Sunday, May 15, 2011

Church Meetings conducted by the Spirit.

I was reading in Moroni during sacrament meeting today. Moroni 6:9. " And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done."

D&C 20:45 has a similar message: "The elders are to conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost, according to the commandments and revelations of God."

In today's meeting the program was announced, what we would sing was announced, when we would sing, then what would happen, and then we would go to this meeting and then that meeting... I mean it was called a "program" after all. Who would speak, when they would speak, and for how long was all pre-determined. The format has been that way all my life. I think the body of members suffers when meetings become totally pre determined in the name of "organization" or "unity". It becomes very formal. But as I've written in another (post) I don't think uniformity and unity are the same at all. In theory there is supposed to be some room for guidance by the Spirit on how the talks are prepared, who is called to speak during the weeks prior, and how the music is supposed to correlate with the themes. I suppose that is a meeting "guided by the Spirit". But how guided is it when speakers are even told what topic to speak on? And teachers what topic to teach on? Even what instruments are allowed to be used in the music.

More and more is being dictated. It requires my mind to stretch to make it fit the style of meetings the book of Mormon teaches. I personally think there is a loss when procedure, policy, outlined "programs", and tradition replace what the scriptures said was to be more spontaneous and alive.

We are the lesser for teachings from the Book of Mormon getting lost. I feel a desire for the kind of church meetings the book of Mormon talked about. I think the wording is crucial.... It said the meetings were conducted by the "workings of the Spirit" and by the "power of the Holy Ghost". We are very good at conducting by the "authority" of the priesthood, we always recognize the "presiding authority" at the meeting. But I think the "power" is lost when we just follow a printed program and then want the Spirit to follow our program.

Elder Packer at a recent conference addressed the difference between the "power", vs the "authority" of the Priesthood (link here). That is good reading in my opinion. Meetings conducted by the "power" of the Holy Ghost sound anything but boring, they sound like what would edify and uplift me. This is something you can't prepackage, and something you can't control, which would make some folks very insecure and very afraid of what would happen. When fear is high, usually along with that comes the need to control. True there would be a lot of differences depending on what congregation you happened to attend, but wouldn't that be great? I mean McDonalds being the same all around the world is kinda cool, but church?? I think that almost defies the definition of conducting meetings as led by the Spirit. I don't know that everything being uniform was really the scriptures goal for church meetings. My opinion.

The meetings I imagine happening in the book of Mormon would be anything but dull. It would have life, excitement, and might be fun. A recognizable and welcomed gift of the Spirit may even show up by a regular old member with no particular level of responsibility during the meeting to the benefit and promoting of faith of all present.

Members are what make up church (D&C 10:67, Mosiah 26:22). The folks spoken of in scripture wanted to meet, they met because they felt a compelling need to fellowship and worship together. They "met together often", and interestingly there was no mention of it only being on sunday, in fact no day of the week was specified. What happened to the freedom to do this sort of thing? Now you'd need special permission to even consier it, and it would likely be frowned upon. The church meetings the book of mormon talked about I think has all but been replaced by a printed program that is the same no matter where you are in the world. Not much different than a business meeting agenda where the participants prepare beforehand for the speech or presentation.

Found out today the church headquarters are now setting the rules about where the primary in my ward meets for opening exercises (in the chapel or in the primary room). I wonder about the loss of freedom to even operate by the Spirit when so many things are outlined, prescribed, and dictated by headquarters. I attend primary because I often find it enjoyable. Church headquarters is now deciding the location of Primary opening exercises which I found odd. I love the bishop of my ward, I wish bishops and the local leaders had increasing rather than decreasing freedom to conduct meetings and make decisions more by the spirit, instead of by a handbook of instructions or what they are told.

We want missionaries to "teach by the spirit" and yet when investigators come to our meetings it's all pre-outlined, pre determined, and according to a program. It's hard to conduct by the Spirit when your told what to do on so very many fronts. I see the ease and organizational benefit of doing things and running meetings the way it's done now, I really do, I've been a participant practically all my life. I just see along with it a growing loss. I wonder if the Spirit enjoys following the printed program week after week or if the structure and tradition becomes grievous. Suppose that's something to consider on an individual level.

