Communion as a form of worship

communion.gifChuck Warnock has a great post on Communion over at his blog today on the topic of communion.  His question is How Often is Too Often?  I replied in the comments to that post.  It does bring up an interesting subject of communion as worship.  I know in our last church, I was thanked by one of the leading laypeople for bringing a sacred specialness to communion.  In other words, we didn’t just tack it on at the end of the service.  The whole service from beginning to end was planned with communion in mind.  As I prepared for this week’s service, I had that in the back of my mind.

 Our tradition (Wesleyan) requires that pastors serve communion at least once a quarter.  For many years, we used that as our standard.  Now, many of our churches are looking to have it more often and at different events.  In our current church, we celebrate communion every other month (even numbered months.) In addition to the regular celebrations, we also participate during our Covenant Renewal Service (the first Sunday of January), Ash Wednesday, and Maundy Thursday.  Last year, we began a tradition of closing our local church conference with communion and we will do that in April.

The older I get the more special I see the communion celebration.  You will notice that I said celebrate, for that is what communion is.  Yes, there is the rememberance of his suffering and death.  That is part of the sacrament, but there is also the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, for it is only in His resurrection that we “break the power of cancelled sin” (to quote John Wesley’s famous hymn) and we also celebrate that Christ will be returning for His church, for he commanded us to celebrate the Lord’s Table in remembrance of Him until the day of His returning.

I also see the importance of elevating this sacrament to a more regular observance.  I would like to see us celebrate it once a month.  Some say that to observe this sacrement too often diminishes its sacredness, but do we say that about singing (what if we only sung to God in worship every three months) or prayer or preaching.  Just because we participate in these “means of grace” on a regular basis doesn’t diminish their sacredness.  That is the reason, special planning goes into communion services.  Communion isn’t just tacked on at the end, but becomes a part of the whole service — it is part of the whole worship time. 

Someone once asked John Wesley how often we should participate?  Here is his answer: “no man can have any pretense to Christian piety, who does not receive it (not once a month, but) as often as he can.” He averaged taking communion once every four or five days. He urged “frequent” communion, rooting such reception in a spirit of “constant” communion that keeps one’s heart perpetually before God. When Methodism became a denomination in North America, he exhorted the clergy to celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.  That’s why I would like to see us observe it once a month.

Let me bring up one more point.  Some have asked, “open or closed” communion.  Wesleyans have an open communion — Ken Schenck writes, “All we require is that the person be seeking God, ‘you who do earnestly repent of your sin.'”  Anyone who is a believer is allowed to participate, including our students.

Communion is an important part of our worship and our worship is important to God. 

Why the Name “Wesleyan?”

This year, we celebrate forty years as The Wesleyan Church.  Our church is a merger of the Wesleyan Methodist and Pilgrim Holiness churches.  We will be celebrating this anniversary at our General Conference in Orlando, FL in June.  The current issue of Wesleyan Life Magazine, is a reflection of that anniversary and over the next year, I will share some of the articles with you.  Why did this new denomination choose the name “Wesleyan?”  Dr. Melvin Snyder, a former General Superintendent, writes — Why the Name “Wesleyan?” which I have copied in its entirety below.

melvin-snyder.jpgWhy was the name The Wesleyan Church chosen for the new denomination? The term Wesleyan has come to stand for a definite, theological position among theologians and Bible students. In fact, it is the most significant and meaningful term used in describing the doctrinal position of those churches which properly may be called holiness churches. However, it must be clearly understood that the name was not chosen to honor a man. Were John Wesley now living, he would vigorously protest the use of his name in any institutional designation. Yet he himself would not be able to change the historical and theological connotations that now surround his name. There are four basic tenets of Wesleyan theology.

It Stands for Universal Grace

The doctrine of universal grace stands at the top of the list of the issues that defined the Wesleyan movement. That doctrine stands opposed to the claim of a limited atonement or sovereign election. Wesley and his co-laborers proclaimed that the grace of God is freely bestowed upon all people, making it possible for all to repent, believe, and be saved.

It Proclaims Assurance of Salvation

Second, Wesleyan theology proclaims the doctrine of assurance—that people may know they are saved from sin, not only by witness of the Scriptures and other corroborating evidence, but also by the direct “witness of the Spirit.”

