Last conference (fall of 2013) there was a talk given about a man who one Sunday decided to not go to Church and instead went on a drive in the countryside. I would guess most of us at some point have contemplated something similar. This talk was the assigned talk for 2 of our sacrament meeting speakers this month, so I got to hear the story 2 more times after conference. Troubled by hearing a group of teachings I didn't care for 2 additional times, I thought I would write down what didn't sit right and why. This is just my view, and I mean nothing disrespectful about the speaker nor those who may have felt touched by the message. I respect that others may have a different view.
In the story it had not dawned on the main character of the story that not going to church was even an option. "The idea that there was an option to Sacrament meeting had never occurred to him". Obedience because you haven't considered or become aware there is an alternative to me is not noble enough a concept to promote from the pulpit. It doesn't even sound like true agency to me. Seems more like conditioning than obedience. One implies conscious choice, the other veers off into a weird king of automatic unthinking behavior. I have a very hard time accepting this as an example of behavior of one who follows Christ.
What if one Sunday someone feels drawn to spend time out in nature? Is this a sin? If you had been conditioned to not entertain anything other than attending church in a chapel would you feel guilty even considering another option?
The speaker later in the same talk said: A seemingly small decision such as whether or not to attend a sacrament meeting can have far-reaching, even eternal, consequences.
Matching eternal consequences to instances of church attendance in a religious building is making a sham of the Gospel. It's fear based. Judging from the number of people bored out of their minds I see at church each week I would say yes, such a meeting can have far reaching consequences. Sitting there, consuming spiritual saw dust (dry, difficult to swallow, lacking nutrients) for 3 hours could very well harm you eternally. The Gospel is so much more than a meeting. So often we focus on outward behaviors that "omit the weighter matters" (Matthew 23: 23-28). The fear, obligation, and methods we sometimes use to promote Church attendance are not the tools of the Spirit. They don't work anyway. Should we attend our meetings? Of course. But how many people throughout history attended church meetings yet did not accept nor live what the Gospel offered? How sturdy a foundation for salvation is "whether or nor to attend a sacrament meeting"?
Lehi saw a vision of people holding to a Rod of Iron that lead to the Tree of Life. The author of the talk referred to above had this to say in the same talk: "Continually holding fast to the rod means that whenever possible we attend our Sunday meetings: sacrament meeting, Sunday School, and priesthood or Relief Society meetings."
Equating holding fast, or living the Gospel to church meeting attendance makes the gospel boring, dull and lifeless. A trend we should watch out for. Too many LDS folks feel too much of that already. What we need is NOT more lifeless and dull "worship" meetings. We are all sick and tired of those. What we need is the fire of the Holy Ghost burning within us.
As I was hearing this story of the man for whom not attending church had never occurred to him, I found a parallel that is related. What if questioning or assessing what leaders teach you is not even an option, or has not occurred to you? You can evaluate and consider people's teachings without speaking evil of them. I've given bad talks in church, and I don't mind if others do. But shouldn't we seek something higher?
What if you've never considered that you should distinguish inspired moments and words spoken by a leader from all other moments? Can you truly follow what is taught if you don't perceive that the message could have an alternative? Or be false? Or so misleading that is borders on false? (I'm not saying it is, I'm saying you have to perceive it's a possibility otherwise your not making much of a choice). When there's no alternative your basically acting the part of a puppet. Obeying your leaders may in fact look nothing like obeying God. Obeying God may actually bring upon you persecution.
Obedience to God is freeing. It will bring you light and truth, not just bring you to a chapel on Sunday. It doesn't require guilt or fear, and it's not being a puppet who doesn't know he has other options. That almost mocks the truth. The obedience to God the scriptures speak of is so very often unlike the kind of obedience we get taught at church.
If your fed up with that stuff, come to Christ. Find out what the real obedience is. Then you'll see what real joy is. But be patient with others who haven't yet seen it. They need someone to help them wake up, just like each one of us.