Back to the Roots

In every generation of Christians, there have been those who have thrown away their inherited ideas about what it means to be a Christian and what the Church should look like. They have thrown away their preconceptions and simply opened the Bible and sought to put into practice what they read there.


It is this heart-attitude of simple honesty that is powerful, radical and carries the honour of God. We would like to be like this too. As we enter a new phase of our life together, with more freedom and time to express the kingdom of God within us, we want to get right down to the roots of what it means to follow Jesus and to be His hands and feet on this earth.

As well as the New Testament scriptures that describe the Church that operates in the power of the spirit, there are many historical writings from the early Christians that describe how they lived, worshipped and served Jesus Christ. An excellent source for these is a book called The Early Christians in Their Own Words by Eberhard Arnold (founder of the Bruderhof communities). This book describes the worldview of the first Christians, their creeds and confessions, their meetings, worship and church practices, and the prophetic spirit they had. The following texts are quotes taken from the book that describe the “agape” or “love meal” that the first believers shared. We want this to be our practice.

“The gathering of the church community in the presence of the Holy Spirit had great importance among the first Christians. From descriptions of how they gathered, ate, prayed, and sang together, we learn more about them, perhaps, than we do from any other sources. In early congregations, meetings were neither restrictively “religious” nor agenda-driven, as are so many of today’s scheduled “services.” To them, the gathering of the Body was sustenance, life, and identity. At meetings demons were expelled, confessions made, forgiveness requested and granted, gifts exercised, leadership recognised and affirmed, goods shared, and individual and corporate needs met. Most importantly, the name “which is above all names” was exalted and glorified.

“The nature of our Meal and its purpose are explained by its very name. It is called Agape, as the Greeks call love in its purest sense. However much it may cost, it is always a gain to be extravagant in the name of fellowship with what is God’s, since the food brought is used for the benefit of all who are in need. To respect the lowly is all-important with God. If then the motive for our Meal is honourable, consider the discipline ruling during the Meal in that light. That which is rooted in religious commitment does not tolerate vileness and licentiousness. The participants do not go to the table unless they have first tasted of prayer to God. As much is eaten as is necessary to satisfy the hungry; as much is drunk as is good for those who live a disciplined life. When satisfying themselves they are aware that even during the night they should worship God. They converse as those who are aware that God is listening. After the hands are washed and the lights are lit, all are asked to stand forth and to praise God as well as each is able, be it from the holy Scriptures or from his own heart. From this it will be recognised “how he drank.” In like manner the Meal is closed with a prayer.”

“Then bread and a cup containing water mixed with wine are brought to the overseer of the brothers. He takes both and gives praise and glory to the father of the universe through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He offers copious thanks that by him we have been deemed worthy to receive these gifts. At the end of the prayer and the thanksgiving all the people assembled give their assent, saying, “Amen.” The word “Amen” in Hebrew means “So be it!” When the overseer has given thanks and all the people have assented, those we call table stewards [deacons] give each one present some of the bread and wine with water that was accepted with thanksgiving and take some of it to the homes of those who are absent. This meal we call Thanksgiving [Eucharist]. No one is allowed to take part in it except he who believes that the things we teach are true, who has received the bath for the forgiveness of sins and for the new birth, and who lives according to the teachings handed down by Christ. For we do not partake of this meal as if it were ordinary food or ordinary drink. Rather, through the Logos of God, our healing Saviour Jesus Christ became flesh and accepted flesh and blood for the sake of our salvation. Hence, as we have been taught, the food taken with thanksgiving in the words of prayer he handed down to us is the flesh and blood of that Christ who became flesh. Our flesh and blood are strengthened by this eating and drinking for our transformation. The apostles in their own memoirs, which are called Gospels, handed down as they were commanded: Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and said, “Do this in remembrance of me. This is my body.” In the same way he took the cup, gave thanks, and said, “This is my blood.” And he gave it to them alone.”

“In trembling awe the church experiences her Lord and sovereign as a guest: “Now he has appeared among us!” Some see him sitting in person at the table to share their meal.

“Celebrating the Lord’s Supper is indeed a foretaste of the future wedding feast.

“In their certainty of victory, Christians gathered for the Lord’s Supper perceived the alarmed question of Satan and death, “Who is he that robs us of our power?” They answered, exultantly, “Here is Christ, the crucified!” When Christ’s death is proclaimed at this meal it means that his resurrection is given substance and life is transformed. His victorious power is consummated in his suffering and dying, in his rising from death and ascent to the throne, and in his second coming.

