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Toward Becoming a Sacramental Charismatic Church pt. 1
Is the Holy Spirit drawing you to dive deeper into the sacramental tapestry? Does the Eucharist seemingly have a more central place in your worship? Might the Holy Spirit be at work beyond tongues?
Many Vineyard churches have been expanding their theological influences beyond the “radical middle” between Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism. In order to include the influences found in the sacramental / liturgical streams, Vineyard pastors and leaders have increasingly begun to ask the following questions:
Should we celebrate the Eucharist on a more regular basis?
How might the Holy Spirit be at work in and through sacramental and liturgical practices such as the Eucharist, litanies, and other spiritually formative rhythms?
What is the most effective way to embrace the “sacramental charismatic” approach to the local church?
I’ve had conversations with dozens upon dozens of pastors over the years who have been exploring those very questions and I wanted to take the time to provide some thoughts and resources toward that end.
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What is a “Sacramental Charismatic”?
A “sacramental charismatic” is a someone who believes that in addition to spiritual gifts such as “tongues” (unknown languages), prophecy, healing, and other supernatural miraculous activity, the Holy Spirit is powerfully and transformatively at work through the Eucharist, prayer litanies, spiritual direction, the contemplative life, and much more. In other words, “sacramental charismatic” churches embrace the following:
Evangelical theology & praxis.1
Charismatic theology & praxis.
Sacramental theology & praxis.
Contemplative theology & praxis.2
Missional theology and praxis.
None other than Richard Foster describes this unique (and biblical!) approach by stating the following:
“… today our sovereign God is drawing many streams together that heretofore have been separated from one another. It is a little like the Mississippi River, which gains strength and volume as the Ohio and the Missouri and many other rivers flow into it. So in our day God is bringing together a mighty “Mississippi of the Spirit.”… In reality these different Traditions describe various dimensions of the spiritual life. We find their emphasis throughout the teaching of Scripture… no one models these dimensions of the spiritual life more fully than Jesus Christ. If we want to see this river of life in its most complete form, it is to Jesus that we must turn.” (Richard J. Foster, Streams of Living Water)
Many are under the assumption that they have to choose between one theological tradition over the other… or at least thread the needle between two, which has historically been the way that the Vineyard has approached things. I use the Vineyard as an example largely due to the fact that I am a Vineyard pastor and to demonstrate how this happens in the life of many of the churches that I have helped over the years. Keeping things in tension is what we say we’re trying to do, though this is more challenging than we often realize, as noted by Bill Jackson in The Quest for the Radical Middle: A History of the Vineyard. Bill wrote of the Vineyard:
“The Vineyard, as is historically the case, is in a tremendous struggle to find the point of balance as the evangelical and Pentecostal sides in the Vineyard endeavor to critique one another.”
Might there be a better solution to this historical tension between the “evangelical” and the “Pentecostal” sides than critiquing each other? Perhaps we should abandon our commitment to just one approach. Perhaps the idea of maintaining the tension between two traditions is also short sighted. As Smith asks:
“But do we need to choose? Or can we be pentecostal, evangelical, and sacramental? Indeed, I wonder if we need to be, if in fact we want to appropriate as fully as possible the grace of the ascended Christ.” (Gordon T. Smith, Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three)
A “sacramental charismatic” embraces the full and robust life of the Spirit in order to “thicken” our theology and praxis. We want all that the Spirit has and we seek to embrace all of the ways in which the Spirit works in the life of the Church. In my opinion, this approach has a far more biblical and robust pneumatology as well (aka, a theology of the Holy Spirit).
Practical Steps to Becoming a Sacramental Charismatic.
Below is a random stream of thinking on what you should and shouldn’t do in order to transition your church.
First, pastors and church leaders must take the time to cast vision. For example, it would be extremely foolish to go from celebrating the Eucharist on a monthly or quarterly basis to celebrating it weekly without a lot of discussion and vision casting. Leaders need to explain why a church is moving in this direction and build a biblical-theological case for it. The goal, I think, is to have the majority of a community embrace this approach because it is more faithful to Scripture and the weight of church history. This means that church leaders need to have spent a lot of time prayerfully studying the Bible, having discussions, and strategically planning the best way to disciple people through it.
