“The Evangelical Sacrament”

Levi Nunnink, “Evangelical Catholic. Episcopalian in Ecclesiology, Lutheran in everything else,” has offered great insight about evangelicals in “The Evangelical Sacrament.” He offers as an example the preaching of Paul Washer. It saddens me that a Catholic-Episcopalian-Lutheran would have such better insight than Evangelicals.

Since the post is not much longer than a page, I repost it here in full, with apologies to Mr. Nunnink:

"When Washer is confronted with this girl who is terrified of God’s judgement, he commands her to 'cry out to God until he saves you.' Later the girl (after a lot of crying out) is saved. This is evidenced by her 'glowing'."

“When Washer is confronted with this girl who is terrified of God’s judgement, he commands her to ‘cry out to God until he saves you.’ Later the girl (after a lot of crying out) is saved. This is evidenced by her ‘glowing’.”

In this sermon Paul Washer recounts an interesting story which occurs from 4:00 minutes to about the 7:00 minute mark.

I have some observations:

There is a lot of “crying out” going on. The father, the girl, Paul Washer all cry out at various points. The story does not include a hungry dog but if it did I imagine the dog would be “crying out” for Kibbles ‘n Bits. I’m not trying to be glib but I do feel some of these Southern Baptist preachers are a bit heavy on the theatrics. I’ve seen a number of sermons by Paul Washer and he constantly sounds like he’s about to cry. I wonder if he buys peanut butter in the same tremulous voice?

Second, and this is far less snarky, I’m starting to realize that while Evangelicals have a very low view of baptism and the Eucharist, they do have a unspoken high sacramental theology connected to emotions.

Washer’s sermon is a prime example: when Washer is confronted with this girl who is terrified of God’s judgement, he commands her to “cry out to God until he saves you”. Later the girl (after a lot of crying out) is saved. This is evidenced by her “glowing”. The actual salvation event is described as her gaining a firm impression that she was now saved. She goes from doubting her salvation to certainty.

But how was this certainty communicated to her? I imagine that where once she felt agitation and anxiety, she now felt peace and serenity. Perhaps the doubts that once seemed so real to her now appeared unconvincing. Maybe she felt a deep sense of happiness. Whatever the case, the grace of God had been communicated to her through a radical change in emotional state. When this emotional shift occurred Washer now confidently identifies her as saved. The sacrament was the emotional shift.

This would also explain why Evangelical worship services are such emotional experiences. In Evangelical theology we don’t enter the presence of God when partaking of the Eucharist, we come into God’s presence through the emotional journey of a praise set. I played in a praise band for many years and everyone took this for granted. We were leading people into the presence of God when we turned down the lights turned up the volume. How did the congregants know they had entered the Holy of Holies? They felt it with their emotions. In the rest of the Christian Church the presence of God is communicated in boring bread and wine with eyes open. In the Evangelical church, the sacrament is communicated in an ecstatic shiver down the spine with eyes closed.

"In Evangelical theology we don’t enter the presence of God when partaking of the Eucharist, we come into God’s presence through the emotional journey of a praise set."

“In Evangelical theology we don’t enter the presence of God when partaking of the Eucharist, we come into God’s presence through the emotional journey of a praise set.”

At the time of the reformation the Roman church had identified seven sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist, Penance, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Extreme Unction. The reformers then stripped the sacraments down to two: Baptism, and Eucharist. To a casual observer it would appear that Evangelical church had finished the job and killed off all sacraments by defanging Baptism, and the Eucharist to be mere symbols, incapable of communicating grace, but this casual observer would be wrong. The Evangelical church has one high sacrament: emotion.

Getting back to Paul Washer’s sermon, I wonder what would have happened if the girl had never overcome her doubt? What if she woke up the next morning just as agitated as the night before? Would she not have been saved? Maybe it’s examples like these that can make us thankful that God bound his grace to common, boring things like words, water, bread and wine and not the fickle quivering in the pit of our gut.

Those interested in a more detailed and informed critique of Paul Washer’s theology should listen to Jordon Cooper’s excellent podcast.

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