At the new beginning

Posted: August 17, 2010 by natewhiteside in Nate Whiteside

Have you recently questioned the way we do church? You’ve probably heard “Here at _________ church, we’re a place for people who love God but hate church,” or something like that (probably more tame). You’ve probably heard of a small group of Christians who have stopped going to church, but love God passionately and are chasing their tails to try and find “true religion.” Here is a testimony of how I arrived at a potentially explosive conclusion regarding this subject (and I’m not the only one). This dialogue we’re having is something God is doing all over the nation and the world. The bus we’re riding on called “church” has developed some problems. It’s not taking us to church as the early church experienced it. I’m writing as one of the bus drivers, saying we need to get off. Off the bus, but not off church.

Story: For 10 years I have served as a pastor to adults, 5 years as youth pastor before that. I attended an internationally recognized school for missions and graduated with that degree. I attended an internationally recognized seminary for teaching the Bible accurately and graduated with that degree. Over the years, it seems that while we have been trying to do everything with excellence for God’s glory and reach our world for Christ, our best efforts aren’t having effect. We spent money and years training in homiletics for preaching, systematic theology, Hebrew, Greek, and other languages, and somehow the church is a square peg in a round hole. Along with many other people, I have had trouble balancing the words of Jesus with the capitalist, consumer-oriented ways of doing church. I learned how to captivate and draw crowds, have people pray prayers, count their decision cards after they left, and celebrate our spiritual victory. Then we never heard from those people again. I’ve experienced what many pastors have, in that ugly, scary, revolving back door at times. How do you market, compel, appease, and “sell” people not to use the back door?

It finally came to a head when I had a time of spiritual refreshment and prayer in July this year, and couldn’t sleep one night. If you can’t sleep, don’t count sheep, talk to the Shepherd (thanks Harv). So I talked to the Shepherd. That was at 11pm. At 3:30am my wife woke up (we have an infant who woke up first) and told me what time it was. I still wasn’t tired, prayed a little more and then prayed to fall asleep. God spoke to me about answers to questions our church (and especially me) has been asking for the last couple years. Mainly, “why do we do what we do?” and “Why do we emphasize the perfect worship service so much?” Why do we have fast songs first in our worship services, then slow contemplative songs, then announcements, then prayer, then offering, then a sermon, then a song, possible altar call, then dismiss? That’s church. When we say “Did you go to church?” or “Where do you go to church?” everyone knows we mean, “Did you go to a worship service?” or “Where do you attend worship services?” The word church, used by Jesus to mean “assembly” (used in Matthew 16 of Jesus’ assembly, and later in Acts of an angry mob), is a group of people He said He would build, and the gates of Hell would not stand against. He didn’t talk a lot about worship services, as much as relationships and changing the world.

Point: Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount describes the character of a person who is a citizen of His Kingdom. It doesn’t say anything about worship services. Go outside the Sermon on the Mount and what do you find? He was asked how people should treat one another, what the Kingdom of Heaven was like, and what the greatest commandments were like. He was presented with sick, lame, deaf, blind, leprous persons, and never emphasized worship services as priority. When we meet someone from a new church, or a new pastor, we always ask, “Where do you attend church?” and the second question is always either “how big is it?” or “is it growing,” or “how many people attend there?” Didn’t Jesus preach until He lost disciples in John 6? (Oh, Nate, you’re just a holy huddle guy whose upset because he doesn’t have the numbers–actually our average attendance is rising and has been rising since I came 3 years ago by God’s grace. So I write this having seen “success” but not satisfaction). Where is the success in filling a building so full of people that you have to build another one, just to talk about numbers? What if you lose accountability and as a pastor give account one day for the “very souls” of your people (Hebrews 13), and don’t have an answer as God Almighty looks you in the eye? Will Jesus ask how many were in your worship services?

Remember how the Gospel of John ends? Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” three times. Peter replies, “Yes,” and Jesus says, “have a better worship service.” Right. Read it (John 21).

Today, we worship the worship service. I haven’t seen a church that is exempt from this. I have been guilty of it, and if you’re a Christian reading this, you probably have too. When the worship service is just right, you walk away saying, “that was a good worship service,” and what you mean is “It made me feel good,” or “the music was good,” or “the speaker was good.” Define good.

Jesus didn’t teach that church life revolves around worship, especially the entertainment driven, consumer oriented version we stress today. With critical eyes I have participated in evaluations of worship services more than I care to admit, all to be a better church. I have failed to excel, and succeeded in excelling, and failed, and succeeded. I have a background in music, experience in small acting/theater, have been in public speaking since I was a teenager, and thought I was helping the church by making it more excellent. Currently I lead worship and preach every Sunday morning, and that has taken up much of my time every week as a Senior Pastor. We have used the standards of Western civilization and coporation models to gauge the health of the local church. Leadership books in corporate America (even the ones influenced by Christians) have come to influence the churches more than the church influences corporate leadership. Even within the last few years, with great excitement, the good people of our church where I serve as Senior Pastor have labored with me to enhance the quality of everything we do, with some success. Yet, at every turn when we try to improve, why doesn’t it satisfy?

Here’s the scary part. The bus we’re riding called church left the station, aimed at very good objectives for God’s Kingdom, developed purpose-seeker-radio-tv-podcast-powerpoint-rockstar church, reached people successfuly for Christ, and a generation later the process and method are as valued as the Word of God. That’s why we’re screaming all of a sudden “Stop the bus! Let us off! I don’t like where you’re taking me!” Phrases like “You can’t tell people about sanctification in our church,” are spoken by pastors to their congregations, “because it will offend an unbeliever.” (I wish I made that one up, but that is a quote). Some churches (again, I have specifics in mind) prohibit reading Bibles or using Bibles to varying degrees. I’m talking about evangelical churches, all conservative.

This peaked for me a year ago when I visited a church I’ll leave unnamed, in Michigan, and I brought my staff to learn from them about how to improve our Christ-likeness; no, I wish. I brought my staff to improve our worship service. Why? Because we believed that if we did that we’d attract more people, they’d get saved, they’d grow spiritually, keep the ministries going, tithe, increase chances for captial campaigns, etc. The service had excellent music, but I wasn’t able to worship because I didn’t know the songs (I think others did worship). However, the teaching time was about sex. It was definitely rated R, as the pastor and his wife sat up front and talked about (this is for adults) types of sex, even most popular ways to have sex, and when Scripture was quoted, it was used out of context and cropped for sexual jokes that I won’t repeat. I was so embarrassed and apologized to our staff, who were also embarrassed. Sadly, many people who were at that service enjoyed it and laughed (especially a group of elderly across the aisle), and left saying that they had church.

Our Journey from the bus stop, stepping off into the unknown: How do we reclaim our ancient roots of this faith that Jesus handed to the Apostles, who handed it to the early church? What did worship services look like in the early church?

