Posts Tagged ‘Wesley’

 

Separating wheat from chaff

 

These are strange days.

It seems like the Lord is requiring more and more from us with each passing day. All of those things that are not pure must go from our lives and from our churches. These are the days of the solemn assembly, where the people of God gather themselves together and are purified by Him.

Those things that have been in our church services that are man-made have been required of Him. That is not to say that they are bad, they are just flesh.

The worship service with its 3 fast songs and 2 slow songs had to go. And God showed how real worship was you laying yourself upon that altar, caring for widows and orphans and remaining unspotted from the world. And until we do those things, we can no longer offer to God the lies that we sing to Him week after week. Because our lives showed our love, our real love. We sing “I Surrender All” when we surrender nothing but that which we can easily do without. We sing “He Touched Me” when at the very moment His hand touches us to be sanctified or sacrifice, we recoil and beg for mercy. And here at these churches, we were no longer allowed to sing, but rather, to show the poiema of what God has done in our lives. Someday we will sing again as congregations and on that day, by the grace of God, our lives will be sung first, a sweet sacrifice, pleasing unto God.

The altar call and ‘sinner’s prayer’ that has been used for so long has been required of Him. Because it became form and we have worshipped it as a third sacrament in the church. But what prayer can you pray without the inner witness that you have been brought from death to life? When did we stop the altar, the time when you sought God with your whole heart until the ‘strange warmth’ of Wesley filled your heart and you knew, beyond any contestation, that you had been born again? How long have we taught people to bear the false witness of salvation, your own witness without any corroborating evidence?

“Are you saved?” we have asked.

“Yes, I am saved.”

“How do you know that you are saved?”

“I just know. I prayed a prayer and accepted it by faith.”

“Have you repented of your sins and made restitution where it was possible?  Have you been humbled by His grace and now your life has become a repayment of a debt to God that you have no hope of ever repaying?”

“No.”

“Then have you become aware of your inner sin and been filled with the knowledge that it is no longer your master but that you have been given mastery over it, that you no longer have to obey it?”

“No.”

“Well, do you have the joy of lowness? Are you hungry to go lower and lower for God, to be spent, wrung out for Him? Do you aspire to be the lowest of all, to serve, to reckon others better than yourself, to give up all? Is your constant prayer, ‘Lower, Lord, lower’?”

“No.”

“Then surely you have the joy of instant, literal obedience to God with no consideration of the personal cost, right? You are prepared to sell all that you have, distribute to the poor, to travel far from hearth and home to serve God in a remote village or foreign land, if the call should come? When you see a need, do you sacrifice what you have to fill that need? Do you live with only the necessities so that you have more to give into the Kingdom and for the care of those who are hurting and needy?”

“No. But I prayed a prayer and I believe that Jesus died and rose again”.

“So do the devils, and tremble at the thought.”

We have sacrificed conversions for decisions and disciples for numbers. We have lowered the bar until nothing is required and nothing has a cost and then sat back and wondered why we have no disciples, no missionaries and no sacrifice.

God help us.

Here, we have been asked to give up self-importance and to become aware of the myth of fingerprints. To look and see that we are fascinated by the world and all that it has to offer us, the clothes, the homes, the stuff that we surround ourselves with. The desire and hunger for things that we consume upon our own lusts, new this, better that. We are sanctified consumers, spending our lives in service to Wal-Mart and mortgages, television and the internet, our cell phones and text messages. We are surrounded by the world on every side and live with a constant hunger for more. We live as if we are defined by what we possess, the amount of money in our bank account, the success of our fleshly lives.

We need new clothes, fashionable ones, the trendiest haircuts and the expensive gadgets.

We are so busy worshiping at the Cult of Me, a religious order built upon the foundation of the life of the individual and all that defines you in this world (that looks strangely like a great golden calf) that we have utterly forgotten about body life and the servant’s heart.

“Pastor, I can’t give much for the poor or evangelism or for your food or even to keep the lights on at the church. You see, I have a mortgage, two car payments for our new cars, a cable bill so I can watch my shows, internet, insurance, the grocery costs; the kids need haircuts and new clothes. Little Jimmy has soccer and Susie has Ballet. We have to put away for retirement and get a new TV (ours is so old now, it’s practically an antique). I like to have some spending money for hair, nails, tanning, hobbies, and to shop a bit on EBay. So you see, Pastor, we just don’t have much. Believe God with us that we will get better jobs so that we have more to give. And pray that we will have better hours so that we can be at the Church more without cramping our lifestyle. And by the way, if you could do a series on having your best life now, that would be great. I really wish we could help the poor or help support a new church plant or a mission but we just have nothing left after our flesh is completely sated.”

The true life for a Christian is the life found in the body and the joy of spending and being spent in service to the King. Nothing that this world has to offer can compare with the feeling of sacrificing what comfort you have so that others do not experience lack.

1Ti 6:7  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.

Shouldn’t the question be “How little do I actually need surrounding me in order that I can give to others and serve God with my time”, rather than, “God can have the tiny bit left over after I have all I want.”? And we thought this pleased Him, that we gave anything at all. Why not rather have far, far less? Friends, I think that the world has us lock, stock and barrel. This I believe is what Jesus meant by ‘the deceitfulness of riches’.  Is this world our home or isn’t it? Are we passing through or residing permanently?

God has required all of these things from us as we have progressed; He has asked for a sacrifice of the pride of life and the satisfaction of conformity that you gain from the world. To sit back and have very little and give what you do have has brought great joy and great freedom to our hearts. Will it last forever? I am not sure. I have told the people that I am growing a big bushy beard until I learn to stop being so self-important and begin to love it. But it is more than that.

Revival is coming and God has called for a sacred assembly, a fast and a time of sanctification from His people. These are the days of purification, sanctification and consecration. To put feet to our faith and show God that we are serious about drawing near to Him. We desire Him so much that anything in our lives that does not tend to godliness must go.

Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not  lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.

These are strange days but they are days of cost and fire and I would not trade it for anything in the world.

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.