Posts Tagged ‘New Monastics’

Dear caretaker of God,

I’m just checking in, as a good American does, with the caretaker of the God who founded this nation and our churches. Is He responsive today? We’re not sure, but we think we’re doing what the last people did who checked in with you. I think it was you. You’re a pastor, right? Don’t pastors talk to God for us? We voted to hire a pastor at our church, and think he should do all the “ministry,” while we make the decisions. Same with you, right? No, we’d rather not talk directly to God, because we don’t have enough time to stop by. Let him know we’ll stop by and visit when we get a break from doing church work. How’s the Alzheimer’s doing? You asked in your last message what makes us think that you’re His caretaker. Doesn’t someone need to take care of someone with Alzheimer’s? You asked what made us think He has Alzheimer’s, and again I say it’s because we haven’t seen or heard anything. You understand that’s also why we don’t try to communicate too much with Him. During the Enlightenment Era, people discovered God was old and getting older, and humans were getting smarter, and we’ve been told we’re climbing the evolutionary ladder. Some believe we’ve outgrown God.

I know you say that’s because we aren’t listening, or we aren’t reading the Bible, but honestly, we’ve perfected church. I think you’re saying this because you have a personal axe to grind. I mean we had church perfected in the Enlightenment Era, then the PostModern Era took it to a whole new level. We’re so nice we don’t expect anything from anyone, and agree with everyone who has any kind of opinion whatsoever. We’ve perfected positive thinking. Truthfully, we’re getting pretty hammered and pressured by everyone around us and their agendas. They have a lot of sway. Some of them  have high political offices and others have a lot of money. Some have even lived in this area all their lives, and are the fourth generation in their family! Since we haven’t listened (strike that) heard from God, it must be the sender, not the receiver, thus many have assumed silence is concession.

Besides, trying to talk to political leaders is getting us only on a watch list, and we don’t want to rock the boat. You understand, we care about safety first, as a good Christian should. So what do we do? We’re pretty sure we’ve got God figured out based on what He wrote (and our smart interpretation of it), so we’ll go with that. We are convinced (everyone agrees) that we only need to pray a prayer once and can live how we want. So by doing all this travelling to get people to pray prayers, and building bigger buildings, and having more people in our gatherings who pray prayers, and paying the best musicians, we’re doing above and beyond what’s required. Some people even give 8% tithe. In the age of Grace! We will just do things the way they’ve always been done, taking parts of Scripture that are relevant (though no one knows that that means in a postmodern world where structure is irrelevant, thus when you strategize to become relevant you are irrelevant. Don’t try to become unirrelevent or you definitely aren’t relevant. Don’t try to figure it out, or you most definitely are no longer relevant. Head in the clouds, no demands, come as you think you are, and you might be relevant). I mean taking parts of Scripture that we have been told are relevant in the new books we’ve read. Other parts were cultural, such as verses against premarital sex, gossip, homosexual behavior, male leadership and headship, talking about Jesus’ death on the cross (is He there with you and God still? Some doubt it).

Please pass all this onto God. Thanks for doing what your people hired you to do. It sounds like you’re going to stay longer than our pastor. He doesn’t pass our complaints (strike that) messages on as well, and spends too much time visiting people. He can’t get it that he’s supposed to just do what we tell him. I’m sure you do, because you’re close to God. Write back soon.

(Response)

Dear writer,

Your irreverence is astounding, but I’ll pray God understands. You are a product of American church religion that used to be Christian. God has already spoken about this, in Isaiah 57 (NASB) “The righteous man perishes, and no man takes it to heart; and devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from evil, He enters into peace; they rest in their beds, Each one who walked in his upright way. But come here, you sons of a sorceress, offspring of an adulterer and a prostitute. Against whom do you jest? Against whom do you open wide your mouth and stick out your tongue? Are you not children of rebellion, offspring of deceit, who inflame yourselves among the oaks, under every luxuriant tree, who slaughter the children in the ravines, under the clefts of the crags? Among the smooth stones of the ravine is your portion, they are your lot; even to them you have poured out a drink offering, you have made a grain offering. Shall I relent concerning these things? Upon a high and lofty mountain you have made your bed. You also went up there to offer sacrifice. Behind the door and the doorpost you have set up your sign; indeed, far removed from Me you have uncovered yourself, and have gone up and made your bed wide. And you have made an agreement for yourself with them, you have loved their bed, you have looked on their manhood. You have journeyed to the king with oil and increased your perfumes; you have sent your envoys a great distance and made them go down to Sheol. You were tired out by the length of your road, yet you did not say, ‘It is hopeless.’ You found renewed strength, therefore you did not faint. Of whom were you worried and fearful when you lied, and did not remember Me? Nor give Me a thought? Was I not silent even for a long time, so you do not fear Me? I will declare your righteousness and your deeds, but they will not profit you. When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you. But the wind will carry all of them up, and a breath will take them away. But he who takes refuge in Me shall inherit the land and shall possess My holy mountain.”

So you see, writer, you are in a dangerous place. You see, American Christian, you cannot use the excuse of God being silent. You cannot use the excuse of God being still. It is not God who has changed, but you. I am not His caretaker, and to think so is blasphemous. Yet in your heart, you believe He does have Alzheimer’s, and is not responsive, otherwise you would be afraid of Him instead of fearing men, money, and monarchs. You are walking down a well worn path that Jesus called the wide gate of destruction, and your good company cannot see the green meadows giving way to fire and refuse. Turn back your life to once again walk the narrow road towards the narrow gate. Dig in the ground behind you and pick up your dropped cross, then carry it. But until you do that, do not write back! Do not include me in your failure! I don’t want any part of the American church that has cut off her ears and gouged out her own eyes, sniffing in the wind for the nearest scent of an idol to mate with. It is apparent by the choosing of large crowds over finding lost sheep that you have lost your first love. Do lovers who cheat on their beloved blame the faithful spouse? Yet you have blamed God when it was you who had the affair. God has already spoken, and the Almighty need not repeat Himself for your sake. He owes no one an explanation, and, contrary to what you have been led to believe, He is not silent.

God is moving in the hearts of those who are faithful to Him, raising up a new generation of people who will obey Him and not excuse His commands. Jesus’ voice rings in the ears of His sheep and they desire more, not less. Against the juggernaut of selfishness, dehumanizing others and yourselves, and atheistic political movement, the ancient Rock of Ages is not afraid. He has always and will always have a remnant of faithful ones. He can do more with one than 7 billion can do without Him.

I urge you, writer, to examine yourself for the answer to your problems, not God. After you have discovered your weaknesses, see if you can hear Him better. See if you can see Him then. If you do this, and only after you do this, write me back. As to me talking with God on your behalf? God decided (written in the Bible) that you could talk directly to Him yourself. You should enjoy this.

With Concern,

Servant of the Lord

ps Please leave your pastor alone before you turn your prophet into a professional.

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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.