This post was published to Kiwi and an Emu. at 5:19:57 AM 30/12/2007
Eusebius visits Theophilus with the express intention to get advice about Experience Meetings. This first dialogue gives an imaginary history of the awakening in Eusebius’ area, though one can imagine that the history is a compilation of similar histories throughout Wales.
Eusebius outlines a situation where only a few faithful Christians gathered together for prayer, not because of any fervor on their part, but purely because the Bible promised that wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name he would be there to bless. Even so, their meetings were “lifeless”, a description emphasized seemingly because the Experience Meetings to be discussed were anything but. According to Eusebius’ history, they finally decided to no longer meet, but at their last meeting, the most timid and unbelieving of them suddenly began to pray with passion, speaking “unusual words” as if in agony of soul. This state of mind spread to everyone else who was there and they all “laid hold upon God, His attributes, His Word and His promises, resolving that we would never let go our hold until all our desire should be satisfied.”
And God came.
From then on there were meetings of power and Spirit, and conviction spread from person to person and the whole district was changed. This continued up to the time of Eusebius’ visit to Theophilus, though Eusebius made the observation that “those sweet breezes do not blow as frequently as they did, and there is not the same heat in the fire; and the gusts of emotion are less fiery” explaining that perhaps that is because people are becoming more discerning as to what is flesh and what is not, and are able to enjoy God without the same, what we might call, “hype”. At the same time, Eusebius asserts there is evidence of maturing among the believers, that being:
- They view their hearts as evil, causing them “not to condemn or be prejudiced against other people, but to have compassion on all, believing themselves to be more unworthy than anyone.”
- A growing awareness of their need for “a Mediator” so that Jesus and the gospel is central to their thought, conversation and worship.
Interestingly, on this last point, Eusebius says, “they never look inwards (into themselves) except in order to compel themselves to lean more on Christ and to believe more on Him”.
Some of the believers had been tempted and some drawn away, but those Christians around them had convicted and corrected them, and pleaded and prayed for them and brought them back.
Even so, the idea of the Experience Meeting, which Theophilus considered to be the best avenue for these corrections, were not viewed with favour by all. Those against the meetings protested:
- There is no Scriptural warrant for them.
- Neither the Jews, early Church or Protestant Reformers met in such meetings.
- By revealing Satan’s works, temptations suffered and secrets of the heart men may learn to sin more and/or become cold toward others.
- By relating spiritual experiences men may become proud.
Eusebius, though, does not believe these objections to hold, so he ends the dialogue with questions. How far should one go in sharing his heart and mind in these meetings? “What should be said? What should be avoided? What should be said to God, that is better not said to man?” And more.
Without actually getting to the Experience Meeting proper, Williams touches on a point that I think is often missed when small group meetings are attempted. There is no doubt that the NT church evidenced organization, but 1 Corinthians 11-14 also shows that the meetings of the Church were not “lifeless”. They were pneumatic, Spirit-led, whatever term you would like to use. But it all began with a visitation from Jesus. Having made small attempts at beginning groups along these lines and seeing others far more committed than I attempting the same, I am painfully aware that without the Spirit of God’s leading, it is just another meeting.
Having said that, Eusebius’ fictional history also encouraged coming together regardless. In the telling, he comments that God often waits to move until we have lost all hope. I know he is not always so late, but it is true that until we completely throw ourselves on God that Jesus’ power is only known occasionally or through stories from others.
The observation that there is less emotion than at the beginning is also instructive. Maturity often means a certain composure – not deadness, but quiet confidence that is not usually appreciated by those in the first flush of the Spirit’s move. I myself cannot say I have experienced it, but I have seen such maturity in others.
The protests against the Experience Meetings are similar to those against “Spirit-led meetings”, though often expressed differently and with different emphases. Experience Meetings only address one aspect of a NT church meeting as far as I understand it, but the concern about sharing and accountability and consequences applies, as do the questions. The answers are provided in the remaining dialogues.