14th February 2019
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.
Posted by Andrew Wilson
Steve Tibbert leads King’s Church London, with sites in Catford, Downham and Lee. 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.