Summary: This is the first of four sermons introducing Band Meetings in a new way for today. Here is a link for more information - “Discipleship Bands: A Practical Field Guide” (download a free copy at https://discipleshipbands.com/ )
Series: “Bringing Back the Bands”
“Becoming as One”
A sermon for 1/24/21
Pastor John Bright
John 17 “20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who [j]will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
I will be taking time off from the Gospel of Luke to teach four weeks about Discipleship Bands. Let me start with a brief history lesson – All the Wesleyan denominations follow in the footsteps of John Wesley. Following his failed missionary journey to the colony of Georgia, it was May 24, 1738 John experienced the power of the Holy Spirit at a meeting on Aldersgate Street – “… I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” (Works of John Wesley, 3rd ed., vol. 1) Then, that same year, on New Year’s Eve, he experienced the Holy Spirit again at Fetter-Lane – “At about three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily among us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His majesty, we broke out with one voice, “We praise thee, O God, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.” (Works of John Wesley, 3rd ed., vol. 1).
After these powerful experiences in his own life, John Wesley began gathering folks in Class Meetings – which were required for those wanting to continue in the Methodist Societies. These were groups of 7-12 men and women. There was a main question to be answered in the Class Meeting – “How does your soul prosper?” Questions that arose would move participants to search the Scriptures for an answer. I have read before that the main source of pastors in Methodism in America were former Class Meeting leaders. There were also smaller group meetings of those who had experienced salvation, called Bands, that were about 5 men or 5 women meeting together to have a “safe place” to confess sin. Wesley believed this to be clearly commanded in God’s Word – James 5:16 “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed….”
Here are the five questions they were required to answer each week in every band meeting:
1 - What known sins have you committed since our last meeting? (SHOCK FOR US!)
2 - What temptations have you met with?
3 - How were you delivered?
4 - What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
5 - Have you nothing you desire to keep secret?
(John Wesley, “Rules for Band-Societies”)
Listen to Dr. Kevin Watson’s description of the purpose of this method and these questions: “The band meeting was a place of deep vulnerability and intimacy. It was a place where Christians were completely honest with each other about the ways in which they knew they had fallen short of who God was calling and enabling them to be in Christ. The purpose of band meetings was not to shame one another or heap guilt and condemnation on one another. On the contrary, in telling each other the truth about their lives, particularly where they had fallen short, Methodists brought each other to the bottomless wells of God’s amazing grace. They sought to drench one another in God’s healing grace so that they could experience freedom from all that kept them from complete freedom in Christ.”
Class Meetings and Band Meetings were a part of Methodism in America during the times of radical growth during the Second Great Awakening, the Camp Meeting Movement and the Methodist Holiness Movement. Then, at the beginning of the 20th century, we stopped directing all who wanted to be called “Methodists” to meet in this way. Christianity in America had become more and more about the personal relationship with God through Christ – at the same time it became more and more a private matter. We have become Churches full of “Lone Ranger Christians.” In that time, the Methodist Church has continued to shrink – example – between 1965 and 1994, membership in the UMC dropped 22.4%. (Christianity Today, 11 August 1997, 11)