradually transformed. There was an expectation of power, a new rise of faith that God was in our midst. As the church went through what we now call renewal, it became a place of life, vibrancy and relevance and it was during this time that I committed my life to Jesus.

How different things are now! Every week we come with an expectation that God will speak. We welcome the Holy Spirit to fill us and propel us on mission. We come with certainty and faith that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are freely available to us.

This Sunday we launch a new series on the Catford and Lee sites (it starts at Downham the following Sunday) which looks again at the work of the Holy Spirit through the book of Acts. Our intent is to ensure we retain an attitude which seeks to lean into the power of God, while remaining rooted in a clear biblical framework for the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We will teach, meet in groups and pray for God to meet with us. You can read more about When the Spirit Comes here.

I am excited about this series and would like to invite you to join us each Sunday. We also have an opportunity to meet midweek when we gather as one church on Wednesday 4th May . It will be a celebration evening where we will take time to receive and pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon us. The meeting will begin at 7.45pm on the Catford site and I hope to see many of you there.


Steve Tibbert

Posted by Steve Tibbert
13:20


Steve Tibbert leads King’s Church London, with sites in Catford, Downham, Lee and Beckenham. Over the past fifteen years the church has seen continued growth, both in size and diversity. Steve is also involved in Newfrontiers and regularly coaches other lead elders. His book, Good to Grow, was published in July 2011. He is married to Deb, and they have three sons.

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