Sacraments as a Charismatic Experience
Through the course of my life, I have become totally convinced that the Holy Spirit is alive and well, moving about where He will, and doing what He wants. Healings, tongues, prophecies, spiritual warfare, etc., etc., etc.. I think they all live. The problem is, of course, that sometimes people get addicted to the manifestations of the Spirit because of its incredibility; and forget all about falling in love with the Person.
One of my problems with the modern evangelical church is it’s loathe of the sacraments. We deny all but two, and then tame those two until they are not sacred, nor mysterious. We in the evangelical church prefer things to be simple and easy to understand. I can’t tell you how many explanations that I had from well-meaning pastors and teachers who began their descriptions of very holy things with: “It’s nothing more than….”
Prayer is nothing more than talking to God. A sermon is nothing more than talking to people. Baptism is nothing more than a public declaration of your faith. Communion is nothing more than remembering Christ’s sacrifice. A church is nothing more than Christians gathering. Christianity is nothing more than a relationship with Jesus. I think you get my point.
We have haunted ourselves with incredible reductions in our faith, stressing what may be primarily important, but is not totally important. As the body of Christ; we have, in the interest of drawing attention to the head, hacked off the arms and legs. We claim that the arms and legs should not be confused with the head (which is true), but make our mistake and say that the arms and the legs are old popish inventions that ought to be thrown out.
The older I get, the more I realize the folly of our reactions. We are guilty of unnecessary reduction for more than just the sacraments. We threw out the hymns so that people would know that they aren’t the most important thing. We generally did away with liturgy in order to show that the Spirit is free to move in our services. Some have even insisted that the Old Testament be thrown out so that we can focus on God’s grace and mercy.
The truth is, prayer actually is more than talking to God. A sermon is more than talking to people. Baptism is more than a public declaration of our faith. Communion is more than remembering Christ’s sacrifice.
At the very least, these things are also sacred. They are a move of intimacy, discovery, and passion between us and God. Each of those practices is more than the simple description. They are at least an invitation as well. Please, for God’s sake, can’t we abandon the “nothing more” descriptions of what our most sacred practices are; substituting instead “it’s at least,” so that we might be able to teach the deepness and richness of our faith tradition?
Charismatics Should Know Better
Charismatics should know better. Everyone should know better, really, but charismatics especially. We know that the Holy Spirit moves in mysterious ways, and that supernatural manifestations are all part of His power and person. But, we Charismatics (I’m calling myself a Charismatic now, among other things) still shy away from affirming the supernatural nature of the sacraments. This is insanity.
We are more prone to grant legitimacy to a claim of Divine healing, or a prophecy, than we grant legitimacy to the presence of Christ’s body and blood in our communion practice. When someone stands up and babbles incoherently, we give more credence to that as a supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit than we do to what is happening during a baptism. We fall victim to the “nothing more” explanations of the most sacred of our practices.
What? And more importantly: What are we accomplishing by doing this?
Sacrament Is Not Euphemism
Why do we not take seriously the words of Jesus Christ, Son of the Most High: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day”(John 6:54).
We mistakenly claim that Christ’s words here are euphemistic. Same as when He claimed that Lazarus was “asleep.” We say that Jesus said “asleep” but meant “dead.” He said one thing but meant another; to be nice, I suppose. He didn’t want to upset His disciples.
But Jesus wasn’t saying one thing, and meaning another; He was saying one thing which equated to another. He claimed Lazarus was asleep. He also claimed that Lazarus was dead. He wasn’t being cute, and He wasn’t lying. Both were true. To prove that Jesus had the ability to wake the dead, or raise the sleeping, He commanded Lazarus to life. Then Lazarus was both awake, and alive. Both true.
The use of euphemism surely does happen in Scripture. When Ruth lays next to Boaz’s “feet,” the reader may properly assume the text is not talking about Boaz’s feet. Sorry if that makes you squirm. Boaz and Ruth were honorable before God.
But Jesus makes two claims that would be unwise to mistake for euphemism. The first I have already mentioned. Jesus Christ takes great pains to instruct His disciples to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Many disciples leave Him, but He does not stop them and say, “Hey, relax people. I was speaking euphemistically. Don’t worry about it. I meant something else entirely… ha ha ha… and nobody will figure it out till the Protestants in the mid 1500’s finally put it together.”
The second example is of new birth, which Jesus discusses with Nicodemus in John chapter 3. When Jesus says that a man must be born again, Nicodemus nearly chokes on his chin. How can a man be born again? How can these things be? Jesus answers:
“Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. I fI have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”
Jesus therefore insists that a man actually does have to be born by water, and of Spirit. One does not substitute the other. They both must be true.
Opening Our Definition of Sacrament
We ought to then change our definition of sacrament, from “Sacrament is nothing more than an earthly sign of a heavenly truth” to “Sacrament is at least an earthly sign of a heavenly truth.”
Otherwise, what we do is make Christ’s words euphemism, rather than profound supernatural truth.
If we can believe that so-and-so from our congregation was healed miraculously from cancer, or that so-and-so is possessed by the Spirit when they make a prophecy to us, or that our prayer language is Spirit mutterings; why do we insist that our sacraments are “nothing more?”