President Spencer W. Kimball reminded us that “we do not go to Sabbath meetings to be entertained. … We go to worship the Lord. … If the service is a failure to you, you have failed. No one can worship for you.” (“The Sabbath—A Delight,” Ensign, Jan. 1978, 4–5)
Bible Dictionary states that “only the home can compare with the temple in sacredness.”
“Elder Glen Jenson, an Area Seventy, invited [stake members] to take a virtual tour of their homes using their spiritual eyes. I would like to invite each of you to do this also. Wherever your home may be and whatever its configuration, the application of eternal gospel principles within its walls is universal.
Imagine that you are opening your front door and walking inside your home. Is it a place of love, peace, and refuge from the world, as is the temple? Is it clean and orderly? As you walk through the rooms of your home, do you see uplifting images which include appropriate pictures of the temple and the Savior? Is your bedroom a place for personal prayer? Is your kitchen a place where food is prepared and enjoyed together? Are scriptures found in a room where the family can study, pray, and learn together? Can you find your personal gospel study space?
We may be well-advised to consider . . . standards for our homes to keep them sacred and to allow them to be a “house of the Lord.” The admonition to “establish … a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God” provides divine insight into the type of home the Lord would have us build.
President Boyd K. Packer counseled: “Say the word temple. Say it quietly and reverently. Add the word holy. Holy Temple. Say it as though it were capitalized, no matter where it appears in the sentence.
“Temple. One other word is equal in importance to a Latter-day Saint. Home. Put the words Holy Temple and Home together, and you have described the house of the Lord!”
(Gary E. Stevenson, Quorum of the Seventy –April 2009 General Conference – Sacred Homes, Sacred Temples)
“And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day;
“For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High” (D&C 59:9–10).
The “house of prayer” in [the] early days [of the Church] often was a private home, a small schoolhouse, or, for large groups, an open-air clearing or grove. The first indoor meeting places, other than private homes, were log or adobe schoolhouses. These often were so small that youth often stayed home and only adults squeezed into the Sunday meetings.
Besides the sacrament, the sermon was the next most important part of Sunday worship. Preaching occupied the major part of each public meeting, and members often were deeply affected by it. Noted W. W. Phelps: “President Smith preached last Sabbath. … He preached one of the greatest sermons I ever heard; it was about 3 1/2 hours long—and unfolded more mysteries than I can write at this time.” [Journal History, June 2, 1835]
For a century and a half the Church has provided excellent meetings to help Saints renew their personal covenants, to learn from speakers and teachers, to learn by teaching and speaking, and to sing and pray and meditate. But attendance at Sabbath meetings is not enough: responsibility for making the entire day holy and spiritually beneficial still belongs to the individual Saints.
(Ensign January 1978, Mormon Sundays)
Mark E. Peterson gave this serious and significant General Conference talk on keeping the entire Sabbath day holy in 1975:
“One of the first things the Lord taught the Prophet Joseph Smith at the beginning of this dispensation was that he must take the divine commandments seriously. The Lord then firmly commanded his young servant: “Trifle not with sacred things.” (D&C 6:12.) Neither should we trifle with the Lord nor with his word, for as he himself said, God will not be mocked. (See D&C 63:58.) But in spite of all the Lord has said, mankind still trifles with his word, and either by neglect or outright disobedience they set aside his word with impunity and go on their merry way.
One of the most glaring of our inconsistencies is our attitude toward the Sabbath day. It is a sacred day. It is holy, and we should not trifle with it.
No law in all scripture has been more clearly defined than that of the Sabbath. From the time of Genesis to our own day, there has been no subject spoken of more directly or repeatedly than the Sabbath. It is one of the laws most dear to the heart of God. Yet it is noted far more in its desecration than in its acceptance and proper observance. We constantly talk about the worldliness of the present day . . . What can we do to protect ourselves under these hazardous circumstances?
The Lord gives us the answer, and says that it can be done by sincerely observing the Sabbath day. Most people have never thought of it in this way, but note the words of the Lord in this regard: “That thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day.” (D&C 59:9.)
The Lord does know what he is talking about. Sabbath observance will help us to more fully remain unspotted from the world. If we are serious about avoiding the contamination of worldliness, shall we not take his word at face value and believe it and practice it? Sabbath observance and church attendance are commanded of God!
