Thursday, April 2, 2015

Good Friday Hymns & Prayers

Today, as we observe the sacrifice and crucifixion of our Lord, through which He has taken away the sin of the world, I commend the following two Wesley hymns followed by the prayers for Good Friday from the Book of Common Prayer.

 
Would Jesus Have the Sinner Die?
 
Would Jesus have the sinner die?
Why hangs He then on yonder tree?
What means that strange, expiring cry?
Sinners, He prays for you and me:
"Forgive them, Father, O forgive!
They know not that by Me they live!"
 
Adam descended from above
Our loss of Eden to retrieve,
Great God of universal love,
If all the world through Thee may live,
In us a quick'ning Spirit be,
And witness Thou hast died for me.
 
Thou loving, all-atoning Lamb,
Thee - by Thy painful agony,
Thy sweat of blood, Thy grief and shame,
Thy Cross and passion on the tree,
Thy precious death and life - I pray:
Take all, take all my sins away.
 
O let me kiss Thy bleeding feet,
And bathe and wash them with my tears!
The story of Thy love repeat
In ev'ry drooping sinner's ears,
That all may hear the quick'ning sound,
Since I, e'en I, have mercy found.
 
O let Thy love my heart constrain!
Thy love for ev'ry sinner free,
That ev'ry fallen soul of man
May taste the grace that found out me;
That all mankind with me may prove
Thy sov'reign, everlasting love
 
************************************
 
O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done?
 
O love divine, what hast Thou done?
Th'immortal God hath died for me!
The Father's co-eternal Son
Bore all my sins upon the tree;
Th'immortal God for me hath died
My Lord, my Love is crucified
 
Behold Him, all ye that pass by,
The bleeding Prince of life and peace!
Come, sinners, see your Maker died
And say, was ever grief like His?
come, feel with me His blood applied;
My Lord, my Love is crucified.
 
Is crucified for me and you,
To bring us rebels back to God.
Believe, believe the record true;
Ye all are bought with Jesus' blood.
Pardon for all flows from His side;
My Lord, my Love is crucified.
 
The let us sit beneath His Cross
And gladly catch the healing stream.
All things for Him account but loss
And give up all our hearts to Him.
Of nothing think or speak beside:
My Lord, my Love is crucified.
 
********************************************
 
Almighty God, we beseech thee graciously to behold this thy family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed, and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross, who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.  Amen.
 
Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified; Receive our supplications and prayers which we offer before thee for all estates of men in thy holy Church, that every member of the same, in his vocation and ministry, may truly and godly serve thee, through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.
 
O Merciful God, who hast made all men, and hatest nothing that thou hast made, nor wouldest the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted, and live; Have mercy upon all who know thee not as thou art revealed in the Gospel of thy Son, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of they Word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of the true Israelites, and be made one fold under one Shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, One God, world without end.  Amen.
 
Epistle:  Hebrews 10:1-25
 
Gospel: John 19:1-37

Maundy Thursday

Today is Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday.  The term Maundy comes from the Latin, mandatum novarum, which means, "a new commandment."  It is a reference to John 13:34-35, where Jesus says to His disciples, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (NRSV)  -  This, of course, takes place on the Thursday prior to Jesus' crucifixion.  It is in the larger context of Jesus washing the disciples' feet.

This is also the time when our Lord instituted the holy sacrament of the Lord's Supper.  This sacrament is known by a number of names emphasizing various aspects of the sacrament. 

It is referred to as Holy Communion.  The Greek word, here, is koinonia.  It is a word that speaks of fellowship, communion, participation and sharing.  In connection with the sacrament we find it in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, where St. Paul says, "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing (NRSV) / participation (NIV) / communion (KJV) in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread."  -  And so, in the sacrament, more than just remembering what Christ has done (though we certainly do that), we really and truly commune with the blood and body of Christ.  -  Verse 17 indicates we also have fellowship around the Table with our sisters and brothers in Christ.  As the invitation in the Nazarene ritual indicates, ". . . we are one, at one table with the Lord."

The sacrament is also often referred to as the Eucharist.  This term will be familiar to most who read this blog, but for many in evangelical circles, this is often an unfamiliar term.  It is, therefore, treated with suspicion by some and outright condemnation by still others!  Nevertheless, such suspicions (and certainly condemnations!) can be put aside when we realize that this term, unlike the others, is actually found in all four New Testament accounts of the Last Supper (Matt. 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:14-20; and 1 Cor. 11:23-26).  You see, the Greek word eucharistein simply means "to be thankful."  The sacrament, and the major prayer for it in the liturgy is understood as "the Great Thanksgiving."  -  Jesus took, gave thanks, (broke the bread), and gave the sacramental elements to the disciples.