Pastors would be wise to recognize how change is hard for everyone and in the midst of change, people’s fears and anxieties tend to come to the surface. Leaders will serve their communities well by giving them ample opportunity to process this together. That is, after all, how discernment should happen. Here are a couple of ways that you can “cast vision” toward this over the process of a few months:
Meet with all of your key leaders and teach them the biblical-theological, missional, and pastoral reasons why this change is more faithful to the Kingdom. Have lots of discussions that are open, transparent, and involve opportunities for people to ask questions.
Preach sermon series teaching on this. After all, this “sacramental charismatic” approach is an outworking of the centrality of the Lord’s Supper in Scripture, a more robust and holistic understanding of the Holy Spirit’s presence and activity, and a stronger commitment to the process of discipleship and formation.
Host small groups, special meetings, and utilize social media if your church has it in order to teach, explain, cast vision, etc. Do not underestimate the value of doing this a lot!
Have guest speakers that show up with the “100 mile anointing” to help solidify that you are not alone in this commitment. Oh, are you unfamiliar with the “100 mile anointing”? It’s the simple fact that when someone travels from over a hundred miles and speaks to your church, people are often more receptive to what they say and seem to listen to them, despite how often you have said the very same thing. Don’t get offended by it… just accepted it and take advantage of it 😂
Second, when it comes to embracing the Eucharist as a weekly rhythm, understand some of the reasons why this fits really well within the church’s framework:
If a church is committed to “everyone gets to play” because they believe that every follower of Jesus has the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist is a wonderful space to give people an opportunity to serve! If we want to encourage people to “take a risk” and develop their gifting, one space for public speakers to be developed is in leading Communion. We view leading Communion as one of the spaces to develop preachers and identify people who have gifting in this area.
Here’s the Communion Template that we give to people when they are leading Communion in order to provide some guidance. You can also download one that Wesley McLachlan developed for his local church (it’s much prettier and has graphics because… well… he’s a Millennial).
Both of these templates / guides refer to a short booklet that I wrote for Vineyard USA (download it here). In Come to the Table, I provided seven various themes that you can highlight over the course of 7 weeks that relate to Communion.
Receiving Communion every week gives us an opportunity to clarify the gospel message, pointing people to the death of Jesus and what he accomplished on the Cross. Every. Single. Week.
Celebrating the Eucharist also provides a space for the Holy Spirit to work in supernatural ways. While receiving Communion, I’ve heard how people have been convicted of and freed from long standing sins, spiritual strongholds, and demonic oppression. Others have had their faith renewed and a sense of God’s love experientially communicated to them. Others have come to see Jesus for fully and clearly. This is a unique and transformative space for the Holy Spirit’s work!
Did I mention that this weekly celebrating is biblical? Yes, I said it. The vast majority of church history indicates that Christians have understood that the Bible indicates that the Church celebrate Communion weekly. In fact, Paul told the Corinthians concerning the value of Communion, “For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself” (1 Cor. 11:23). In other words, Paul’s understanding of the Eucharist and why it was so important as an act of worship was taught to him by Jesus. Jesus clearly values it. More can be written on this later.
Alright… I think that’s all for now. What questions do you have? What challenges do you see, have you experienced, or are most worried about?
Need help thinking through this? Wes and I are both available to provide coaching, brain storming, or whatever you need! Hope this helps!
About the Author
Luke Geraty is a pastor-theologian in northern California. With a few theology degrees and nearly twenty years of pastoral leadership, Luke loves the Bible, theology, fly fishing, coffee, and books. All opinions are his own and not the views of any other organizations he’s affiliated with. You can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and subscribe to his YouTube.
Cf. David Bebbington’s The Evangelical Quadrilateral to understand the technical use of this term in contrast to how mainstream media defines an “evangelical.” Bebbington famously noted that “evangelicals” historically had a committed to the authority of Scripture, the atoning work of Christ, the necessity of converting to Christ for salvation, and active engagement in putting one’s faith into practice.
There’s definitely an overlap between the sacramental, liturgical, and contemplative streams because they are often rooted in a similar theological conviction. But there are also some very unique ideas and convictions within the contemplative tradition that I find important to identify.