And yet with all of this, church provides a place where people of varying degrees of interest can come meet together, learn about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, participate in inspired programs and hopefully be edified by the Spirit of God. There are chances to love those who may be difficult to love, to learn from those so very different from ourselves, and contribute to meetings in a unique and uplifting way. If nothing else we study the scriptures. Despite all that may have a trend towards the negative, despite human nature, I see the church as a wonderful tool to approach God, love our fellow man, forgive mistakes and errors, pray for those in need of support, develop attributes and receive inspired divine ordinances. One is allowed to progress or not progress at his or her own speed. The more each individual recognizes whats amiss, repents, and comes to Christ, the more successful the Gospel.

Even if the institution is under condemnation (Doctrine and Covenants 84:55) an individual can still come to Christ and have the condemnation removed. Isn't that was Christ did? He came to a fallen world, came back into God's presence, and then preached love, repentance and the Gospel to a condemned world and people? Sounds very Chrislike. I think we should follow this example, and find our way back to God, then having received of God minister to people who need to be ministered to. Church has all of it, I for one want to use the tool for it's intended purpose and receive God's intended outcome.


  1. President Kimball, 1978
    "We do not go to Sabbath meetings to be entertained or even solely to be instructed. We go to worship the Lord. It is an individual responsibility, and regardless of what is said from the pulpit, if one wishes to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, he may do so by attending his meetings, partaking of the sacrament, and contemplating the beauties of the gospel. If the service is a failure to you, you have failed. No one can worship for you; you must do your own waiting upon the Lord."

  2. Greg, if my last paragraph wasn't clear enough, I simply see a difference between how the scriptures instruct that our meetings are to be conducted vs what trend I see actually happening at church in our day. If there is a difference I think it's worth doing something about, or at least raising awareness so as to not let things slip into a repetitive form of collective "worship" that has no power. I know an individual can access the Spirit or worship independent of what is said from the pulpit. After reading my last paragraph and then reading President Kimball's quote I don't see how it even relates to my point. It just looks like you wanted to contradict me with a quote from an authority. But since you've not used any of your own words to be honest I'm not sure how to read it.

    For a lot of people being told not to open their scriptures during sacrament meeting talks detracts from their personal worship. To say that nothing about any of our meetings could be improved or align better with the scriptures I think is to purposely remain ignorant of the truth.

    We went to a singles ward yesterday with Mike, the meeting was much more alive, the bishop took the opportunity to identify the meeting started off a little gloomy and he changed the closing hymn, he called 3 ward members out of the audience to share testimony, had us stand up and meet our neighbor at one point, and the meeting was much more alive, awake, and alert and it appeared largely due to the bishop being open to following the spirit instead of just relying on the outlined agenda. We loved it. Yes an individual can still internally worship God anywhere they like, church or not, but why settle for meetings that so often lack vitality when our privileges with the Spirit and the restored Gospel are so much more?

    We liked the nature of the meeting yesterday so much and felt so much more alive than is usual that we went and talked to the bishop of our family ward here in Centerville. We just told him our experience and thoughts and he was responsive, and very much enjoyed our feedback about meetings being conducted more by the Spirit and not totally scripted by a program. He agreed and mentioned the Stake President has also been encouraging similar things.

    I'm not writing these blog posts to be negative. I want to make a difference for the better.

  3. Hi Taylor,
    I'm glad you had a good experience in that other ward. There are definitely differences among wards. Some are very noticeable as you mentioned.

    Personally, I have never heard anyone discourage members from opening their scriptures during sacrament meeting. However, I have read letters from the First Presidency that state (in my own words) speakers should not ask that the congregation open their scriptures because the speaker should be giving a discourse, not leading a class.

    Also, conducting a meeting by the Spirit doesn't mean throwing out the program and doing things in an ad hoc fashion. Remember that the Bishop and his counselors are the presiding Priesthood authority in the ward and they have the right to receive revelation regarding the topics and speakers for any given sacrament meeting. They are not perfect by any means but they do have a great blessing of the Spirit by right of their calling.

  4. Oh definitely. The bishop of that ward I think used his priesthood keys very well.

  5. Yeah, if there were no organization at all it would be craziness.