The New Testament also refers to the sacrament by simply speaking of "the breaking of the bread."  For example, in Acts 2:42 we hear those famous words, "(The disciples) devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers."  -  Unfortunately, many have misunderstood this to mean nothing more than the disciples committing themselves to having pot luck meals together, when, instead, what is being referred to is the holy sacrament.

This raises the point that the New Testament Church was committed to the sacrament of Holy Communion.  "Day by day," Luke tells us (in Acts 2:46), ". . . they spent much time together in the temple . . ." (Service of the Word), and ". . . they broke bread from house to house . . ." (Service of the Table).  St. Paul chastises the Church at Corinth when he says, "When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord's supper" (1 Cor. 11:20).  In other words, when they come together it was supposed to be to eat the Lord's Supper.  -  Such seems to be the apostle's understanding of Jesus' instructions.  Such is the pattern of the New Testament Church.  It is the pattern of the Early Church.  It is the pattern of the Church throughout the ages.  And, for us Wesleyans, it was our spiritual forefather's instruction that we should celebrate the sacrament every Lord's Day.

Why?  -  Is it because of some legalistic command?  Do we have to do it like that?  Won't it lose it's specialness?  -  No, no, no!  That's missing the point altogether!  -  Instead, we gather at the Table of the Lord, when we gather together in the name of the Lord, because He has explicitly promised to meet us at the Table!  It is at the Table that we have the explicit promise of communing/sharing/participating in the body and blood of our Lord!  God's grace is poured out to us through this holy gift!  -  Thanks be to God!

"Listen" to the wonderful words of this Wesley Eucharistic Hymn:

1. Glory to Him who freely spent
His blood, that we might live,
And through this choicest instrument
Doth all His blessings give.
 
2. Fasting He doth, and hearing bless,
And prayer can much avail,
Good vessels all to draw the grace
Out of salvation's well.
 
3. But none, like this mysterious rite
Which dying mercy gave,
Can draw forth all His promised might
And all His will to save.
 
4. This is the richest legacy
Thou hast on man bestow'd:
Here chiefly, Lord, we feed on Thee,
And drink Thy precious blood.
 
5. Here all Thy blessings we receive,
Here all Thy gifts are given,
To those that would in Thee believe,
Pardon, and grace, and heaven.
 
6. Thus may we still in Thee be blest,
Till all from earth remove,
And share with Thee the marriage feast,
And drink the wine above.


Thanks be to our God!
 
______________________________________________________
(This article originally appeared in 2012 & was repeated in 2014)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Feast of St. Patrick

March 17 is the Feast of St. Patrick. Most people know it as a day when we celebrate all things Irish
and when everyone gets to wear green, my favorite color. (In fact, I would join the petition to make green an alternate liturgical color, instead of Lent's purple, just for St. Patrick's Day!) - Yet there is much more significance to the day.

The real reason we celebrate is because of the amazing missionary work of Patrick during the 5th century. - As a boy, Patrick was kidnapped and enslaved as a shepherd in Ireland. After his escape several years later, he entered Holy Orders in Britain. He was ordained a Presbyter (i.e., Elder or Priest) and consecrated a Bishop. God called Patrick back to Ireland, where, by the grace of God, Patrick brought about, in large part, the conversion of Ireland. In the process, he Christianized Pagan sacred places and objects (a good lesson for current evangelicals).

Additionally, Patrick provided a great (though certainly not perfect!) means of speaking of the Holy Trinity by use of the three-leafed clover.

One of the most powerful prayers attributed to Patrick is The Lorica, or St. Patrick's Breastplate. While there is some doubt that it was actually written by the good bishop, it certainly expresses his faith.

While an abbreviated form of the Breastplate is found in Sing to the Lord, the Nazarene hymnal, the more complete version, as follows, was found on my friend, James Gibson's old blog. (His currently blog is Locust and Wild Honey.)- May God make this a reality for us all.




I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever,
by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
his baptism in the Jordan river;
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spiced tomb;
his riding up he heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
of the great love of cherubim;
the sweet “Well done” in judgement hour;
the service of the seraphim;
confessors’ faith, apostles’ word,
the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls;
all good deeds done unto the Lord,and purity of virgin souls.