First, they were a launching pad, not a landing pad as they are today. Keeping it simple, doing fewer things well, and focusing on what happens immediately afterwards. According to Pliny the Younger, who persecuted our ancient brothers and sisters, the believers would gather at sunrise, sing songs responsively to Christ as their God, pledge themselves by an oath (sacramentum) not to do any evil work, to commit no theft, robbery, nor adultery, not to break their word, nor sacrifice property entrusted to them (meaning not sacrifice it to the false Roman gods). Afterwards, (at evening) they assembled again, to eat ordinary and innocent food (the agape). Justin Martyr recorded in his First Apology, chapter sixty-seven, “And on the day called Sunday,all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability,and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given,and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration. (Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (1997). The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol.I : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. The apostolic fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. (186). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems).

We’re starting here, before the eastern faith of our ancestors was westernized. We’re reclaiming our worship gatherings as a launching pad, instead of a landing pad and the extent of our church life. We’re thanking those who developed this model for its effectiveness in the 20th Century and before, and recognizing that the 21st Century doesn’t run on the same fuel, use the same bus routes, or some of the drivers weren’t trained properly on the route. Do you know what? Each individual I’ve explained this to is so excited about it. God is doing something. Please pray and consider what I’ve written, and keep an open mind, asking God what we can do to focus on being transformed into the image of His Son, being true worshippers, in the ways of our God Jesus Christ.

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I want to write a bit here about Communion. When you deconstruct everything and look at it from a new perspective, everything must be prayerfully considered that you put back into place. We have been working on several other elements of the service and giving the folks a chance to acclimatize to the changes week by week. These are big changes, not just in the structure of services but in our Christian worldview as well. It is a lot to digest.

So this last week we began a new Communion service.

We dimmed the lights as everyone sat on beanbags and slowly began to raise the volume of the soundtrack to the evening, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2. We called it the U2charist, you know, we’ve just dressed up the Lord’s Table with a little funky flair, just to keep things relevant…

Sorry, I couldn’t help it. We didn’t do that, put down the pitchforks and torches.

Though I must admit that I had never had all that much use for Communion myself.

Most of those in my circles never had a Communion service either. It was considered to be “religion”. And religion is bad because Pharisees were religious and so if you were religious then you were a Pharisee and not really saved. So, I never had all that much use for Communion because I wanted to be saved and not a religious Pharisee. Get it?

It was just a tradition and as we all knew, Jesus told the Pharisees that “by your tradition you make the Word of God of no effect”.

And so I inhabited a world with no traditions, no ties to the past, no observances and the religion of no religion. I knew more than everyone else and I felt superior that I was so spiritual that I didn’t actually need to be obedient to the commands because in some magical mystery tour way, I appropriated by faith the truth and didn’t need the outward forms.

I mean, I got it and all. I understood the body and the blood and the covenant and whatnot. I just truly felt that so long as you understood the principle, you didn’t need to actually do it. And I am not alone, not by a long shot.

The shift in mindsets can be amazing, can’t it? In the 1600’s, Communion was a four-day event. They all fasted on Thursday, the Pastor would preach a sermon about repentance on Friday, everyone confessed their sins and was questioned on Saturday and then they took Communion on Sunday. What a change from today!

We are all the product of the teaching that Communion is an ordinance to obey, to one degree or another. For most, it is something that you should do once a month or once every six months. For me, it was also one of the driest, most tortuous events in the Church, right up there with board meetings.

To be fair, there were usually those people in the service that really seemed to love Communion and basked in the glow of His love as they went through the forms. And I am not knocking you if you are one of those. I just want you to know that secretly I thought that either you were faking it or that you were a Pharisee, just so you know.

Down to business here, we all know the drill. We get our oyster cracker and teeny little cup of grape juice. The Pastor reads the same Last Supper text that he always has;

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me”.

This is the part where you eat your oyster cracker after the Pastor says, “Let us partake”. My wife always hated that part when he said that, she always asked who talks like that except the preacher during Communion? I guess they feel like it adds depth to the event. It needs it.

Then the Pastor continues,

“After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.”

Then we are invited to “partake” of the teeny-tiny grape juice cup.

And then they collect the cups and you have done your bit; you have obeyed the ordinance!

Now, I am not going to wax deep on the mystery of Communion, I will leave that to better men than I to do if they feel so led. Books can, have and should be written on the subject and I can do it no justice here. I will say however that I think that we have cheapened the whole event and by our relegation of it to an ordinance and a tradition that we simply obey, we have made it of no effect.

The key for me in the changeover to the Communion that we practice now lay in the verse; “this do in remembrance of me”. I never fully understood that verse, I mean, I know His story and I am quite sure that I won’t forget it. You know, virgin birth, sinless life, loaves and fishes…?

But I don’t think that this is what Jesus meant.

I think that we do forget Him every single day. I also think that the preparation for Communion is there to help us remember that we have forgotten Him and have followed after our own lusts, our pet sins and the omission of Him from who we are all week long.

We forget Him; we completely forget that He is there; the “resident Boss” that Watchman Nee talks about is neither resident in our thoughts nor boss of what we do.

How else could you explain the fact that the majority of Christian men view online pornography, other than they have forgotten Him? Because if they remembered that Jesus was present in them, do you think that they would subject Him to viewing that? Would they allow their eyes to be used that way, knowing that Jesus was in them at that moment?

How about the liar, who swindles people by small white lies? Has he forgotten?

What about the housewife that has not had an affair yet but peeks out the window at the neighbor and wishes? Has she forgotten? Or the church member engaged in gossip, malice or strife, what about them? How about those who split churches, lie on taxes, betray a friend? What of those who are just self-involved, self-important, self-absorbed? Have those who are so narcissistic as to believe that due to the importance of the call of God on their life that they can sow discord, church hop, destroy relationships, and never submit to any authority but their own as climb to the top, have they forgotten who they are and whom they serve?

You bet they have.

Have we all forgotten that we are supposed to be living in identification with Him, crucified with Him? That we died and the life we live, we live by the faith of Him who died for us?

We have forgotten and do forget Him every single day. And the reason that we do not know that we have forgotten him is because we live in a state of anarchy, apart from the rule of law and the heart of God, with no conviction of sin or desire to conform to His death.

And of course the Communion is stale, it is stale because we have, all of us, forgotten Him and we have become stale ourselves.

And this is what I hated, this idea that though we were so full of sin and selfishness, we still partake as if it is nothing because it IS nothing to us. The whole thing meant nothing to almost all involved. You got quiet, sure. You appeared to be reflecting, yes. But nothing happened, not in you and not in the service either. It was a function that you had to do because you were a “christian” and that is all. But that is a lie and not at all what Jesus intended. I was tired of the shallowness and deeply hungry for something meaningful and so I began to study.

