The holiness meeting is a meeting for those who have been Christians for a few years and who have reached a moderate level of growth and teaching. This is because it assumes that its members have a certain amount of knowledge and spiritual experience. The bible defines that there is hierarchy of people. Firstly, there are those who are outside of the kingdom, and these are defined as ‘dogs’, ‘pigs’, ‘dead’, ‘blind’, deaf, ‘uncircumcised’ or ‘in darkness’. The holiness meeting is not for any people who belong to this group at all. ‘Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces’ (Matthew 7 v 6). Then there are believers who are still learning the basics. These are described as those who require the ‘milk’ of the word. They cannot receive or digest the ‘meat’ of the word because they have not grown enough; they are not ‘mature’ enough. ‘I could not talk to you as people who live by the Spirit of God but as people who are still worldly – mere infants in the anointed one of God. I gave you milk, not solid food, because you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. Because since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, therefore are you not worldly?’ (I Corinthians 3 v 1 – 3). And again: ‘In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not familiar with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil’ (Hebrews 5 v 12 – 14). This implies also that there are those Christians who can indeed take the meat of the word, that there are those Christians who have learnt to discriminate between good and evil, and who do not fall into the traps of jealousy, division and quarrelling. They are, what would be described in some Christian schools of thought as ‘adepts’. The holiness meeting requires first of all a certain amount of ‘adept hood’ among its members. It is not for novices. For this reason, the holiness meeting and its members may face accusations of ‘elitism’ or ‘cliquishness’. If professors of mathematics sometimes separate themselves from shall we say GCSE students, in order to regularly meet together to discuss mathematic theories and principles beyond the scope of their students, they would not be accused of being elitist. It is the same here. This is a meeting for those who are a little more advanced in the faith than novices – more advanced in knowledge, understanding and experience.
As its name implies, it is a meeting for those who wish to draw closer to God and to improve their Christian walk. The reasons for starting or attending such a meeting include:
- 1) Dissatisfaction with one’s obedience and service to God. A person may feel that they are beset by a particular, problematic and reoccurring sin, or that the general standard of their Christian service is poor and that they are very unworthy servants, that their behaviour and conduct is no better than that of the ungodly and of unbelievers. They may have a sense of being lacklustre or lukewarm in their love and service to God. They may sense that they have lost their joy in the Lord. They may feel that God is distant from them. They may consider that they are tied up in ‘busyness’ and Christian ‘activity’, attending lots of meetings, stuck in conventions and routines, but that they have somehow lost their sense of fellowship with God, such that they are just ‘going through the motions’. They have a heavy burden with regard to their spiritual poverty and consider that they have lost their sense of direction, or lost their ‘first love’.
- 2) Dissatisfaction with the fellowship or with God’s people. The person may have a strong and heavy burden that the fellowship to which they belong is ‘worldly’ and that its witness to God in their conduct is poor, even dishonouring to God. They may sense that the fellowship is full of apathy, or that it is legalistic and joyless. They may consider that the fellowship is ‘dead’ and ‘dry’ in its formality and conventions such that God does not seem to be present and that the fellowship is going on in ‘its own strength’. The fellowship may seem busy and active yet not ‘spiritual’ and holy. They may have a strong burden for the Overseers – that they are imbalanced in their teaching and/or practice or needful of spiritual insight.
This is not a mere wallowing in despair, or an attitude of fault-finding. The desire of this person is for themselves and the fellowship to be closer to God. They find themselves given to spending much time in prayer, pouring out their concerns over these matters to God. They challenge themselves and they talk to others about their concerns but both themselves and the fellowship and its leaders seemed to be mired and stuck in their condition. This discontent, this heartfelt earnest desire for change, this longing for the sweetness of God’s blessing, for a life of godliness and holiness, for the glory of God to be borne witness to by themselves and the fellowship, for an outpouring of the Spirit, serves as a prime motivator, a spur, a spring to do something. It is already serving as a motivation for personal prayer. But now, something extra is required. That ‘extra’ can only arise if there are few other Christians in the fellowship who have similar concerns and burdens. It only requires two or three people, because if there are two or three, then they can start to meet together in prayer.
The attitude that is required is this: It starts with me. Never mind about the fellowship and its failings. Never mind about the leaders and overseers and their shortcomings. Never mind about other individuals and their disobedience. This starts with me. It starts with my very core, with the very Ground of my being, with my ‘soul’ if you will – with my essential self and my relationship to God. I need to get together with like-minded Christians in the fellowship so that together, with mutual encouragement, support and endeavour, I, along with them, can start to mean business with God. Dissatisfaction leads to action and commitment.
So we have a situation where these two or three like-minded fellow Christians express a commitment to meet together once a week to pray regarding these matters. Firstly the commitment is expressed not to miss or give up on these meetings. These meetings are important because the problems are important. Secondly, a commitment is made to each other. These two or three Christians have expressed a real concern about themselves and their fellowship. They have also expressed a deep and sincere belief that the solution starts with God and themselves as individuals. So the commitment they make is that each member of the group will bring each of the other members of the group to God in prayer, every day. Each member will pray for every other member that God would lead them to overcome sin and live in holiness and godliness. As meetings progress, individual members may express specific and particular issues, so these would be mentioned daily in prayer by all members as well. Thirdly, there is a commitment by each member with regard to confidentiality and respect for privacy. In that sense this is a private group and personal matters that are shared are kept within the group as a matter of trust and confidentiality.