It Declares the Possibility of Holiness

Third, Wesleyanism stands for the possibility of Christian perfection in this life as a second, definite, instantaneous work of grace effected and witnessed to by the Holy Spirit. Mr. Wesley boldly and scripturally proclaimed, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” This cleansing from all inner corruption, he insisted, was received by faith, not by works, and was retained by a continuing faith.

It Warns of the Need for Faithfulness

Fourth, Mr. Wesley and his fellow workers warned that there is no state of grace in this life from which one cannot fall. Therefore, a continuing faith is necessary if one is to be finally saved.

Since the term Wesleyan so accurately and forthrightly describes our theological position, let us wholeheartedly embrace it as our new name, and with renewed zeal let us proclaim this message of full salvation to all people everywhere.

Mosaic Recap

mosaic.jpgOh, what a night!  Without exageration, we had the best night of Mosaic Student Ministries that we have had.  It was that good.  Why?  From the very beginning several students came with the expectation that we would sing and worship.  This is something new and hasn’t always happened.  It’s not like we have alot of fancy gadgets (except for the video projection) and a lot of fancy instruments; just me and my guitar.  Something was different as we worked our way through the four song worship set, which was a mix of new and old.  We started with Lord, I Lift Your Name on High, then went to Matt Redman’s Blessed Be Your Name.  At that point I introduced the Getty and Townend In Christ Alone.  What we did unique here is that instead of me playing by myself and singing, we sung along with the WOW! Worship CD, which is a couple of years old.  By the second verse it was amazing and by the end, it was so cool to hear our students singing praises to God.  After that we went into a real favorite, Here I Am to Worship.  The singing was so strong that I actually dropped out and listened to the students.  I know that God was pleased.  I taught the Middle School class which can be interesting, and I do think it went well.  We had 21 students tonight and 8 staff people!  Praise God!  We finished the night with nachos, which is always a favorite.

 My takeaway tonight:  I know that I am always quick to give God the praise he deserves for a night like this.  How could I do anything but praise when my heart feels like it does tonight?  But as we were singing Blessed Be Your Name, I remembered that the name of the Lord is praised in the good and the bad.  So the next time we have one of those nights that makes you want to pull your hair out (and I can’t afford to do that anymore) I need to remember to praise God then too, because we are making a difference in Martinsville/Henry County and we are doing our part to build God’s Kingdom here.  Carp Diem!

Worship Wednesdays

If you’ve been around me any length of time, you will know that I enjoy diverse styles of music.  When it comes to worship music that is true as well.  I have a deep appreciation for the timeless hymns of the church, the 19th Century Revival/Gospel Songs, and contemporary worship songs.  Over the past several years, a team of writers from the UK has been putting out some great new contemporary hymns.  Most are familar with the one I picked out today.  This is “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. 

Wesleyan Church History

I did not grow up in the Wesleyan church; I married in to it. So I never knew the history of the Wesleyan Church. While Dale was working on his ordination, he had to take a class on the history of the Wesleyan Church, so he started to get an appreciation for the heritage of our church. Now, I am getting ready to take the class, so this weekend I started to read two books about the Wesleyan church which are An Outline History of the Wesleyan Church by Lee M. Haines and Paul William Thomas, and Reformers and Revivalist, editor Wayne D. Caldwell . The interesting thing in reading these books is through the years of Dale and my ministry we have  traveled and we have gotten to know a lot of people and been to places that are mentioned in these books. It was interesting to read about people whose names I have heard and even one or two that I actually have met in my life. I am hoping to learn more about the Wesleyan Church while working on my class.  Along the way, I am planning on sharing what I have learned.

The Takeaway

As I was pondering today’s Day of Learning, I remembered the one question that has stuck with me.  It was asked by Mark Gorvette:

What does our church need to do to get healthly so that we can plant a church in five years?

Day of Learning

wschmidtrgb133x163px.jpgToday I had to be up especially early because our district was sponsoring a Day of Learning for its pastors.  First, let me applaude Pastor Greg Reynolds for doing this.  I love the fact that we as pastors are going to get together several times a year.  Yes, the continuing ed is great, but so was the fellowship.  I caught a ride with the other Wesleyan pastor in town.  We had a great team come in for this first of many days of learning.  Our guests were Dr. Wayne Schmidt of Kentwood Community Church, and Pastor Mark Gorvette, the District Superintendent of the West Michigan District of the Wesleyan Church.