So, of course, for our Communion, we again went back to the faith of our fathers.

We have the Ushers hand out small index cards and pens to everyone present. After everyone gets theirs, we ask everyone present to please take some time and write down every sin that they have committed since their last Communion. If they need to get up and walk around, so that people do not see what they are writing, that is fine. But be honest before God and confess your sins.

We then collect the cards from everyone in a single basket and hand them off to one of the Ministers. He then takes them to the front and using the microphone, begins to read off what is written down. He has been instructed that if the sin is obviously attributable to someone, he can skip it.

Everyone is uncomfortable. And you are bowled over by the sheer volume of sin that is present in the church. No different from the world, not a lick different.

We tell everyone to please bow their heads and close their eyes and then ask a few direct questions of them:

1. Do you understand that what you have committed is sin?
2. Do you understand that sin is not to have power over you as your master?
3. Do you know whom it is that you have sinned against?
4. Have you asked forgiveness from the person you wronged?
5. Have you made restitution for what you’ve done?
6. Do you repent for your sins and resolve to pursue holiness in the fear of God?

After this, we pray the prayer of confession:

Let us humbly confess our sins unto Almighty God.

Almighty and most merciful Father, like lost sheep we have strayed from your holy ways, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts as we have disregarded your holy laws, we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done. But you, O Lord, have mercy upon us, as we know that you forgive those who humbly confess their faults, and that you restore those who are penitent, according to your promises declared to humankind in Christ Jesus our Lord; Grant to us, O most merciful God, for his sake, that from this day forward we live a godly and righteous life, to the glory of your holy Name. Amen.

The Pastor then asks everyone to stand and he reads over the congregation the Absolution:

The Almighty and merciful Lord grant us absolution and remission of all our sins, true repentance, amendment of life, and the grace and consolation of his Holy Spirit. If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. Amen.

Our Communion bread is one loaf of bread, which the Pastor breaks, as Jesus’ body was broken. The people are invited to come forward, beginning with the elderly, after them, whole rows of people, starting with the very back. The Pastor holds out the broken loaf on his right and left for the people to take their piece from. A Minister distributes the Communion cups at the sides, after they have taken their piece of the bread.

As the people return to their seats, a brief word is given about what the Body and Blood is for and an admonishment that Communion is the renewal of covenant and the fresh decision to identify in His death, it is submission to the process of God which crucifies our flesh and conforms us to His life. It is the fresh stamp of the Imago Dei on our hearts.

After this, we begin our Lovefeast.

In all of the changes that have started as we have begun down this path towards Vintage Reconciliation, the Lovefeast was one of the very first ancient church practices to be implemented. We had tried an earlier version of our take on the Lovefeast here almost two years ago and it didn’t really work. The people who were at the church during that time seemed uncomfortable with the idea and the whole thing felt so awkward and strange due to resistance that we allowed it to just fade away. At the start of the crisis that has swung into this movement, I felt strongly that there could simply be no talk of Vintage Reconciliation without it.

What is a Lovefeast, you may ask? The Love Feast, or Agape Meal has been referenced in scripture in several spots, most notably Jude 1:12, 2 Peter 2:13 and some think Paul was referencing them as a common meal in 1 Co. 11.

The simplest definition of the Lovefeast is that it is a common meal and fellowship. In Paul’s day, we know that some ate and drank too much during the Agape Meal. The practice of abuse of the food and drink served during the Love Feast culminated with its banning from use in the church building at Council of Laodicea in 363. It fell out of use somewhere during this time and eventually it took its current form as a bun and coffee during the Moravian revival at Herrnhut. We have opted to keep with this form in our church as it is simple and effective and there is no danger of people overeating or getting drunk.

Within the first few centuries of Christianity, the Love Feast seems to have been practiced by most churches and was as common as all other aspects of communal worship. After the Roman changes began to take hold in the Church, the practice was lost. It was during the Moravian revival at Herrnhut under Count Zinzendorf in the 1700’s that the Love Feast was rediscovered. As they sought together a genuine experience of First Century Christianity, the Love Feast was the best way to express their love towards and unity with one another.

It was at Herrnhut that John Wesley first became exposed to the Love Feast and it so affected him that upon arriving back in England, he began to expose all of his brethren there to it as well. I am of the mind that it was an outpouring of the Spirit that occurred after a Love Feast that began the revival that shook England, America and eventually the world.

From The Rev. John Wesley’s Journal, Volume 1:
Mon. Jan. 1, 1739. Mr. hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Hutchins, and my brother Charles, were present at our Love-Feast in Fetter-Lane, with about sixty of our brethren. About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of his Majesty, we broke out with one voice, “We praise thee, O God, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.”

It seems that the Love Feast was an important part of what happened in the largely Scotch-Irish revivals in Kentucky in the beginning years of the 1800’s. From all that I have read, they usually held a Love Feast each night around ten o’clock and saw wonderful results.

As with everything, the “new” idea of the Love Feast eventually grew into stale tradition and has mostly fallen out of use in the contemporary church. This can be attributed to the acceptance of the Zwinglian understanding of the sacraments as “ordinances”, which has made them relegated to the role of something to obey, not experience. With the rise of the Third Wave movement and Wimber’s Vineyard Churches, most traditional elements of worship, such as the Eucharist, Baptisms and the Love Feast, were considered to just be religion and discarded completely in many circles.

This has helped to create the atmosphere where we find ourselves today in regards to rituals of the Church. As a general rule, some churches will practice Communion, some do not. It has largely become a matter of choice. Usually, when it is practiced, it is something that you do on the first Sunday of the month. We bring out our oyster crackers and tiny cups for grape juice. The Pastor reads the Last Supper and has everyone partake. Then you are done.

Contrast this with Christian life in the 1650’s where Communion was a three to four day cycle. On Thursday, people would fast, on Friday the Pastor preached repentance, on Saturdays the congregation were given the opportunity for public confession and on Sunday, Communion was held for those who were considered to be qualified. This led to the idea of “Communicant” members, those who displayed the evident tokens of salvation in their life and were considered to be genuine Christians.

Today, we have allowed the pendulum to swing far the other way. A recent report stated that at an Anglican Church in Toronto, the Vicar served Communion to a member’s dog during service.

For us interested in Vintage Reconciliation, the recovery of our ancient faith is the mandate of our generation. We do not believe that there is anything inherently mystical in the observance of the Lovefeast or Communion or Baptism by themselves. As I have admonished our people, I have seen too often where people will enter the water dry devils and emerge as wet devils.

But when we take the ancient traditions and practice them with zeal, love and faith, then all of the power that God wished to be demonstrated in these physical acts of faith is revealed.