“The Love meal was originally linked with the Lord’s Supper of bread and wine.

“Along with prayers from surrendered hearts, the bread and wine was a solemn crowning. During the meal the believers partook of all foods, thanking and praising God for all they ate.

“This “Meal of Thanksgiving” or “Meal of Offerings,” where the gifts were immediately used to feed the poor and the prophets and apostles, has no parallel in any other religion.”

As things around us are shifting and changing, let’s keep in mind the importance of meeting together (Heb 10:25) not because we have to but because we enjoy coming into the presence of God together and spending time with each other. We read in Acts of how the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. […] And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

 

If you’ve got to the end of this article and you’re thinking “yes, but…” or “no, because…” write your “yes but” or “no because” in the comments below.
  • Liz Whittington

    Thanks Joram, I agree,. I loved what you wrote. I love this Church too, but want more of Jesus, more of his presence. We need to be organised, but if we have too much red tape our minds get too full of the wrong things. Naturally I am as striver, but have been ill with shingles, so I have time to pray, listen and get things into perspective again. I really don’t want to get into the treadmill again when I am better. I am praying for us all to hunger and thirst again. Bless you for your posting. Liz Whittington

  • Good stuff, and very recognisable.

  • Oliver CSM

    Dear friends,
    Yes, it’s an inspiring message.
    As a happy congregational member of the Jesus Fellowship (NC Hall), also a fairly devout Catholic, I can say from experience that the Eucharist in the Catholic Church, and the Church’s understanding of it, has not changed since those early days.
    The Catholic Church has continued to devote herself to the apostles’ teaching, breaking of bread, fellowship, and prayers to this day. And the Lord has, so far, added maybe 2,000,000,0000 to the number, including those who have fallen asleep.
    Since I was received into the Catholic Church in 2016, I have felt a real sense of belonging and continuity with the church throughout history, including the early church, which I had not known before (apart from a slight inkling I had once at Mass). From the inside, there is no doubt that it’s the same church, and, speaking as a bit of a philosopher, the “Catholic” way of thinking that one encounters in Catholic Church today, in theology books, prayers, papal encyclicals, pastoral letters from the bishop, and in conversation, is exactly the same way of thinking one recognises in the New Testament and the Church Fathers. That way of thinking is also present within the Jesus Fellowship, and that’s perhaps why I have always felt at home with the JF, and believe that so many of us will feel in curiously familiar territory in the Catholic Church, as I have felt.

    The faith, community, and charitable works of the Jesus Fellowship bear splendid public witness to Christ. If we can now also recover the “devotion to the apostles’ teaching” aspect of the early church, and the Eucharist, then we’ll be complete. Of course, that means being received into full Eucharistic communion in the Catholic Church because, as was written in the quotation above (which is from the 1st apology of Justin Martyr), “only those who believe what we teach we are allowed to partake”, and that teaching, including the restriction on sharing the Eucharist, hasn’t changed.
    The Catholic Church teaches that all baptised Christians really are members of the Church, the mystical Body of Christ; already in communion, but imperfectly, and only those willing to be in full communion will be allowed to share in the Eucharist.

    It is a massive challenge to one’s ego to submit to the authority of the Church, but that’s kind of the point, and the sacrifice is totally worth it. My own experience of that submission is that it is very liberating, but was for me very much a leap of faith rather than a matter of my own judgment, which again is kind of the point. But – and I think this next point is very important – in making that submission we are trusting in God, and in the Church as a whole, not in any particular person or teaching apart from Jesus.

    For my part, I would truly be overjoyed to know that the JF was going to rejoin the Catholic Church. Just imagine all the community houses and the Jesus Centres as they are now, but with the apostolic teaching, discipline, and fellowship of the worldwide Catholic Church, and the power of the Holy Eucharist; what a wonderful benefit to the JF, to the Catholic Church, and to the wider community! And what a great witness to Christian unity and the truth of the Gospel!

    Love,
    Oliver
    🙂

    P.S. For the avoidance of doubt, I really love the Jesus Fellowship, and believe that joining the Catholic Church is probably going to be the best future for it. Far from disappearing into obscurity, it will be the way the Fellowship gains, collectively, a deeper understanding of itself through the experience of what “the communion of saints” has always meant within the Catholic Church, and I expect it will grow.
    P.P.S. some people think the JF is a bit “weird”, but it’s not as “weird” as the Cistercians, or Opus Dei, and will fit right in. 😉