I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven,
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.


I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.


Against the demon snares of sin,
the vice that gives temptation force,
the natural lusts that war within,
the hostile men that mar my course;
of few or many, far or nigh,
in every place, and in all hours
against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.


Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
against false words of heresy,
against the knowledge that defiles
against the heart’s idolatry,
against the wizard’s evil craft,
against the death-wound and the burning
the choking wave and poisoned shaft,
protect me, Christ, till thy returning.


Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.


I bind unto myself the Name,
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.
 
_________________________________________
 
(This article is based on one of my previous posts.)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Theologically Discordant Hymns

Recently I attended the Mission Fifteen (M-15) conference in Kansas City, MO.  -  This is the conference that is held between Nazarene general assemblies.  It is sponsored by the U.S. / Canada Region of the Church of the Nazarene.  -  Actually, I presented a workshop on Wesleyan Worship during the Pre-Conference, and, hopefully before long, I will be able to link to a video of that workshop.

While at the M-15 conference, among the many workshops I attended, I went to one presented by Dr. Frank M. Moore.  Dr. Moore is the editor of the denominational magazine, Holiness Today.  He was presenting a workshop that promoted the new "Nazarene Essentials" edition of the magazine sponsored by the Board of General Superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene.

One of the many things that Dr. Moore was "up in arms" about (and really, rightly so!) was Nazarenes listening to and singing songs/hymns that contain Reformed lyrics.  Such really is a problem because, it is true, we really do (begin to) believe what we sing.  This is why it has sometimes been argued that Charles Wesley was much more influential for early Methodists than John.  After all, it was Charles' hymns, more than John's sermons, that shaped the beliefs of the people called Methodists.  -  They sang the Wesley hymns much more often than they read one of John's sermons.

Dr. Moore was quite concerned that in singing such songs we have produced members who think that we actually believe what we are singing, when we don't and never have!  Further, many do not seem to understand, at all, why we wouldn't or shouldn't believe such claims.

Frankly, I pressed Dr. Moore to give some examples of such Reformed lyrics.  I did this, not because I didn't have a good idea of some, myself, but because I thought there may be some attending the workshop who really had no idea what he was talking about.

The one song that he thought of, off the top of his head,was one that has previously been a topic of conversation among some of my colleagues, viz., "In Christ Alone" by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend.

Actually, I quite like the song . . . for the most part.  However, there is one troublesome line, for we Wesleyans.  -  Here is the hymn in its entirety:

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev'ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow'r of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow'r of Christ I'll stand.
 
Truly, there are a number of lines that could be read from a Reformed point of view, though, I would suggest, they do not have to be read from that point of view.  For example, nearly the entirety of the last verse could be understood from a Reformed perspective, but it need not be the case at all.  However, the one line that does cause an issue is the sixth line of the second verse which declares that when Jesus died on the cross, "The wrath of God was satisfied."  -  For this line, it has been suggested that we substitute the words, "The love of God was magnified," which is much more consistent with a Wesleyan perspective.
 
However, the song that came to my mind is the 1758 classic hymn by Robert Robinson, "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing."  -  The original words to the third verse (at least the third verse that appears in most modern hymnals) are:


 
3. O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let that grace now like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

 
In a brilliant move (and I have yet to trace exactly how this happened), the Nazarene hymnal (and others in the Holiness Movement) changed this third verse.  Frankly, I am not aware of any other hymn that we (Nazarenes) have actually taken pains to edit theologically.  Nevertheless, I am thrilled that we have made this change.  -  The revised verse, consistent with Wesleyan theology, says:
 
3. O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let that grace, now, like a fetter,
Bind my yielded heart to Thee.
Let me know Thee in Thy fullness;
Guide me by Thy mighty hand
Till, transformed, in Thine own image
In Thy presence I shall stand.

 
Frankly, I have been dismayed over these last few years, while serving in the United Methodist Church, that the United Methodists, who have spent time editing various hymns, have retained the original, non-Wesleyan(!), version in their hymnal.  -  I will confess that when we sing the hymn and project it at the United Methodist churches where I serve, we sing the Wesleyan version!

How unfortunate that the older, non-Wesleyan version has found its way back into the Church of the Nazarene via a contemporary version of the hymn that has had popular air play on the radio.  -  In fact, I was very surprised to hear it sung, not with the contemporary version, but in a choral piece at a Nazarene retreat. 