For us, the Lovefeast has helped to bring about unity, love and forgiveness like no sermon ever did. We have taken the traditional practice used by the Moravians and Methodists and colored it with the history that we read in order to discover what moved those men so.

This then is the Lovefeast that we practice.

My wife makes the traditional Lovefeast buns early in the morning on Sundays. She usually bakes the whole homemade loaves that we use for Communion at the same time and so Sundays can be a very, very busy day for her. But she insists on making them herself as a service to God and I wouldn’t have it any other way (and neither would the needy families that get to take home the extra buns and loaves). If the Pastor or his spouse would be willing to make the buns, this is the very best solution as it allows you to physically serve the congregation.

Also, we discourage people in the congregation from making the buns at home, for food. They are supposed to be a special element of worship, not a common item. So, we have really stressed this in order to keep the taste of the buns as a unique memory of our Lovefeasts together at service.

Traditional Moravian Lovefeast Buns
Makes about 30 buns

2 packages yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup hot, dry mashed potatoes, unseasoned
1/2 cup milk, scalded and cooled
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons orange rind
2 tablespoons lemon rind
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon mace
1-1/2 pounds flour

Mix together the yeast and water. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Cream together sugar and butter. Add and mix in well the potatoes, milk, and eggs.

Add the dissolved yeast mixture.

Mix spices into the yeast mixture. Add in enough flour to make a soft dough.

Knead dough on well floured table. Form into ball and place in greased bowl. Cover with cloth and let rise in warm place until double in size (about 2 hours). Pinch down; let rise again 5-10 minutes. Flouring hands well (dough will be sticky), form dough into small (3 oz) balls. Place on cookie sheet. Slash tops with razor blade to release air. Cover and let rise again till double in size. Bake at 350 degrees until golden all over (about 15-20 minutes).

Our Lovefeast is served at the end of the service, after the message and altar call, if there is one.

Our Ministers (people consecrated to Christ who are being trained for ministry by us) bring out the buns in a basket, usually covered with a colorful napkin. Other Ministers bring out the coffee and water. We have a table set up towards the side of the sanctuary that holds cream and sugar for those that wish it.

The Lovefeast buns are set up on a table near the altar in front of the people.

We then explain to them the rules of partaking in a Lovefeast. As we invite the Spirit of God to be present among us, to bring us into one accord and shed abroad the love of God in our hearts, we can have no person present who will not follow the rules. If you cannot abide them, you are asked to go ahead and take your leave in peace so that only those who desire to be knit together are present in the room.

The rules are simple and taken from the ancient practices at Herrnhut.
1. You must endeavor to love every person in the room. No ill will or bad feelings can be present in you during a Lovefeast.
2. You must forgive any wrong committed against you, real or imagined, by the people in the room. If the feelings remain despite your best efforts, you must forgive them by faith, allowing God to change your heart towards them.
3. Any debt owed to you by someone in the room must be absolved, immediately. No debt then can exist between persons in our Church, who participate in the Lovefeast for more than one week, as ancient tradition stipulates. As Christ forgives you of all debts, you must forgive others. As we are to let no debt remain outstanding, but of love, you must not borrow if you cannot repay them within one week. This is a matter of personal honor.

Once the people have heard the rules and we have given time for those who cannot partake to leave, the Pastor then begins to distribute the buns to each person in the room. The Ministers begin to distribute coffee cups to everyone who wants one or a glass of water. After the buns are distributed, the Pastor or the Ministers begin to fill their cups with coffee.

Everyone is then permitted to get up from their seats and to mutually encourage and exhort one another, to talk about the Lord or spiritual things and generally just love and enjoy one another as members of our community of faith. Everyone is encouraged to be led by God and to give “pentecostal handshakes”, money that someone may need and have been praying for in private, to each other.

To talk about fleshy things like sports or what have you, is frowned upon. Not because those things are bad, but this service just isn’t the place for it.

The feeling that we have gotten from the Lovefeast is really hard to describe. When we leave Church service, we leave fulfilled, the presence of God has been sweet and the love that you feel towards each other increases every week.

Church services are a matter of covenant with one another. We are committed to each other, to caring for each other, to fellowship, to prayer for each other, to help one another. And the Lovefeast is an opportunity to allow the Spirit of God to bind us together in faith, hope and love.

After the service, those in the church who are needy are encouraged to come to our little pantry in the Church building and take a box of food home. The congregation have been asked to donate 10 percent of their grocery money each week towards the goods distributed in the pantry. We feel it is important to worship God in this way and to supply towards one another’s needs.

This is the Lovefeast. I hope I have given you enough information for you to begin to hold them weekly in your church.

Blessings,

J.

“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Romans 4:4-5 KjV


“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Luke 18:10-14

In the course of studying about the faith of our fathers I have come to some terrible conclusions.

One of these and perhaps the most important to us right now is the issue of foundations. If we can see that the very foundations of our Christian experience have been compromised, we have a chance to fix it. If we fail to acknowledge that the foundation is faulty, the entire building is in grave danger of collapse. This collapse may not happen when you are ready for it; it may be during the night or in a storm while you sleep.

On a construction television show that I once watched, the homeowner called the show because he couldn’t understand why he could dig out the concrete in his foundation fairly easily. The home was unleveled, the concrete foundation falling apart; the whole of this very expensive house and all of its inhabitants were in great danger. Why? The foundation was not solid enough to do its job of supporting the structure that was built upon it. In order to save on costs, the contractor had cut corners in the solidity of the concrete and after a few years, the damage became evident.

For us, we are talking not about the investment of a home but rather about your eternal security and the health of the church here in America. Nothing could be more important to us.

Do you figure that perhaps the enemy might know this? That all he would have to do is change the composition of the material in a foundation and though it looks decent at the start, the cracks will begin to appear after time? Those cracks would begin to show in times of stress, of danger or in the midst of the storms of life. And it is only then, at the exact point when you realize that you need the stability of a foundation the most, that your true state, and the immediate danger of catastrophic system failure is revealed.

So, here is the question I put to you now: Has our 21st Century Christianity lost something foundational and utterly necessary to producing not mere decisions but rather genuine conversions? And what are the repercussions to us of having a faulty foundation?

As we learned previously, a cheapening has occurred, we have substituted the pearl of great price for cultured pearls meant to look like the real thing. And because we have paid so little for those pearls ourselves, we are quite willing to sell them to others just as cheaply. This has led to our churches being filled to the brim with people who are the product of cheap grace and born out of a need to fill up space with as many warm bodies as possible so that we can be reckoned to be a success.

