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.

Resources

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?

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

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7 comments

  1. Thank you. You are appreciated. I’m working through worship issues. I understand what worship is “not.” I’ve emerged from the aforementioned fundamentalism and seek a richer, more historic approach to worship. The days of being entertained are behind me (and my family). Soon, the opportunity for a more Scriptural worship practice will be available.

    At the moment, I’m working through what public worship “is” (experientially). Is sorrow for sin (2 Cor 7:10) that may include weeping and contrition before God strictly a dopamine experience? Or, is the godly sorrow produced by the presence of God? Or? What is the valid biblical worship experience like?

    I do devotionals with my 2 sons (16/17) each morning (sometimes with the WSC) and they are beginning to awaken. What worship IS and IS NOT is a subject area we have been touching on recently.

    Thanks for your time.

    • I think your comment points to the serious flaw of pietism, which is interpreting our emotions and thoughts as direct experiences with God, as though God communicates with us directly without the mediation of the Word and sacraments. That undermines the means of grace that God has truly given us as the means of knowing Him, and shifts it to our own fallible emotional experience instead of the means of grace ordained by God in His infallible Word. This seems to be the reason why pietists put so much emphasis on their emotional experience as proof of their individual encounter with the presence of God, and the danger is that they trust in it rather than the means of grace actually ordained by God.

    • Michael,

      Worship should encompass or reflect, in different ways, a range of human experiences. The Psalms themselves do this. So, in the confession of sin there is certainly a place for genuine sorrow for sin and for offending God. We’re not under the types and shadows and we have little indication that the tearing of garments etc was a feature of NT worship but what they represent, is appropriate.

      If we followed something like the Genevan liturgy, if we praised God with his own Word and if we read the law and confessed our sins, pronounced forgiveness and responded with thanks and praise (using God’s Word), if we read the Word, and responded with is Word, if we preached his Word and responded with his Word, if we prayed biblically, if we observed the sacraments as instituted (not saying that we don’t), then we would cover the range of human experience. A good liturgy, the use of God’s Word, would alleviate this problem.

    • Ms. Werner…thank you for responding. I understand your response. Setting aside the ideas of public worship, (1) how would you describe the pattern and practice of your family worship? (2) Would you share any recommended resources that have examples of the patterns and practices for family worship?

      Thank you

  2. Thank you, Michael, for your response. I actually think that the liturgical pattern we use in the Reformed churches is also a very good approach for family worship, and when it is explained to children why we use that form of worship, and they understand why we approach God in this way, because it is commanded by God, because that is how God’s Word tells us how we should worship God, it also makes the public worship service more familiar and meaningful for them.

    I like to start with prayer, praising God for his goodness in giving us what we need materially and spiritually, especially for sending His Son, and then encouraging everyone present to add their own words of praise, thanksgiving, and petitions for God’s help, for ourselves and our neighbors. Next I like to read the ten commandments and encourage everyone to privately examine their heart and encourage them to ask for God’s forgiveness and follow this with a passage about God’s forgiveness for the sake of Christ, such as Romans 8:1, then sing a psalm from the Psalter\Hymnal, praising God for His mercy and love in giving us His Son. That would be followed by reading a question and answer from the Heidelberg Catechism or a section from the Belgic Confession and reading and discussing the proof texts. I would follow this with an informal benediction, and asking for God’s continued care for us and our neighbors.

    I think Dr. Clark gives you excellent advice about the place of emotions and contrition, as sincere expressions of repentance, as long as we don’t foster the idea that our emotions or thoughts are some sort of special grace from God. I had a personal struggle with this when I first came to Christ in my early 20s. The realization of how I had offended God by denying Him and disobeying Him, and most of all by not even acknowledging God’s gift of His Son, often brought me to tears. I am ashamed to admit that there was a kind of pride and satisfaction in it, where I thought it was a special favor from God and that God was pleased with me for it. Then it became plain to me, while listening to an excellent sermon, that this was actually a sin of pride, that it is only through faith in Christ’s passive and active righteousness that I was acceptable before God. Our justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone. If we look to anything in ourselves, we deny the Sola’s.

  3. Thank you so much for the information. That’s exactly what I was wanting: a format to switch to with my boys (and mama) in the mornings in anticipation of connecting with a Reformed church (mission work) located where we’re moving to in the USA.

    In the last few months of 2017, I dropped the dispensational Baptist worldview and adopted the covenantal amillennial paradigm (after 40+ years). Through Dr. C’s content, piety changes included moving from the ought-nots of “I don’t dance, don’t drink and don’t date women who do” to the behavior patterns of Scripture – the Moral Law. The nature of legalism became clear. His content about the law made a HUGE difference in my biblical interpretive grid…along with content from Drs. Riddlebarger, Ligon Duncan, and Sproul. Don’t mention this to Dr. C but I may very well buy a big cowbell for my study office after we get moved.

    To what extent does God intervene/interact in our daily affairs and Christian-related activities? This goes to the heart of the Christian experience. In the normative routine of the Christian experience, I know He doesn’t communicate with me in a “still small voice,” give me an impression or thought about which socks to put on, or what time I should leave for an appointment. He does speak to me through His Word – He illuminates my understanding. However, would God only speak to me on Sundays through the administration of the Word and Sacraments? Here, there is no sound church anywhere near us for public worship.

    When I lead my family in worship with the Word, is that an administration of the means of grace? If not, what is it? I’m involved in online parachurch activities, helping folks extricate themselves from the pollution of the NAR. It seems to be helping. Internally, there is a drive to be involved. When we finally connect with a church I intend to continue with this…probably. However, how does that activity relate to the Sunday worship activities involving the administration of the Word and Sacraments? Sorry for rambling…working through issues. (I was the person in school who constantly raised the hand with a question.)

    • Thank you for the delightful letter! The way I understand it, the Word and sacraments are the means of grace that God has given to His Church. The preaching of the Word, in the church, is very important and it is to be preached by those that are specially sent by God and those who are sent to preach are also to administer the sacraments, so it is only in the true church that we can receive the means of grace as God has ordained. See Belgic Confession 28-37.

      Daily home devotional time is not church, so it is a supplement, not church, which is public worship and participation in the means of grace as it is administered through the means God has formally ordained and commanded. However, God’s words are the source of eternal life for us and for our children so there is nothing more important for us than daily worship, prayer, and the study of God’s word. That is why I think daily study of the confessions, which are a faithful summary of important doctrines in Scripture, is so important as a daily family routine. “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking to them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way and when you lie down, and when you rise….” Deut. 11:18-23. “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding yes, if you call out for us insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and seek for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. Prov. 2:1-5

      I am happy for you and your family, that you will be connecting with a Reformed church. I will be thinking about you and praying for you that God will richly bless you in this move motivated by your desire to obey God through joining with a faithful Reformed church.

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