Worship: Beyond Euphoria And The Charismata

In a recent essay Andrew Wilson writes:

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.

He has identified two great problems that seem to be particularly acute in the modern era. Those emerging from fundamentalism are often looking for a richer, more historic approach to worship. They are also looking for an expression of the joy of the Christian faith. Likewise, those who have grown up in “contemporary” worship services singing what Wilson aptly calls “happy-clappy” songs, i.e., songs that lack a sense of reverence and theological depth, sometimes go looking for those things.

To both groups Wilson offers an alternative which he calls “Eucharismatic” worship. It seeks to blend aspects of Pentecostal or Charismatic theology and practice with Reformed theology. This author has long argued (see below) that this marriage is not only doomed to unhappiness and that it is quite unnecessary.

First, the Reformed churches already have an approach to worship and it is neither fundamentalist or charismatic. Indeed, the charismatics (or Pentecostals) of the 16th and 17th centuries were well-known to the Reformed churches. The Reformed derived their piety (their approach to God) and their practice (e.g., their approach to worship) chiefly from God’s Word (sola Scriptura) and their reliance upon God’s Word made them reject the charismatic/Pentecostal theology of the day. They rejected the claims made by those they called “enthusiasts” to continuing revelation, to being slain in the Spirit, and to performing apostolic miracles. They tested those claims against Scripture and found them wanting.

There is simply no way to reconcile the Reformed conviction that the Word of God is the sufficient, divinely-inspired, inerrant rule for Christian faith and the Christian life with any claims to continuing revelation. However those claims are construed or modified (e.g., the claim of non-canonical, errant, Spirit-inspired prophecy since the late 80s) they all undermine the sufficiency (i.e., the “enough-ness”) of God’s Word. They all seek to supplement God’s Word with some extra-biblical word from the Lord.

The Apostolic church did have direct revelation from the Lord. They did perform signs and wonders. The apostles are all gone to be with the Lord. There are no more apostles and there are no more apostolic gifts, signs, and wonders. Some who claim them are sincere and confused. They have re-defined or misunderstood the apostolic signs so as to be able to equate them with post-apostolic phenomena. What people call tongues today is not what happened in the time of the Apostles. Today’s charismatics and Pentecostals travel by auto and aircraft. In the Apostolic period at least some of them were transported by the Spirit.

Please do not misunderstand. The Lord is as powerful today as he has always been. The question is not what could the Lord do but rather the questions are what <em<is he doing now and what has he promised in his Word? The evidence does not support the claim that today’s charismatics and Pentecostals have the apostolic power.

A key part of Wilson’s argument is quite important. He offers Charismatic and Pentecostal worship as source of joy. Is it that or is it euphoria. In both Fundamentalist circles and in Pentecostal/charismatic circles, euphoria is an essential part of worship. This is increasingly true in more broadly evangelical circles as well. The job of the “worship team” (not an office listed in Ephesians 4 or in the Pastoral Epistles) is to facilitate a certain intensity of religious experience.

In place of the Pentecostal/charismatic/evangelical quest for that exquisite religious euphoria, the Reformed offer an alternative piety and practice oriented around the Word of God read, preached, and made visible in the sacraments (sometimes called a “Word and sacrament piety”) and prayers said and sung (e.g., in the Psalms). God does produce joy through his ordained means but we must let joy be what it is. We must not try to shoehorn it into the modern desire for euphoria. They are not the same thing.

Abounding Grace Radio exists to make known the riches of Christ’s grace and to call sinners everywhere to acknowledge the greatness of their sin and misery and to turn to Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone for salvation (righteousness before God, sanctification, and glorification). We also hope that those who have turned to Christ for salvation will join with his people, confess the faith with the church, and begin a lifelong journey with them toward the heavenly city. That pilgrimage is not a series of shots of emotional caffeine but more like a regular diet of solid food and good fellowship.

God’s Word says almost nothing about experiencing euphoria in worship. It does speak explicitly however about God’s holiness and the reverence that should characterize New Testament worship:

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:28–29).

When we gather before the face of our holy God, we do so with joy knowing that we are hearing God’s very Word, not in “glossolalia” nor in new “prophecies” but in the Scriptures read and preached by those ordained by God, in the church, to do that very thing. We see the gospel made visible in holy baptism and in holy communion and (when we are on our game), we respond with God’s holy Word in song.

The charismata were wonderful gifts for the apostolic age. Joy is a great gift. Let us appreciate them both and seek the latter as an abiding fruit of the Spirit but let us do so as God has ordained to the glory of his name and the edification of the church.

R. Scott Clark, Escondido


Reformed and Pentecostal?

Why This Reformed Christian Will Not Be Charismatic in 2018

What the Spirit is Doing or What We Are Saying?

Resources on Continuing Revelation

Once More: Reformed and Charismatic?


  1. “In the Apostolic period at least some of them were transported by the Spirit” – No, only one at most, and even that one is said in C. Alexandrinus and some other manuscripts to have been transported by an angel, whilst the Holy Spirit’s direct role was to come upon the eunuch (I heard G.D.Kilpatrick say in 1969 that the extra material was a contiguous sequence of about the right length to have constituted a line omitted in copying).

    • Anthony,

      Well, the Apostle Paul was taken up to the “third heaven.” I don’t suppose he got there by aircraft. I infer from the text, from the way Luke writes, that Philip was not the only way so transported. Luke gives the impression that this sort of thing happened before. It’s just an inference. I’m struck by the fact that Luke is rather nonchalant about it. As to the text critical question, the involvement of angels doesn’t make Philip’s mode of transport less supernatural, which is my major point. It only changes the agency but it’s just the sort of change that a well-meaning copyist would make to try to resolve a problem in his mind.

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