Shall we take his word seriously and comply with it, or shall we consider the Sabbath but a trifle in our lives and ignore it and continue to suffer the evil consequences? Is there not deep meaning in what the Lord has said? Let us hear his words again: “That thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day.” (D&C 59:9.)
The Lord then goes on to say, “For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High.” (D&C 59:10.) In plain, blunt words, we are commanded to change our usual routine and go to church and worship God on the Sabbath.
However, on his holy day we must do more than merely go to church. We must worship him, of course; but we must also cleanse ourselves in preparation for that worship by confessing our sins and repenting of them. This reminds us of what the Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
“Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” (Matt. 5:23–24.)
So he says in modern revelation: “Remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord.” (D&C 59:12.)
Can we see, then, how proper observance of the Sabbath will influence our daily lives for good?
Continuing to define what is acceptable to him on his holy day, the Lord says, “And on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart.” (D&C 59:13.)
In the time of Moses, the Lord impressively declared that the manner in which we spend the Sabbath is a sign of our inner attitude toward him. It is a measure of the sincerity of our faith. “It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever,” God declared (Ex. 31:17), and added: “Ye shall keep the Sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you.” (Ex. 31:14.) In that day he made its violation a capital offense, and violators were put to death. Then was not the Lord serious about Sabbath-day observance? Is he any less so today? Has he changed his mind?
He also gave the Sabbath to ancient Israel as a sign that he lives—a sign, as he said, “that ye may know that I am the Lord.” (Ex. 31:13.) Then the Sabbath becomes a testimony builder, for if we keep it, our knowledge of and faith in the Lord will increase; and this should be very important to us.
If we violate his holy day—willingly and willfully—to that extent do we not become enemies of God? We do most certainly become covenant breakers, for he gave us his Sabbath by covenant—a perpetual covenant throughout all generations. (See Ex. 31:16.)
President David O. McKay called attention to another most important phase of this subject. He said that the Christian Sabbath of course is Sunday, in commemoration of the resurrection of the Savior on the first day of the week. He calls the resurrection of Christ the greatest event in all history and notes that by proper observance of the Sabbath we show our respect for the Lord’s passion and his resurrection from the dead. (See Gospel Ideals, Deseret News Press, 1953, pp. 397–98.)
With this thought in mind, let us ask ourselves how important the Lord’s atonement is to us. How dear to us is the Lord Jesus Christ? How deeply are we concerned about immortality? Is the resurrection of vital interest to us? We can readily see that observance of the Sabbath is an indication of the depth of our conversion.
Our observance or nonobservance of the Sabbath is an unerring measure of our attitude toward the Lord personally and toward his suffering in Gethsemane, his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead. It is a sign of whether we are Christians in very deed, or whether our conversion is so shallow that commemoration of his atoning sacrifice means little or nothing to us.
I bear you testimony that to properly observe the Lord’s holy day is one of the most important things we can ever do. It is an essential step toward our eternal salvation. I do not believe we will be saved if we constantly violate the Sabbath and fling our disobedience into the face of the very God we hope will save us.
How dare we trifle with the Sabbath day?
How dare we trifle with Almighty God?
The Lord declares that to qualify to enter his presence we must live by every word that proceeds forth from his mouth (see D&C 84:44), and the law of the Sabbath is one of the most important in the entire gospel plan.
May we have the courage and the good sense to keep it, I humbly pray in the sacred name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
(Mark E. Peterson, April 1975 General Conference, The Sabbath Day)
Brother Peterson makes the following points:
- Sabbath observance and church attendance are commanded of God.
- The manner in which we spend the Sabbath is a sign of our inner attitude toward God and helps insulate us against worldliness.
- Proper observance of the Lord’s holy day is one of the most important things we can ever do.
In March 1980 the First Presidency implemented the 3-hour block program, replacing the multi-day, split Sunday meeting schedules of the previous years.
“The purpose of the consolidated meeting schedule is (1) to reemphasize personal and family responsibility for learning, living, and teaching the gospel and (2) to allow Church members more time for personal gospel study, for service to others, and for meaningful activities. The major objectives of the new schedule are to—
“1. Help every Latter-day Saint home become a place where family members love to be, where they can enrich their lives and find mutual love, support, appreciation, and encouragement.
“2. Emphasize home-centered Sabbath activities.
(Ensign March 1980, News of the Church, Church Consolidates Meeting Schedules)
Notice that this directive emphasized the personal responsibility along with the need for more time for personal gospel study in home-centered Sabbath activities. If the home is equal in sacredness to the temple, should it not be a suitable place for the proper Sabbath observance Brother Peterson speaks of?
