How much of the modern charismatic movement’s stress on the "tangible presence" of God in the form of signs, wonders and individual manifestations is the result of a non-sacramental theology?
I really enjoyed the conversation we had together and I was moved by the conversation and found myself reflecting since then on a couple of elements. One of them was the question with which I opened this post and to which I’ll return shortly. Before I do, the conversation caused me to think about my lack of desire for intimacy with God. When he explained what he meant by "tangible presence" I thought to myself: "I have no desire for that". I don't even think about that. This however was not always the case. When I was in my late teens and early twenties I remember this was a essential pursuit in my spiritual life. I desired and tried to maintain intimate contact with God. However, in my late thirties this pursuit is foreign to me. I don’t seek intimacy with God and I don’t feel compelled to. It’s not that I don’t want relationship with God certainly or that I don’t have what I think is a good relationship (although of course it can always be improving); it’s more that intimacy is not a central element of the relationship nor is it a central desire. Is this possible? Is it possible to have a very deep and sturdy relationship without a lot of intimacy? It must be. Generally speaking I’m not a very “touchy-feely” kind of person. I express my commitment in relationship, say in my marriage, through faithfulness and service not by gushing with emotion—I’m sort of an emotional rock. (I'm sure there is a psychological reason that years of counseling could surface). This is who I've become. So is it so surprising that that is how my relationship with God is characterized. But is this OK? Is it best? Or do I need to repent and pursue such? I'm not really angling for a reponse these are just my musings. Contact with God is essential, I'm convinced, but what that looks like is diverse as my opening question I think reveals.
Back to the question: how much of the modern charismatic movement’s stress on the tangible presence of God in the form of signs, wonders and individual manifestations is the result of a non-sacramental theology? When I was talking with my friend I thought about the manner of contact that he was describing and that of the great traditions of the church like the Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican traditions that are highly sacramental. The tangible presence of God exists in the sacraments and the liturgy of the church -- not in individualistic forms as with the Charismatic movement, but in the communal experiences of liturgy and sacrament. What strikes me is that though so different, the sacramental theology and the theology of signs and wonders (or however one labels it) are after the same thing: God’s tangible presence.
Two sources I’ve been reading recently bring this home. One is the recent and excellent book Worshiping With the Church Fathers (IVP, 2009) by Christopher Hall. The purpose of the book is to introduce an evangelical audience to the worship life of the Church Fathers. It deals with the Sacraments, Prayer and spiritual disciplines. I think this is an important book. Hall states,
The church fathers view life sacramentally, while many evangelicals have found and worshiped Christ in a nonsacramental tradition. Hence, the idea that God uses tangible, earthly means such as wine, bread and water to communicate blessing and nourish fellowship will strike some readers as farfetched, implausible, superstitious and a misreading of Scripture that has warped the church’s tradition (13).
But the apostolic Word abides in power through the priestly ministry established by the apostles. The priestly ministry . . . is central to Benedict’s understanding of the Church and its role in salvation history . . .Through the priestly ministry, the revealed Word becomes sacrament, bringing forth the kingdom proclaimed by Christ and bringing the world into communion with the divine (50).