It was a great day.  Wayne gave us his testimony of how God called him to plant KCC and how both he and the church grew.  He also spoke on his book, “Ministry Momentum.”  It was great stuff.

Pastor Mark presented information on church multiplication.  In 1990, there were 51.3 million worshipers in churches across the USA.  In 2006, there were 51.8 million worshipers in churches across the USA.  In the same 16 year period, the USA netted a gain of 52 million more people into its culture.  While we often talk of church growth, it appears that we have been ineffective of assimilating people into our churches.  Forty years ago at the merger of the Pilgrim Holiness and Wesleyan Methodist churches there were 2000 in North America. Only 1,400 congregations remain.  We have closed 600 churches.  Now, we have planted 300 congregations, but we are not keeping up with the closed churches.  Mark is a big church plant advocate and you can sense his passion for it. 

 After both pastors talked we had an opportunity for a question and answer session.  It was great and it was an encouraging day.  It gave me lots to think about.

Pastor’s Pen

pen.jpgHere is the lead article from our bi-monthly newsletter:

Several days ago, Pam and I were on our way home from doing some church business. As we pulled into the driveway, I noticed something that I have rarely seen here in the South. No, I’m not talking about snow and yes, we haven’t seen much of that either. But what I saw was how dead and grey the world was this week. Part of that is because we have had some real cold weather with lows bottoming out around 10, combined with the fact that we are in one of the harshest droughts ever on record. The grass didn’t get much nourishment this fall and that caused it to die this winter. Now, to Pam and I this is the way winter should always look-dead and grey.

Sometimes our spiritual lives get like that. Hopefully that should concern us as it should, but we also need to remember that some of the greatest Christians in the last two thousand years went through spiritual dry spells. I know it’s a tough thing to go through. I’ve been through them as well. Sometimes you feel as cold, grey, and dead in your spiritual life as the winter around you. That’s when we need to remember that spring is just around the corner. Most of you know the gospel song, “Joy Comes in the Morning.” The chorus goes like this:

Hold on my child,
Joy comes in the morning
Weeping only lasts for the night
Hold on my child,
Joy comes in the morning
The darkest hour means dawn is just in sight.

When we come to that place in our spiritual life – that cold, dead, grey time – that is a time that we can turn to God. Just because we feel spiritual dead, doesn’t mean we are, especially if we are concerned about it. That means there is life in your soul – a life that is waiting to spring forth.

This year, we will once again have our SpringLife emphasis, which coincides with Lent and Easter. It is a time of preparation and reflection for the upcoming Easter season, much like Advent prepares us for Christmas. If you are going through one of those spiritual dry spells, use this time to help water and nourish your soul. We try to keep our bodies in physical shape. We must keep our souls in great shape as well.

Sunday Night Thoughts

What can I say except that today was one of those extremely solid days of ministry.  There was high personal satisfaction factor — I feel like good things happened today, and that always makes a pastor feel good.  I sat under Pam’s teaching once again during her substitute stint in the “Young Adult” class.  She did a great job and there was excellent interaction — she makes a great moderator/facilitator.  During worship, there was a great spirit present.  The students really seemed to enjoy the worship this week.  Everything about the service went great except for some reason during my message the PowerPoint went crazy.  Anna was able to save the video illustration (which really got the point across.)  People responded positively to the message and that is always a good thing and everyone hung around after church again (I love it!)

For the next several weeks leading up to Easter, our Sundays will be shorter, because our choir is rehearsing for our worship presentation on Easter Sunday morning during our main worship hour.  We have a great group singers and musicians.  I can’t wait to see how it turns out.  I will be interspersing my message throughout the music.  The original narrarations were lame (in my opinion.)  We took our first sing through this afternoon before our Spiritual Formation time.  We took a look at Colossians about how Christ has freed us from following man-made rules and we had a great discussion time.

Like I said, just one of those solid days.  Praise the Lord!  Blessings on you all…