Over time, the leaders of the Church appear to have shifted their perspective on the Sabbath day, from preaching doctrine-filled sermons to one another in fellowship, to chastising the “me generation” that arose in the 1980s.
“[I have been moved to ponder] what people expect to receive from Jesus Christ, from His gospel, and from participating in His Church. I thought of some who said they stopped going to Church because the Church was “not meeting their needs.” Which needs could they be expecting the Church to meet?
If persons are simply seeking a satisfying social experience, they might be disappointed in a particular ward or branch and seek other associations. There are satisfying social experiences in many organizations.
If they are simply seeking help to learn the gospel, they could pursue that goal through available literature.
But are these the principal purposes of the Church? Is this all we are to receive from the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Persons who attend Church solely in order to get something of a temporal nature may be disappointed. The Apostle Paul wrote disparagingly of persons who “serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly” (Rom. 16:18). Persons who attend Church in order to give to their fellowmen and serve the Lord will rarely be disappointed. The Savior promised that “he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 10:39).
The Church gives us opportunities to serve the Lord and our fellowmen. If given in the right way and for the right reasons, that service will reward us beyond anything we have given. Millions serve unselfishly and effectively . . . in Church organizations, and those who do experience the conversion described by the prophet who pleaded with us to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” (Moro. 10:32).
Attendance at Church each week provides the opportunity to partake of the sacrament, as the Lord has commanded us (see D&C 59:9). If we act with the right preparation and attitude, partaking of the sacrament renews the cleansing effect of our baptism and qualifies us for the promise that we will always have His Spirit to be with us. A mission of that Spirit, the Holy Ghost, is to testify of the Father and the Son and to lead us into truth (see John 14:26; 2 Ne. 31:18). Testimony and truth, which are essential to our personal conversion, are the choice harvest of this weekly renewing of our covenants.
(Dallin H. Oaks, April 2002 General Conference, The Gospel In Our Lives)
Brother Oaks appears to be reminding us that “millions serve the Church”. Are you better than they are? Who are you not to do your part each week in your ward meeting houses?
Compare what Brother Peterson admonished in 1975 as vital Sabbath day observance to the points Brother Oaks makes just thirty years later in 2008:
“The ordinance of the sacrament makes the sacrament meeting the most sacred and important meeting in the Church. Its content in addition to the sacrament should always be planned and presented to focus our attention on the Atonement and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.
My first memories of sacrament meeting are set in the small Utah town where I was ordained a deacon and participated in passing the sacrament. Measured against those memories, the sacrament meetings I now attend in many different wards are greatly improved. Typically the sacrament is administered, passed, and received by the members in an atmosphere of quiet reverence. The conducting of the meeting, including the necessary business, is brief and dignified, and the talks are spiritual in content and delivery. The music is appropriate, and so are the prayers. This is the standard, and it represents great progress since the experiences of my youth.
In a worldwide leadership training meeting five years ago, [approximately 2003] Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught the priesthood leaders of the Church how to plan and conduct sacrament meetings.
- We are seated well before the meeting begins. “During that quiet interval, prelude music is subdued. This is not a time for conversation or transmission of messages but a period of prayerful meditation as leaders and members prepare spiritually for the sacrament” (Ensign, Aug. 2004, 27).
- How we dress is an important indicator of our attitude and preparation for any activity in which we will engage. If we are going swimming or hiking or playing on the beach, our clothing, including our footwear, will indicate this.
- During sacrament meeting—and especially during the sacrament service—we should concentrate on worship and refrain from all other activities, especially from behavior that could interfere with the worship of others. Even a person who slips into quiet slumber does not interfere with others. Sacrament meeting is not a time for reading books or magazines.
- All sacrament meeting music requires careful planning, always remembering that this music is for worship, not for performance.
- President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “This is an occasion when the gospel should be presented, when we should be called upon to exercise faith, and to reflect on the mission of our Redeemer, and to spend time in the consideration of the saving principles of the gospel, and not for other purposes. We should assemble in the spirit of prayer, of meekness, with devotion in our hearts” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:342).
- When . . . we join in the solemnity that should always accompany the ordinance of the sacrament and the worship of this meeting—we are qualified for the companionship and revelation of the Spirit. This is the way we get direction for our lives and peace along the way.
- Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave a valuable teaching on this subject in general conference 13 years ago. “May I suggest that wherever possible a white shirt be worn by the deacons, teachers, and priests who handle the sacrament.” (“This Do in Remembrance of Me,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 68).
- The sacrament is administered only when authorized by the one holding the keys to this priesthood ordinance. Those who officiate at the sacrament table, prepare the sacrament, or pass it to the congregation should be designated by one who holds or exercises the keys of this ordinance. I refer to the bishopric or to the presidencies of the teachers or deacons quorums. “[My] house is a house of order,” the Lord declared (D&C 132:8).
(Dallin H. Oaks, Oct 2008 General Conference, Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament)
Sabbath day observance appears to have become sidetracked by worldliness; focusing more on what we wear to church – down to our shoes – and the specifics of should’s and should not’s during the service itself. Sleeping is preferable to reading the scriptures during Sacrament meeting. There is a subtle shift from church to Church, with a reminder that the Church claims their exclusive right to hold the authorized keys for administration of the sacrament.
In 1978 the Church announced that it “has provided excellent meetings for 150 years”. What specific changes in the programs of the Church have so improved the quality of the LDS Sunday worship meetings since then? Elder Oaks does not mention the details. The recent Sacrament Meeting training provided by Church leaders appears to have made all the difference.
These days, LDS Church attendance is not about getting something out of worship, it’s about giving service. We go to Church to receive the sacrament and the promise of covenant renewal. We don’t go to learn the meat and mysteries of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We go to serve as the Church requires us to serve. This is the modern day Sabbath sacrifice – our time, in exchange for the milk of the correlated curriculum.
Mainstream members of the Church no longer expect to hear profound doctrinal mysteries expounded from the pulpit as noted by W. W. Phelps. Instead, the following article is typical of the give and take reasoning that is accepted by the membership as part of the cultural fabric of being Mormon:
“Milk Before Meat – but Meat”
“My experience has been that people who want to spend their time studying materials beyond the standard works, who feel that the scriptures and the words of living prophets are too elementary for them, are usually spiritually unstable, and their influence for good is minimal. They generally do more to sow discord in a ward than they do to build unity and strengthen the Saints.
The prophets and apostles have a much clearer perspective on what should and should not be taught than most of us will ever have. By traveling throughout the earth and meeting regularly with the Saints, they sense the “bearing capacity” of the people, what we are and are not prepared to receive. We would do well to use the teachings of the general authorities as a gauge of the readiness of the people.
[My question: What if we, as a people, are not prepared to receive a call to repentance?]
On the other hand, while we must see to it that our growth in understanding is steady and sustained, we must be stretching, expanding our views, and opening our minds to new truths and new applications. That is, we need to partake of milk before meat, but eventually we need meat. “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers,” Paul wrote, “ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age”—or in other words are mature—”even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14).
President Joseph F. Smith explained that “the voicing of one’s testimony, however eloquently phrased or beautifully expressed, is no fit or acceptable substitute for the needed discourse of instruction and counsel expected in a general gathering of the people. The man who professes a testimony as herein described, and who assumes that his testimony embraces all the knowledge he needs, and who therefore lives in indolence and ignorance shall surely discover his error to his own cost and loss.”
There is a discipline imposed on those called to lead or teach in the Church to see that what is said and done in our meetings leads to enrichment, edification, and spiritual growth. While serving in a stake presidency I attended a Gospel Doctrine class. The instructor opened the class by saying, “Now, before we get to our topic, let me tell you about a recent trip my wife and I took to Hawaii.” For the next forty minutes the teacher spoke of swimming and snorkeling and pineapples and fishing. Just as it was time to close, he asked, “What does all of this have to do with the apostle Paul?” Clearly, our time had been wasted. It would have been far more enjoyable and worthwhile simply to read selected passages and invite comments on the material from class members. Many of us went to Church hungry that day but returned home largely unfed.
I think I would be correct in suggesting that the institutional Church is not responsible to teach very much meat; the Church teaches largely the milk of the gospel. Thus, it’s foolish for members of the Church to become either disenchanted or discouraged because they aren’t hearing deep doctrine preached in sacrament meeting or receiving new historical or doctrinal truth in Sunday School each week. We need not find fault with the Church if things are too simply presented or if matters seem repetitious. The gaining of meat becomes an individual responsibility, a personal quest. “God’s earthly kingdom is a school in which his saints learn the doctrines of salvation. Some members of the Church are being taught elementary courses; others are approaching graduation and can do independent research where the deep and hidden things are concerned. All must learn line upon line and precept upon precept.” (McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:324).