If our calls to salvation are flawed in this way, could it be because we, like those contractors, have cut corners? Have we weakened the mixture so as to make the product cheaper for those seeking to emulate our own foundation? And if the product that we were given was similarly compromised and we compromised the mixture even further for those who followed us, where does this eventually lead? To entire generations whose houses have been built upon the sand, not upon anything even closely resembling a rock.

The altar call of the 21st Century looks like this; we first grow quiet and contemplative. Then, the minister begins to talk earnestly about salvation. It usually centers around how bad your life has become and how God can make it all better if you give Him a chance. Some brave ministers will mention Hell as being a possibility tonight if you don’t ask Jesus into your heart, most don’t go this far. Then comes the fateful moment; the group is told to “bow their head and close their eyes, with no one looking around”, because we don’t want anyone’s decision to be hampered by the embarrassment of being seen by others.

Then the question is put to the group- who would like to ask Jesus to come into their heart, who would like to be “born again”? They are then told to go ahead and lift their hand if they would like to accept Christ (“I see that hand, thank you.”) and then we lead the entire group in a prayer called “The Sinner’s Prayer”. Again, it has to be the whole group that prays this prayer out loud, we do this because of the potential embarrassment of those who lifted their hands, or just in case someone, being too embarrassed to lift their hand to ask Jesus into their hearts, wouldn’t be shy about praying something that the entire group is praying at that moment.

Whatever gets them to say the magic words is fair game after all; those magic words will save them. This little belief system has led to one “Evangelist” producing cards with the sinner’s prayer written on them. He then had people cover the city, getting people to repeat the magic words written on the cards. If you could get them just to say what was written on the card, they were saved! He would then report inflated numbers of “conversions” and claim that they were in revival.

After everyone says the magic words of the Sinner’s Prayer, the group is then told to open their eyes and clap for those who did so. In some churches, those people are then invited to come up front or follow a person into another room where they will be given their first bit of propaganda on the new subculture they have joined.

And that’s it! After that, they are told to find a church, read their Bible and pray. You are a now a Christian and have in your possession diplomatic immunity for when you sin and the mandatory “Get out of Hell, free” card that is probably the only reason you wanted Christ in the first place. Just in case, you know, you can never have too much insurance.

Are the means of salvation of any importance? Does any of this matter if the ends are the same? If, no matter how you get in, it all leads to the same destination, then no. If all that matters is that you say the magic words, then any port will do in a storm. But what if those magic words are not real, what then? What if there are no magic words and what really matters is something entirely different? And what happens in the lives of those people who climbed up some other way into the sheepfold?

The means that are employed in our initial salvation become the foundation of our walk with God. If we offer a salvation based on Humanism, one that is tailored at making people happy, wealthy or peaceful, the ends of that would have to be self-centeredness, greed and self-indulgence. If we offer cheap grace, the ends would have to be sin, lack of holiness and lack of consecration. If there is no true conviction of sin, they will never be mindful of sin. In short, what they build upon the foundation that they are provided will be as flawed as the foundation itself. God is not mocked and origin determines destination every time.

I have looked carefully at church history, looking for clues as to what our Fathers believed and taught regarding the means of salvation. What I discovered could not be any more different than what our current experience is right now.

Before I talk about that, I want to touch on something else first. I am of the opinion that “normal” Christianity is not the generic experience that we have come to expect to see all around us. Normal Christianity was the life of Christ, the practices of the First Church and the revelation and practices that have occurred in revival history through the centuries. It was here, in times of revival, that the church was normal in the sight of God. Everything else, our compromise and substitutions, only occur in times of declension. We fall away and come back, like the waves of the sea. At the high point of revival, the church sees and acts as it was meant to.

Knowing this, that whatever the church has become in times of declension is not the normal that God intends for us to live in but rather the effects of religion, flesh and compromise on our part, we simply have to reject the current state of affairs as being abnormal. Nothing can be trusted; the entire apparatus has been compromised by a total lack of understanding that we are not what we are supposed to be.

Paris Reidhead once recounted a story that I feel is perfect for demonstrating this. He said, “They tell about a man, out in the western part of Mississippi in a little rural town, way back up the river, that had a large plantation and many, many slaves.

Somebody came around to the slaves and said that the emancipation proclamation’s been signed. So they went to the owner and said, “Now what does that mean?’ He said, “That means I can’t sell you to anybody else. It means that from now on I just can’t sell you. It’s utterly impossible for me to sell you, the government said I can’t sell you.” “Well, what does that mean?”, they asked.

He said, “Well that means you just go right on ahead and work here and you don’t need to be the least bit afraid. You just work for me and go right on working for me and I’ll never sell you, I’ll never sell you. You can stay right here.”

So, one year went on, two years went on. They kept living in the slave quarters, they kept going to the field, and they kept eating the food, taking the lash of the overseer. Just going right on, and they said, “Isn’t it wonderful to be emancipated? We don’t have to be so feared about being sold, our families won’t be broken up and surely we can live right here with our daddy and our mommy all our life. We’ll go right on working for the master here.”

And so they go right out into the field and grovel and serve and they were talking about being emancipated. Cause they couldn’t be sold to anyone else. Then, someone came along and said, “What are you doing here?” “Well”, they said, “we’re emancipated, we don’t need to be afraid about being sold anymore.” “Listen, you don’t understand what emancipation is, you don’t need to serve that man anymore, he doesn’t own you. He not only can’t sell you, but he can’t make you work for him. You don’t have to do his dirty bidding anymore. You can leave here, pack your things and go down the road and go anywhere you want to go.” “Well he never told us that, that’s what it meant to be emancipated. So, we’ve spent four years working here, when we didn’t have to.”

When the very terms that we use in Christendom have been corrupted, how can you walk in any light whatsoever? And if we find ourselves in a position of waking up and realizing that we have been lied to, you can’t make a partial change, you must affect an entire change. If one term has been compromised, all are in danger of being the same.

The life we lead as 21st Century Christians is like those poor slaves in the story. We asked what salvation meant and the devil gave us our definition. We asked what the Power of God was and religious people who had never experienced it for their selves defined it for us. And on and on it goes, everything that we thought we knew was based on a flawed definition, a foundation that is weak and unable to bear the weight of a normal Christian life.

The true state of the normal Christian life then can only be seen in times when the Church experienced revival. Revival being the normal of God destroying the concept of normal gained by defining normal on the downward scale of our group experience. As sin runs rampant, we define our normal by it until sin is considered normal. When divorce is more prevalent in the church than in the world, we define our normal according to it until it is accepted and even expected. When the Church has grown apathetic, lazy and cold, we define our normal by that and accept that God does not move today because surely, if he did, we would have seen it by now.