With music being seen by so many as having such importance in worship (and I agree that it plays an important, though not the primary role in worship), we pastors who have been given the responsibility to lead the Church in worship are responsible to make sure that what we sing is consistent with what we believe.  For, indeed, we will believe what we sing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Begun, The Lenten Journey Has

(Okay, I confess, this is a repeat from last year, this time.  However, I really liked the whole Star Wars connection, so . . .  -  Unfortunately, due to the weather, our Ash Wednesday service has been canceled this year!  -  Anyway, here's the article . . . with a couple new comments interjected:)
 
Yes, it's true.  I'm not just a "liturgy nerd."  I'm also a "sci-fi nerd!"  So, obviously, the title to this post is a take off of Yoda's "Begun, the clone war has."  -  Ya' gotta' love Yoda! (And then I had to add a pic of Mace Windu, because he uses a purple lightsaber, and it is Lent . . .)

 

 In any case, today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the forty day (not counting Sundays) season of Lent. Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, which means “spring” (which is so ironic, given our record setting cold temperatures this week!). The season is a preparation for celebrating the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. Historically, Lent began as a period of fasting and preparation for baptism by converts and then became a time for penance by all Christians.

Most churches that observe the season of lent will mark their worship space with somber colors such as purple (cf., Mace Windu's lightsaber!) or ash gray and rough-textured cloth as most appropriate symbols.

Ash Wednesday provides us with the opportunity to confront our own mortality and to confess our sin before God within the community of faith. The form and content of the Ash Wednesday Service focuses on the themes of sin and death, but it does so within the context of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ.

The use of ashes as a sign of mortality and repentance has a long history in Jewish and Christian worship, and the Imposition of Ashes can be a powerful and tangible way of participating in the call to repentance and reconciliation.
During the season of Lent, many Christians engage in specific efforts at prayer and fasting and various forms of abstinence.  (This year, a couple of people I know are "taking on" some things, rather than just "giving up" things, e.g., one is adding 15 minutes a day of Bible reading; another is taking up writing prisoners.)  Sometimes these special efforts are viewed as a kind of legalism imposed by certain denominations.  (Some Roman Catholics view it this way, though that is not the intent of the Roman Catholic Church.)  Others see this as a way of simply "proving they can do it."  And there are those who see Lent as a time to jump-start their diets.  (Though the loss of weight may be a favorable side effect, that is not the purpose of fasting!)

There are others, however, who recognize that fasting and the various forms of abstinence are truly spiritual disciplines with the intent of opening us up to God's presence and grace in preparation for the great celebration of Easter. 

Coming from a branch of Methodism that has thoroughly embraced the Camp Meeting and Revivalism, I have always told our people that Lent is revival preparation!  -  When we would schedule a revival with an evangelist, we would do more than schedule the revival.  We would set aside specific times for prayer and fasting, seeking God's face for the revival services, the evangelist, the lost in our community, the Church, and ourselves.  "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.  See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23-24)  -  That, very much, is what happens during Lent.

Additionally, in the congregations where I have served, I have made it a practice of distributing to everyone a "World Methodist Call to Prayer and Fasting and to Faith-Sharing" bookmark on the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday.  This book mark, produced by World Methodist Evangelism, calls our people to participate in the "Wesley fast."

The WME website says this about the bookmarks:

The 2001 World Methodist Conference in England called upon Methodists around the world to "follow the Wesleyan Pattern of Prayer and Fasting, focusing on spreading the gospel of Christ Jesus through word, deed and sign" by participating in the same weekly fast which John Wesley observed most of his life. Because of this commitment, Methodists in 130 countries go without solid food after their evening meal each Thursday until mid-afternoon each Friday.

This time of fasting is focused in prayer for the vision of World Evangelism -- to see the Methodist movement alive, vibrant, growing and yearning to spread the good news of Christ Jesus in a world that so desperately needs healing, hope and salvation. Methodist churches and groups are encouraged to participate in the Wesleyan Pattern of Prayer and Fasting during Lent and/or during the period between Easter and Pentecost.

These ENGLISH PRAYER AND FASTING CARDS are available free of charge, in reasonable quantities, for congregations or groups wishing to participate in this worldwide commitment. The 2 3/4 x 8 1/2 inch laminated cards contain an explanation of the Prayer and Fasting Commitment plus special prayers for Thursday Evening, Friday Morning, Friday Noon, and Friday at the time of breaking the fast.

