Film / Book Reviews

The forgotten aspect of the Wesleyan revival

Jul 0200    

Wesleyan Eucharistic Spirituality
Author: Lorna Khoo
Adelaide: ATF Press, 2005
Available from Stwbooks@gmail.com
$39.90

FOR many Christians today, the word revival conjures up images of large open-air gatherings, masses streaming to the altar, people falling on their faces (or on their backs) in fervent prayer, prophecies and other “manifestations of the Spirit”.

The revival under John and Charles Wesley shared some of these features, but it also had something else that was not to be found in subsequent revivals. It was a revival where the celebration of the Eucharist played a pivotal role.

Lorna Khoo’s book traces this aspect of the Wesleyan revival, an aspect which many today, including even those who call themselves Methodists, have largely forgotten.

For the Wesleys the Eucharist was no mere ritual; it was a powerful, spiritual reality. The Eucharist was a real point of contact between God and His people. The journal of John Wesley records many instances where people were healed or fell under deep conviction of sin during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

Khoo thus sees this “converting” feature of the Eucharist as providing a strong missiological challenge for the Wesleys’ spiritual descendants (pp. 233- 235).

But what her book has shown is not just the history of the revival as a eucharistic revival; she has demonstrated that the Wesleys’ eucharistic practice is undergirded by a strong eucharistic theology (pp. 62ff.).

Unlike many today who regard the Eucharist as merely a commemorative event, the Wesleys believed that the Table was the place where Christ’s real presence could be encountered. This theology, however, did not develop in a vacuum but grew out of the Wesleys’ deep acquaintance with the larger spiritual tradition (chap. 3).

The Wesleys drank deeply from the spiritual resources within Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, Anglicanism and even various pietistic traditions, but they also used their sources judiciously (pp. 160-163).

The result was an eucharistic spirituality that was truly catholic in the best sense of the word and contextually grounded.

Finally, Khoo’s book also suggests how Methodists in Asia could learn from their founding fathers. While I am reticent about turning the doctrine of the Eucharist as a “converting ordinance” into an evangelistic tool (cf. p. 235), there is certainly great potential for Methodists in this part of the world to return to a spirituality centring in the eucharistic celebration.

It is of interest to note that in recent years many evangelicals and charismatics from the Free Church tradition are rediscovering the power of eucharistic worship and of the ancient Christian tradition (see, e.g., Robert Webber, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail and The Younger Evangelicals).

They have run the gamut of quick-fix solutions (prayer walks, Prayer of Jabez, Bible code, 40-day purpose-driven church, etc.) and have discovered that these strategies for success are no more than passing fads that do not provide the church a deep enough foundation on which to build and mature.

They have travelled full circle to return to the truth that the Church throughout history has been affirming all along: that what constitute or make the church are Word and Sacrament.

The day when the churches in Singapore recover this truth is when they will begin to experience true revival and lasting growth. I hope that Wesleyan Eucharistic Spirituality will assist all pastors in Singapore (not just Methodist ones) in that recovery.

The Rev Dr Simon Chan is Earnest Lau Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Theological College.

Book encourages Methodists to ‘talk of God’

LONDON – A recently published book from The Methodist Church here aims to encourage Methodists and other Christians to renew their ability to talk about God. The book, based on a report that was enthusiastically received by the Methodist Conference last year, was written by the Discipleship and Church Membership Working Group.

Time to Talk of God, subtitled Recovering Christian conversation as a way of nurturing discipleship, is aimed at ordinary Christians. The book addresses the reasons why Christians can find it hard to talk about their faith, and how easy it is for churches and congregations to develop habits that make Christian conversation hard.

Ms Janet Morley, Convenor of the working group that produced the report, said: “Methodism has a rich history of deepening discipleship through direct and honest conversation, but somewhere along the line we have lost the knack of doing so.

“We produced a report for the Conference that was willing to discuss our weakness and to develop ways to help people regain their confidence. But we wanted the book to be a rich, vibrant resource that people will enjoy reading even while it challenges and encourages them.”

The richly-illustrated book contains group and individual exercises, prayers, Bible passages and practical guides to shifting church culture so that talking to each other about God is easier and more natural. – Methodist Church House, London.

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