There are more than 200,000 words in the English language, but I want to introduce one more.
It’s built around the beautiful Greek words charis (grace) and chara (joy), and combines the concepts of thanksgiving (eucharistia) and gifts (charismata).
It’s a word that, as I see it, sums up a theological vision for the church, in which all of God’s gifts are treasured and celebrated, whether they are eucharistic (the sacraments, liturgy) or charismatic (prophecy, healing); it invites the church to bring out of our storehouse both old and new treasures, so that God’s people can enjoy his grace in Spirit and sacrament.
That word is Eucharismatic.
To many of us, especially in the West, this may sound like the worst of both worlds. I sympathize. I think of one person I know who was inoculated against Christianity at age 12, when he heard a man with an oily beard and big priestly hat, surrounded by icons, declaiming in tones of the utmost solemnity, “My heart is full, and my cup overfloweth”—and simply didn’t believe him.
I consider the absurd antics of some of the paper-waving, foundation-faced prosperity preachers who appear on Christian television. I acknowledge that much new church liturgy fails to acknowledge the realities of sin and suffering, and that much old church liturgy fails to acknowledge much else. I remember the excruciating boredom, as a child, of sitting through the same words being repeated in the same way to the same individuals every week, on wooden pews for wooden people; and the equally excruciating embarrassment, as a young teenager, of singing happy-clappy choruses to gradually accelerating Jewish melodies, as middle-aged women twirled their dresses, stamped their feet, and waved their tambourines. If eucharistic churches are dead and charismatic churches are ridiculous, then to be Eucharismatic would be dead and ridiculous, which is the only thing that could be worse.
On the other hand, I remind myself that children and young teenagers can get bored or embarrassed by almost anything—Shakespeare, sex, Mozart, fine wine, The Godfather—and that even the most captivating truths can be presented in either mawkish or soul-destroying ways. I reassure myself that there isn’t a church in the world whose services don’t make some of those in attendance cringe, grumble, or both on a weekly basis. I reflect on the fact that bad ways of doing things don’t mean they shouldn’t be done at all, merely that they shouldn’t be done badly. I cast my mind back through church history and recall myriad ways in which we have turned blessings into curses by making such a mess of them. I study the New Testament church. Faith returns.
Beauty of Eucharismatic Worship
I then think about the contexts in which being Eucharismatic could really help.
There are the obvious straw men. Contemporary churches that have thrown the liturgical baby out with the formalist bathwater and continue to proudly define themselves that way, even though their meetings are equally predictable and the formalist bathwater has long since evaporated. Or their traditionalist counterparts, where nobody is ever surprised, nobody (except the pastor) uses spiritual gifts, and nobody smiles.
Far more common, however, are those churches that, through a combination of history, habit, and the avoidance of extremes, risk being stuck in Bible-church no-man’s-land. Suspicious of anything ancient (because it seems like dead routine) and suspicious of anything fresh (because it seems like a cultural fad), they’ve opted for worship that is somewhere between 20 and 50 years old, safe but anemic, predictable but ethereal. They’re blissfully free of either ritual or emotion, and as a result, they lack body and lack soul.
Some of that may be familiar. Some of it may even seem inevitable. If so, then I invite you to imagine such a church encountering the delights of embodied worship for the first time. Imagine them rediscovering the power of symbols: water, bread, wine, and oil. Picture them forming their liturgy to include biblical elements they have missed, and finding depths to the gospel that they had almost forgotten. Imagine the snowball gaining momentum as they use monks to help them pray and martyrs to help them sing. They start to read books by dead people and find that they are more alive than many of the books by living people. They catechize their families. They rejoice in the sacraments. They do things that do things.
Then imagine them drenched in the Holy Spirit, prone to spontaneous outbursts of praise and the kind of joy that reaches the face. They begin to heal the sick. They read Psalm 150—and actually do it. They cast out demons when needed. They use spiritual gifts in meetings—not just the leaders, but everyone. They shout sometimes and dance sometimes. They laugh like children. They pray as if the Lion of Judah is on the edge of his seat, hackles raised, ready to pounce. They expect God to speak to them at home or in the office. Their meetings look more like African weddings than English funerals.
Now put all of this together. Imagine a service that includes healing testimonies and prayers of confession, psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, baptism in water and baptism in the Spirit, creeds that move the soul and rhythms that move the body. Imagine young men seeing visions, old men dreaming dreams, sons and daughters prophesying, and all of them coming to the same Table and then going on their way rejoicing.
Can you see it?
That’s what it means to be Eucharismatic.
This is an adapted excerpt from Spirit and Sacrament: An Invitation to Eucharismatic Worship (Zondervan, 2019).