I would encourage all pastors in denominations that are members of the World Methodist Council to order these free bookmarks by going to the WME website, here.  Further, anyone who may pastor in a Wesleyan/Methodist denomination that is not a member of the WMC is still encouraged to join in this fast, during the season of Lent (and beyond!).

In the United States, the denominations that hold membership in the World Methodist Council are:

African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church,

Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Church of the Nazarene, Free Methodist Church,

The United Methodist Church, and The Wesleyan Church.

Indeed, may we "see the Methodist movement alive, vibrant, growing and yearning to spread the good news of Christ Jesus in a world that so desperately needs healing, hope and salvation."  And may we see lives marvelously transformed by the great grace of God!  In the name of and for the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Saturday, January 31, 2015

That's Roman Catholic!

This evening I was reading John Wesley's Plain Account of the Methodists in Volume 9 of The Works of John Wesley.  He was writing about those who complained about the "bands" of people who gathered together, confessed their sins to each other, and prayed and encouraged each other in their spiritual growth.  -  THIS WAS A GREAT PARAGRAPH!  -  I have a feeling that several people who read this blog will be able to relate to this paragraph:

"An objection much more boldly and frequently urged, is that 'all these bands are mere popery'. I hope I need not pass a harder censure on those (most of them at least) who affirm this, than that they talk of they know not what, that they betray in themselves the most gross and shameful ignorance. Do not they yet know that the only popish confession is the confession made by a single person to a priest? (And this itself is in no wise condemned by our Church; nay, she recommends it in some cases.)  Whereas that we practice is the confession of several persons conjointly, not to a priest, but to each other. Consequently, it has no analogy at all to popish confession. But the truth is, this is a stale objection, which many people make against anything they do not like. It is all popery out of hand."

When I read that, I said to myself, "Ain't it the truth! Things never change!  'That's Roman Catholic!'"

Of course, John Wesley was accused, on the one hand, of being an enthusiast (i.e., a fanatic), and, on the other hand, he was accused of being a Roman Catholic Jesuit.  -  Neither accusation were correct, but it is nice to know that I'm in good company!

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Review of "John Wesley In America: Restoring Primitive Christianity" by Dr. Geordan Hammond


Hammond, Geordan. John Wesley in America: Restoring Primitive Christianity. Oxford University Press. 2014. (237 pages)

From Dr. Geordan Hammond comes the first book-length study of John Wesley’s ministry in America. . . . and it is fantastic! 
 
Geordan Hammond, Ph.D. is Director of the Manchester Wesley Research Centre, and Senior Lecturer in Church History and Wesley Studies at Nazarene Theological College, and his most recent publication is the kind of book that “Wesleyan/Anglican” type folks will thoroughly devour.  It is true that it is not simply a book on liturgy, sacraments or worship.  However, most Wesleyans who would describe themselves as being “on the Canterbury trail”   John Wesley’s concern for continuity with the early Church is precisely what Geordan Hammond focuses on in this book.
Dr. Geordan Hammond
are interested in those things, at least in part, because they point us back to the practices of the early Church.

Many of Wesley’s biographers tend to overlook Wesley’s time in Georgia, or they have simply treated it as a failure.  Many nineteenth-century Methodists were guilty of “de-Anglicanizing” Wesley.  For them, the mission to Georgia’s real importance is as a backdrop leading to Wesley’s evangelical conversion at Aldersgate.  -  Hammond easily demonstrates the flaws in this perspective.

Hammond presents an abundance of evidence from Wesley’s own writings, as well as those of his contemporaries, showing that Wesley used the mission in Georgia as a laboratory for implementing his understanding of the primitive Church.  He argues that the desire to restore the doctrine, discipline, and practice of the early Church was the primary reason that Wesley took on the Georgia mission, and without that understanding, historians and theologians will not be able to adequately evaluate Wesley’s mission in America.

Hammond shows that Wesley’s ecclesiology matched that of the Usager Nonjurors.  Thus, like other High Churchmen, Wesley stressed the centrality of the sacraments in worship.  Further, Wesley’s views of the early Church are seen in his devotional discipline, sacramental doctrine and practice, and his conduct in leading worship.  He sought to imitate the practices of the primitive church through his revisions of the Book of Common Prayer, precise sacramental observance, confession, penance, ascetical discipline, the utilization of deaconesses, religious societies, and his mission to the Indians.