Even more dangerously, in Charismatic circles, we have actually believed that we were experiencing all that God has for us. We take goose bumps, emotionalism or small spiritual experiences as proof that all is right between God and ourselves. We have shrunk the Spirit of God down to the point where the best He can do is to give you a shiver or knock you down and when we have some sort of experience, we assume that this must be God. This God, whose glory filled the temple until the priests could not minister, this God, who man can not look on or he would die, we say that He is behind our little experiences and go on living in utter rebellion against Him and leaving ourselves wide open for any doctrine and any spirit that comes along.

We cannot bring ourselves to admit that were God to actually show up at a meeting, the results would be markedly different than the puniness of our present experiences. He is Jehovah and is larger than your experience, than all of our experiences!

This is a tragedy!

The very fact that revival is so rare should send us to our knees in travail. Because it is not rare simply due to it being a sovereign act of God that He has chosen to rarely bless the Earth with, it is rare only because we compromise so efficiently and effortlessly that the normal of God can never stay with us very long. But make no mistake, revival is the normal of God, it should be the normal experience of the Church and when we live outside of it, nothing that we take for granted should be. We may, all of us, be in for a rude surprise when we see Him face to face.

In regards to the normal means of salvation then, the common experience both lived and taught in a time of declension is no standard by which we should measure it. Rather, we should look to times of revival to see what it looks like under genuine normal circumstances.

I believe that it is here where we have so often failed. A few years ago, a movement started in the Third Wave circles called “The Repentance Movement”. It was generally believed that repentance was the means of salvation and without it, you could not be saved. And so repentance was sought, preachers railed and blasted and people felt really bad. I half expected to begin seeing self-flagellation at the meetings at some point, everyone being so determined to feel bad and suffer.

And yet (curiouser and curiouser) there was no revival, nothing even close. It seemed that God did not respond to the repentance any more than He did to the Humanistic calls made by the other side. In fact, the entire thing devolved to the point to where it was full of very mean people, full of self righteousness, who, when revival did not come, turned instead to heresy hunting and pointing out errors of doctrine as their form of revival and worship.

And so I began to see that perhaps we were confusing the effects of the drawing of God with the means by which salvation occurs. That something else was occurring that was as much of an error in the right ditch as the Humanists were wrong over in the left ditch. And if repentance was not the means of salvation, what was? And was it possible that we had, in our genuine desire to see God move in our day, simply slopped together another mixture and presented it as true and right when in fact, it also could not support us as a foundation.

Upon reading revival history, I discovered something quite profound that had escaped my notice before.

There is only one means of approaching God and anything else added to it will never suffice as a foundation. It is simply this: “I am ungodly, take me to the one that justifies the ungodly”.

We tend to want to add something to it, don’t we? We want to say, “I am ungodly, look at my remorse, look at my tears”. We want to push on God our faith in Christ, our repentance and our desire to know Him. We say “I am a sinner, I have committed sins” but this is mentioned as an aside. We truly feel that the real juice in the sinner’s prayer is, “I believe” and that it is this, your belief that saves you.

But all of those, even your belief, are from us and stink of works. Even the heartfelt tears that come as God reveals your sin are not sufficient to appease him alone. When we make an offering of these things to God and attempt to add to his requirements, we short-circuit the system and create a false foundation for our Christian walk.

If tears saved you, then he would no doubt have required those as payment for salvation. If it took an overpowering sense of Hell, He would have just said that. But all that He requires is this, “I am ungodly, take me to him that justifies the ungodly.” And when we come to the place where we know that being ungodly is all that we are and that nothing else has any value whatsoever to him as a means of salvation, this is when we can begin to repent, to believe.

This is both incredibly simple and at the same time, very complicated. Because we must here ask why it is that this is not being produced in our services. To this, I must say, that it is due to our undervaluing of His worth and overvaluing of our own.

If we understood His value, His holiness, His justice and mercy and if we saw clearly our own worthlessness, our sinfulness, our corruption and our fallen state, we would not dare question His demands from the race of man. If we saw Him as He is, we would simply know that our best is not good enough and that it never can be. We would stop trying to make an offering of our tears at being caught in the act, or of our feeble mental assent as to His nature or our disastrous reckoning of divine love.

If we saw this clearly, we would stand with our head down, hands at our sides, the fight taken out of us completely and just say, “I am ungodly. I know this now. There is nothing good in me. I have no virtue that I can offer to him in trade. When I see myself as He must see me, in His infinite goodness and His perfect justice, I know that I am undone. And so here I stand with nothing to say in my own defense, no offering in my hands to increase my own worth. I know that this is what He requires, that I come to Him on this basis alone. I am ungodly. Would you take me to Him that justifies me based on this fact alone?”

In revival, it is understood that ungodliness is the one thing that separates man from God and yet, paradoxically, it is the one thing that ties man to God. Because it is the simple acknowledgement of this fact, without addition and without excuse that God requires as the means to salvation. And when we come to Him with just this, we can then experience true repentance and true belief as we receive in ourselves the inner witness that we have been saved.

The old Methodists taught that sinners should “pray ‘til they knew they were lost and then pray ‘til they knew they were saved” and this is true. When the true nature of God is preached unapologetically without the defilement of 21st Century mindsets, man can see himself for what He is: ungodly. And when we come to God based on this alone, He responds with genuine salvation. And that foundation will hold and it will produce a normal Christian life that has begun not with our own virtues but with the death that Jesus requires of all who would seek to follow Him.

“I am ungodly” then is the admission of the soul who has accepted his fate at the site of the execution and who knows that he has no defense. He goes willingly to his punishment, knowing that he deserves it. And after the sentence is carried out and he dies, that is when he finds the true life just beginning.

And here lies the difference between the Church of Declension and the normal Church of God; the normal Christian life must begin with your death.

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

You stand before a just and holy God without excuse. So much of the time we go before Him like a prisoner on death row who says, “Yes, I killed someone or stole, or lied or cheated BUT…” then they proceed to give excuse as to why they did what they did or to attempt to off-set the bad with something else such as “I feel really bad about it”. What would be the outcome of amnesty declared in such a case? Why, that person would go on from there feeling as if they were set free because of some quality that they possessed, perhaps it was their remorse or their good qualities.

But the person who stands there and knows that there are no redeeming qualities to them and that justice demands that the sentence be carried out immediately, to which they agree because they deserve it. What would the outcome be of amnesty in that case? Gratitude from the grave.

Christianity must start with this, the complete admission, without additions of “I am ungodly”. This is the necessary first step in the normal Christian life. We are baptized into this death and the life we live is to be His life in us. The old is to be gone, both the positive and negative qualities of it as well. It is to be executed and then the new life that rises is to be His and His alone.

The atonement did not provide anything for you, you being the old man. Whatever benefits there are to the atonement are poured out on Christ, whose life you are now living by the faith of the Son of God.

And friends, this then is the only beginning to the normal Christian life.