It is this kind of attitude, this kind of ‘spirit’ – of an importunate, humble, prayerful, determination to be honest with others and oneself, a humble recognition of one’s own impoverished life and service to God, a determination to be ‘right with God’, an attitude of having the courage to open one’s heart before God, an attitude of prayerful respect and support for fellow members, all based on sound biblical principles that characterize the heart of this meeting. This attitude, above all else, even above the form and structure of the meeting itself, is its most important facet.
The aim of this group resides in the personal, individual aim of each of its members to ‘mean business with God’ such that they ‘get right with God’. As part of this, they seek the outpouring or infusing of the Spirit of God on themselves, on the fellowship and on its overseers. They are not seeking to ‘work up’ an emotional experience. Rather, they are seeking to submit or surrender to the Spirit of God, who guarantees to be present where two or three are gathered together in the name of Jesus. These people are not coming together as ‘those who have already attained’, just the opposite – they are coming together as those who are poor, needy, disobedient, rebellious, dry, lukewarm and so on. They come together recognising their own failures, disobedience and poverty of grace. This is where they start. Right where they are. They believe that God will meet them ‘where they are’.
So this is not a teaching meeting. There is no emphasis at all in this meeting on lectures, sermons, teaching, bible study or instruction. That is supplied through other meetings at other times.
Underpinning this meeting and the approach of its members is an attitude or spirit of sincerity, sensitivity, openness, honesty and commitment. It begins with a commitment to honesty and to sharing. This sharing is about personal disappointments, concerns, failures, poverty and discouragement in the Christian life. It is a shared acknowledgement of where they are, now. This sharing therefore has an element of open confession. Trust has to build up and be encouraged and so initially such open confession may be brief and limited, but it may build over time. Even so, some personal confession is important because it engenders others to open up also, and it cultivates mutual trust, and facilitates the removal of barriers of guilt and offence before God. Confession also engenders the removal, reduction or emptying of self-will and pride and engenders an opening of the individuals and the groups mind to the will of God. There is a cultivation of an attitude of submission to God, of acceptance of His will, purpose and providence that results in contentment. (Members may be encouraged to read Jeremiah Burroughs on ‘Christian Contentment’).
Within the group there is an earnest desire for and love of God’s holiness and this is openly requested in prayer. So in prayer, God is reminded of His promises. There is a commitment of the whole person to finding and experiencing God.
Besides sharing and confession, there is prayerful contemplation on the attributes, qualities and nature of God both in prayer and through the use of music and the singing of praises.
An encouraged, but indirect result of all the above is an increased mindfulness of God and prayerfulness that members take through the week in every day activity. Members are encouraged to follow the virtuous path, to walk in the Spirit, to become sensitive to the leading of the Spirit within, moment by moment, day by day.
The form and structure of these meetings as follows:
Very often they are held in the informal atmosphere of a member’s home and the group sit in a circle or semi-circle. People may sit on chairs or on the floor as they feel comfortable. One member acts as facilitator. The facilitator opens the meeting, leads it through from one stage to another and closes the meeting.
The meeting is begun with an opening prayer by the facilitator or a person nominated by them. Then there is then a brief period of praise with singing a hymn of praise or a chorus. Following this there is a voluntary period of sharing and confession. No one is obliged to confess – it is completely voluntary. Themes raised may include a member openly declaring their negligence in following God; a member openly declaring their resistance to following God; a member openly declaring their spirit of opposition to following the virtuous path. Concerns and anxieties may also be raised about situations or up and coming events either in the fellowship or for an individual member. Issues of selfishness, wilfulness and pride are often declared, together with a desire to be emptied of such qualities.
The meeting then moves to prayer. It is very important that all the concerns raised in the previous part of the meeting are now prayed about in this next part of the meeting. In prayer, there is a focussing on God by asking God that barriers to the felt presence of God be removed. God is asked to restore harmony to the unction of the Spirit within and increased sensitivity to God within is requested. There is prayerful seeking that God would reveal any areas that require further confession, and that individuals would be emptied of the desires of their natural self. Surrender to God is encouraged and sincere expressions of dedication to walk in the Spirit are made – to do, say and think only that which glorifies God. There is prayerful seeking to be filled with God. During this period of prayer and contemplation, individuals may share a verse of Scripture, read a poem, read an extract from a Christian book or break out in singing. Issues raised in the first part of the meeting are brought to God in prayer.
Sensitivity to the leading of the Spirit means that the closing of the meeting is somewhat spontaneous and dependent upon what is happening. Usually the meeting lasts for about two hours and the leader/facilitator judges the suitable moment at the appropriate time to give a closing prayer. Very occasionally, the meeting may be so blessed that it will seem better to allow it to go on longer. There is an understanding that members can quietly leave if they are required to be back home or have to awake early in the morning for work and so on.
After the meeting there may be informal refreshments of tea, coffee and biscuits.
If and as the individual members and group as a whole are blessed, if and as there is a sense of moving closer to God, then the focus begins to ripple out to the fellowship at large and its leaders. This meeting is not a clique. It may be accused of being so, but it is not. It may be accused of being elitist, but it is not. One way to limit these concerns is to invite as many fellowship members as possible. The heartfelt concern of the members of this group is not for themselves only, but for the good of the wider fellowship and its leaders, for the glory of God to be revealed and upheld in the fellowship as a whole. Thus great care is taken to pray for the elders and for the fellowship at every meeting. It is then a kind of prayer meeting, but unlike a prayer meeting, the focus here is more specifically of closeness to God, walking in the Spirit and ‘getting right with God’.