Further, Hammond demonstrates that this concern for continuity with the primitive Church did not end in Georgia.  Rather, it continued throughout John Wesley’s life.  Indeed, there were areas of change in Wesley’s understanding and practice, but he maintained his belief in the primitive Church as a normative model for Christian faith and practice. 

While the central argument of the book is that the ideal of restoring primitive Christianity was at the forefront of Wesley’s thinking and is crucial to interpreting the Georgia mission, a number of secondary themes are also found.  Hammond seeks to analyze Wesley in context as an Anglican clergyman rather than interpreting his Georgia mission as a “preface to victory.”  When possible, Hammond demonstrates the connection between Wesley’s reading and practice of primitive Christianity.  Third, he provides a fresh perspective on Wesley’s interaction with the colonists, Moravians, Lutheran Pietists, and Miss Sophia (!) by interpreting those relationships within the context of Wesley’s desire to renew primitive Christianity. 

In this work, Hammond also considers the primary documents written by Wesley and his contemporaries and evaluates those journals, diaries, letters, etc., with a particular view as to how other biographers have used or misused them.  Further, Hammond makes thorough use of sources seldom utilized by other Wesley biographers.

In order to accomplish his goals, Hammond divides the book into five chapters.  Chapter one investigates the influence of the concept of primitive Christianity on Wesley’s theology and practice prior to the Georgia mission.  Chapter 2 focuses on the theme of primitive Christianity on the voyage to Georgia.  Chapter 3 analyzes Wesley’s relationship with the Moravians and Lutheran Pietists through the lens of his devotion to his High Church Anglican understanding of primitive Christianity. 

It is in chapter four that Hammond focuses on the application of Wesley’s view of primitive Christianity in Georgia, proper.  Here we watch Wesley endeavor to imitate the practices of Christ and the early Church through his interest in prayer book revisions, sacramental observance, confession, penance, ascetical discipline, deaconesses, religious societies, and mission to the Indians.  Though Hammond shows that Wesley’s confidence in the early church councils and canons were diminished by the time he left Georgia, he nevertheless shows that his pursuance of the form and spirit of the primitive church remained.

In the final chapter we take a look at the opposition to Wesley’s ministry.  He was viewed by some as an enthusiast (or fanatic).  Others accused him of being Roman Catholic.  He was seen by many as being divisive.  Further, Hammond argues that the Sophia Williamson controversy is best understood within the context of opposition by male colonists to Wesley’s ministry to women, in general.

At the conclusion of the book, Hammond produces an evaluation of Wesley’s mission to Georgia that stands in sharp contrast to those who have claimed it to be a failure.  It is in this section that Hammond discusses continuity and discontinuity between Wesley’s views of primitive Christianity while in Georgia compared to his views later in life.  He clearly shows Wesley’s continuing interest in the Church Fathers and the primitive church as normative models for doctrine and practice, and that he was convinced that Methodism was the restoration of primitive Christianity.

One critical note:  Hammond seems to assume at a couple of points that those reading his book will come to it with a sufficient knowledge of English history, as well as an understanding of the identity of some of the “key players” in Wesley’s England.  He does get around to explaining who the Nonjurors are, for example, but one has to wait a bit for it.  This is not necessarily bad.  However, it may require a bit of patience for the uninformed.  Additionally, it may well spur on further investigation, which is always a good thing.

This book also raises some questions for Wesleyan/Anglican types, like me.  If Wesley was so convinced of the Usager points while in Georgia, and if he continued to be so committed to primitive Christianity (and I agree with both statements!), then what was it that caused him to so modify his views when it came time to produce “The Sunday Service”?  -  It is understandable that he would not include instructions about using a mixed chalice.  After all, he cuts out plenty of the instructional material from the BCP.  However, why did he not include clear oblation language or a clear epiclesis during the Eucharistic prayers? 

Those are some of the burning questions that I was left with after reading Hammond’s book.  -  I really wish that he would have answered those questions for me, but, alas, it seems that they were (frustratingly!) just beyond the scope of this work. 

As I indicated, this is a fantastic read!  It is a must for all students of John Wesley, and especially for those Wesleyan/Anglican types who read this blog.  (It is a bit pricey, but . . . ) I very highly recommend this book.  -  It is my hope that many 21st Century Wesleyan/Methodists will (re)discover Wesley’s commitment to continuity with the primitive Church and will adapt such a commitment for their lives and ministry.

For information on purchasing a copy of Dr. Hammond's book, please follow this link.