Taken from Robert L. Millet, More Holiness Give Me
The above article demonstrates why Church members have no expectation to experience the enjoyable and worthwhile activity of reading scriptural passages and commenting on the material” during Church class meetings. They do not wish to be thought of as “spiritually unstable” or to feel uncomfortable with the message, no matter how truthful or vital to salvation it may be.
Whitney Hopler, Dec 10, 2007 – Does God Want You to Leave Your Church?
Editor’s Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Brian Sanders’ book, Life After Church: God’s Call to Disillusioned Christians, (InterVarsity Press, 2007).
You show up at church every week, but you feel as if you’re just going through the motions out of habit and obligation. You’re not connecting to God, and you’re not motivated to participate in the mission. So you think about leaving, but then you feel guilty. After all, you love God. And He must want you to stay at your church, right?
- Pay attention to your yearnings. Acknowledge the reality of what’s making you feel frustrated at church; realize that your concerns may very well be valid.
- Differentiate between leaving church and leaving God. Make sure you’re dealing with issues of how well your current church is or isn’t functioning as it should, rather than a personal crisis of faith. Consider leaving only when doing so will free you to find a better way to grow spiritually.
- Check your motives to honestly determine if you’re thinking of leaving because you want more spiritually, or because you’re upset. Make sure you’re truly looking for ways to grow spiritually that you can’t in your current congregation.
- Consider whether or not you’ve grown out of the church’s message. Is your church geared primarily to seekers? Does it fail to help believers mature throughout their spiritual journeys? Have you tried to go deeper in your relationship with God there, but not found the encouragement and support you need?
- Consider whether or not you’re able to ask questions. Do the people at your church welcome honest inquiry? Have you been able to express your doubts and struggles there without being ignored or criticized for doing so? Do you feel pressure to keep quiet about the deep spiritual questions you have stirring around inside your soul? Can you talk openly with others in your congregation about your questions, and participate in respectful and thoughtful conversations?
- Consider whether or not you have something meaningful to do. Do church leaders encourage you to use your spiritual gifts and natural talents? Is your time and energy taken up in activities that don’t relate to the church’s mission? Are you given the opportunities you need to contribute in meaningful ways?
- Consider whether your money is used well. Does your church use the money that is given wisely, according to biblical principles? Do leaders clearly communicate how they’re using funds? Are the church’s financial transactions marked by integrity, or excess or abuse?
- Commit to God, not just practices. Know that if particular practices aren’t helping you encounter God at your church, it’s time to let go of those practices and find fresh ways to pursue Him. Recognize that staying committed to practices when they don’t enable you to connect with God is not just unproductive, but also spiritually dangerous. Keep your focus on God rather than certain methods of approaching him.
- Consider staying at your current church if you can fully support the ministry and its leaders despite your frustrations. Honor your church’s leaders, praying for them regularly. Find reasons to actively invest in the congregation. Commit to becoming a positive agent of change from the inside out, addressing your frustrations gradually and respectfully, and by becoming part of the solution to the problems. Rather than trying to change people yourself, intercede for them in prayer asking God to change them according to His will.
- If you decide to leave, do it well. Emphasize that your departure is due to God’s leading in your life rather than just a reaction to the church’s flaws. Be positive, mentioning what you appreciate about the church as well as your frustrations. Be graceful, refraining from any unnecessary negativity when explaining your decision. Be honest, yet constructive with what you share. Thank the people who have been a part of your spiritual journey at the church you’re leaving.
Let me close with this snippet, whatever it is worth.
“Recently, I saw a group of people eagerly passing out snacks and hot cocoa on an Atlanta street. The group was dressed in a uniform of sorts that read, “The Church Has Left the Building.”
Surprisingly, the church name wasn’t on the shirt. No plug. No quotas being met. No guilt being given in the form of “we fed you now come visit us.” That a church would simply want to serve—without any apparent effort to self-promote—is rare, indeed, in our culture today.
Too often it seems that professing Christians are more busy doing church rather than being the church to our communities. Of course, church is much more than a set of rituals. It isn’t the performance of teachers, or musicians, or the pastor. Church is the life of Jesus on display through His people.
We need to remember just what it is we are to be busy with—the Lord’s work. Don’t forget. The church has left the building. The church is you.
John Young, The Church Has Left the Building, Nov 09, 2007