The Start part 2: Worship Redux

Posted: August 9, 2010 by JC Smith in Reform
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In this preliminary series of writings, “The Start”, I am hoping to give you an overview of the many changes that need to be addressed before any serious attempt at Vintage Reconciliation can be made in a church. Sadly, if we view the ancient faiths and revival history as being the standard with which we gauge a healthy church, the 21st century version of the Church is in sad shape indeed. And so, it becomes necessary for us to deconstruct the elements, view them in the light of Biblical and historical context and change them as needed. As I have discovered, once you do this, the underlying issues that surface as being the root causes of our inability to assimilate into ancient paths seem to be ones of a Humanistic and Modernistic nature. In short, we are lost from the outset due to a worldview that exists in sharp contrast to what should be “the normal Christian life” -JC.

Mike Guglielmucci

At the starting point, the plan was fairly simple: deconstruct the service and discover the fundamentals of different revival periods.

In practice, it has proven to be much harder.

We are currently in what I have been calling the “Moravian Cycle”. Looking back at Herrnhut and the Golden Summer as a model, we have been studying and praying, searching for the heart of the matter as it relates to what God did there.

This is not a simple thing, getting simple.

Much of what we do is rooted in our identity as 21st century beings and it is very difficult to shed those thought processes. I have come to feel that the trappings of the zeitgeist can only really be seen when they are held up in contrast to an earlier age. Juxtaposing 21st century Churchianity to a much earlier time has revealed some fundamental issues that I would never have been able to see clearly before we set out on this adventure.

I have discovered that before we can even begin to gather our twelves baskets full of remnants, we have to deal with ourselves and the repercussions of our adhesion to the spirit of the age. This has proven to be so deep and far reaching that we have barely even been able to start this emulation. To deconstruct must come first; who are we and how did we get here?

Stripping away everything from the stage is the first step in this. All of our actions, props and lights that add depth to the stage and by extension, the “performances”, have to be removed so that we can clearly see what we really have before us. It is a raw thing, to be sure. We are so used to hiding in various aspects of our Sunday performance, not wanting to have to deal with the reality that is all around us. We seem to sing, dance, use our multimedia, preach and pray in an almost sterile environment, the preacher being removed from the people and fully insulated in the bubble of “the show”.

When you take away all of this, you are left with what remains; the people and their issues and you.

I discovered something just here at this point. When I removed the whirl of the service progression and deconstructed it down to its most basic elements, everyone was left without something to hide behind. For some, it was music. In the McChurch, you play five songs or more and you have a predictable response. Some dance, some sing, some lift their hands, some don’t budge and just stare straight ahead. When you strip that time away and pose to the people the simple issue of what worship is, they quickly get uncomfortable and even distressed. I think that we have substituted real worship for this thing that we do, this sing-along that allows you to act spiritual without doing anything spiritual.

Let me explain.

Matthew 15:7-9 reads: “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”

Fair enough, Jesus. So, some folks sing and profess something with their mouth while their heart is elsewhere, I get it. So, let’s stress that the people really must mean every line from the songs that WE chose for them to sing, regardless of where they are or what is happening to them. That may close the issue for good (and has) if it weren’t for the next line, the last bit here that throws everything off: “worship in vain, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men”.

Have we done that? The Boomers, who have set the stage here for us in regards to McChurch, love worship. In fact, they demand a satisfying worship experience and to not have one is heresy of the first order. Gen-X could not be more different in this. What we long for is realness, period. I don’t want to go through the motions and follow a pattern that you created for me just so that I can fit in. What I long for is a depth of experience that I have not found in the McChurch pattern. A segment of this generation is also totally burned out on the whole performance aspect of “worship ministry” in general. We have been to so many shows over the course of our lives and coming into the church, we see one more show. And we don’t want our spiritual church service to simply stoop down to the level of filling a missing area of our lives.

That idea is very Boomer; no concerts now that you are a Churchian- we will fill that void with a Jesus concert-lite. No cool festivals- Jesuspalooza is the answer. Can’t watch that cool movie- substitute Christian cinema. The Boomers did this with everything from stupid Christian shirts that played on worldly themes (Lord’s Gym, Jesus: that’s my final answer!) to bumper stickers to mega churches that more resemble malls than places of worship (get a brew at Higher Grounds while you shop at our bookstore). I was, and am, just as guilty as everyone else of subscribing to the Boomers need for customization, substitution and convenience. God help us.

Real worship does not happen in a sing-along. In fact, real worship has nothing to do with singing at all. When the church in the first century heard the word “worship”, their thoughts went straight to the outward elements of sacrifice and the multi-layered facets of Judaism. To worship was equated with sacrifice. To us, we gloss this over with the term “sacrifice of praise” and then demand that everyone assume that we we are doing is right and God ordained.

So what is true worship, in spirit and in truth?

Rom 12:1-2  I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Jas 1:27  Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

When Paul calls presenting your bodies a living sacrifice, your reasonable service, the word rendered service there is the Greek word “latreia”- worship. When James talks about “pure religion and undefiled”, that word rendered religion there is the Greek word “thrēskeia”- worshipping.

Now, let’s get our heads around this. So, Jesus said that people were praising God with their mouths while their hearts were far from him and that they taught for doctrine the commandments of men. Paul and James go on to clarify by saying that dying to self and presenting your life to God in consecration is your reasonable act of worship and that pure worship and undefiled before God is to care for widows and orphans. How has that devolved into a sing along set to the snappy tunes of contemporary music while your life is not presented as a reasonable sacrifice and the only person that you really care about is yourself? I mean, people will actually get angry if you don’t have sing-along time because you are taking away their time to worship… an incredibly selfish statement that is only perceived in its true inglorious state when juxtaposed against the word of God stripped of all the double talk and false references.

Where does singing come in? The Bible does reference it, telling us to make a joyful noise and to sing and lift our hands. So you obviously can’t throw the baby our with the bathwater, right?

A few months ago we had what has come to be called “Fire Church”. It was a little event at one of our member’s farm with just a small group of us present and a visiting minister from out of town. Basically, we all sat around a fire and began to talk about God and spirituality and the differences between Gen-X/Y and the Boomers. For some reason, the conversation took place primarily between myself and the other preacher (curiouser and curiouser). What we experienced was the most spiritual church service that any of us had been a part of in years and in some cases, ever. At the end of the night, the Spirit of God hung thickly around that fire and the other preacher declared that we should sing. He began singing a song that was perfectly in line with the night’s impromptu teaching: They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love. It was a deeply spiritual moment as all sung together these words that seemed like they were written just after our conversation, you could hardly breathe due to the presence of God that was there. And the song, sung in unity, actually added to the night’s revelation. We all walked away from that night knowing that something had occurred in the spirit that was transformational and powerful.

Juxtapose this with the McChurch service: begin with three songs, uptempo. The Worship leader must talk and cheerlead the people into getting excited. Then, after accomplishing this, we get serious. So begins the “worship set” of two to three slower songs meant to make the people contemplative. After this, we take your money, give announcements and get to the sermon.

I am sorry, I can’t do it. I am past the point of no return, that area that exists in the pilot’s vocabulary that denotes the area where you can no longer turn around, there simply isn’t enough gas, so you either make your destination or you crash. I am there.

The issue is that we have faked it for so long that we don’t know what it means to be real. When we ask ourselves what worship would look like if you took away all of the societal pressures and contraptions, all of the norms and patterns that we have learned from McChurch, you are left with a big, stinking hole that you don’t know how to fill. I mean, if you listened to country, pop, rock, punk, contemporary, is that what we should make our worship services into? If it is accepted by the status quo as “normal”, does that make it right?

What is “normal” to God?

We have found it best to allow my wife (our Worship Leader) to be led by God in regards to what to sing and when. That it should be Spirit-led and in harmony with the revelation, teaching, preaching, Word from God. That it should be simple and valued for the words that are said and not the style that it is in. It doesn’t have a “place” in the order of service as singing is only one small aspect of what true worship is. We should be presenting our bodies as living sacrifices first, dying to self and allowing God to free us from our demands of individuality, consecrating ourselves to God and His service. We should be engaging in Social Gospel activities, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for widows and orphans, first. Then, properly laying upon the altar, we should sing songs in unity and sing to Him and for Him alone.

The Start

Posted: August 8, 2010 by JC Smith in Reform
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Over the past few months my wife and I have undergone some incredible changes. The hand of God has been heavily upon us, changing us and causing us to change things in our lives and in the churches that we have the privilege of pastoring. At times it has just been a relentless pressing. That is the very best word that I have for what has been going on. A weight has sat on me accompanied by a despair at the way that things are, not just in me but in the church at large.

Strangely, this all started at a meeting of our town’s clergy. We had concluded the meeting and were sharing a meal as we have done once a month since I first got here 2 years ago. The group is made up of a diverse pool; Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, UCC, Catholic, whatever we are. But we have a very good unity between us and have always gotten along well. On this particular day I was being pressed before the meeting even started. During the meal, I just began to talk about what was laying on my heart; souls and revival. I told the group that I was just so tired of the dog-and-pony show every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday. That I felt God was causing my discomfort though I could not say why, it was just that I had to see our region saved. Why should we continue to care for the 99 and never seek the lost one?

Everyone then agreed to begin to meet once a week to join together in prayer for revival.

It has been awkward at times, it really has. We each pray in a much different way than everyone else and no one was really sure how to proceed. The awkward silences at times have been exceedingly awkward. But we are there, every week, asking God to move in our town among the lost and to call back the sheep that no longer attend church.

My own struggles started just before the corporate prayer began and have increased as time went on. The end result of my pressing culminated when I read a story and a quote from John Wesley about a month ago. In it, someone asked Wesley why people came to hear him preach, Wesley replied, “I set myself on fire, and people come to watch me burn.” For some reason, the words dug into me and caused a painful reaction. To this day, I cannot say why exactly. But after reading them, I threw myself into prayer and when I was done, I knew that if I had even one more “normal” service, I would die. I just could not do any of it anymore, and the thought of following the McChurch pattern of ; welcome, 3 fast songs, 2 slow songs, offering, announcements, sermon, altar call produced in me such a despair that it is hard to convey it here.

But what was the alternative? And was it even such a big deal anyway to do things like everyone else? To just follow the McChurch pattern and try to draw people by being a better preacher than others, have better worship, be edgier, have better children’s programs, whatever. My desperation caused me to ask where we got the pattern in the first place and I found no clear cut answers other than the church attempting to play nice with society and just copying what everyone else did around them. I mean, I could not even figure out where we got the idea of worship that we have today or what a sermon is.

Talk about a crisis. I was standing there with 19 years of ministry experience and I didn’t have the first clue as to why we do any of the things that we do.

So, I made an executive decision. I came to church at our second location, canceled worship, moved the pulpit, grabbed a chair and once the people arrived, I just began to share my heart. No outline, no notes, no agenda. I was lost in a wilderness and though I didn’t know why, I did know that it was the Spirit that was leading me there. And something happened that night, what it was exactly, I still don’t know but from that night on, the churches that wouldn’t grow have begun to do just that.

The following week, the pressing that I had been experiencing increased. As I wrestled with the question of “How did the church get here?”, I found myself asking a very odd question; “what did God intend for the church to be?” Now, I know that people have routinely asked themselves that question. And I know that most of the time, the answer that they have come up with has been “The First Church”. This answer has led them to meet in homes, have no discernible leadership, etc. But for me, this answer was imperfect. Mostly because I have always held to the opinion that revelation is progressive. That it is “line upon line, precept upon precept” and that the first would be last and the last, first. So starting at the beginning and just staying there made no sense. Neither did just taking parts and claiming a whole truth, such as deciding that since they met in homes, we should do the same because church buildings are satanic. To me, a house is a building made up of foundation, walls and ceiling, same as a church building.

I felt the Spirit prompting me to ask the same question that I had before; what did God intend for the church to be? But I felt led to look for an answer in revivals over history and what He did when He moved rather than solely at the first church as the pattern. Don’t get me wrong, we have asked about the characteristics of the First Church, what they did, how they acted, etc. But then I began to scan history for those times when God stepped down and changed everything, in short, a pattern of what the church would look like based strictly off of revival history.

This search led me to John Wycliffe, John Hus and the Brethren or the Moravian Church. Why the Moravian Church and not another stream of reformation? Quite simply, the others are not my spiritual ancestors directly. The lineage would be: First Church, Nicea, Wycliffe, Hus, Brethren, Zinzendorf, Moravians, Wesley, Methodism, Pentecostals, Second Wave, today. I have purposefully omitted the Catholic Church and the last 40 years of the Second Wave and also the entire so-called “3rd wave” movements. The wrongs committed by the Catholic church and their error make them impossible to base anything off of for me. Most date the beginnings of the “Fallen Church” to be somewhere between Constantine and the first Pope, I have done the same. In modern times, I have felt that we should look back to the Second Wave and reject the excesses at the end of the Second Wave and all of the so-called “3rd Wave” movement.

Having determined the need to establish lineage and having created an environment of tabula rasa, I began to study the Moravians at Herrnhut and Wycliffe and Hus before them. Not having a pattern is quite daunting, I must say. You feel rather naked and exposed as you grope for answers. It is so much easier to be a McChurch and just do the best that you can.

But this new blog will serve as my journal, detailing what we are doing and thinking during this time. I hope it inspires you as we are inspired.

Blessings,

J.