Group worship in the church of Christ


Group worship prior to the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

The pattern for communal/group worship of God before the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was outlined in the law of Moses.  It was the system of offering sacrifices and burnt offering [Mosiah 2:3], called the “observances of the law”.

It was expedient that these outward observances were performed:

and inasmuch as it shall be expedient
you must keep the performances and ordinances of God
until the law shall be fulfilled
which was given unto Moses

[2 Nephi 25:30]

And the people of God were strict in observing them because they were the very word of the Lord to his people:

they were strict in observing the ordinances of God
according to the law of Moses

[Alma 30:3]

until they reached the point where the law would be done away, when adhering to its observances was no longer expedient.

This pattern for worship was done away in Christ:

behold
I say unto you
that the law is fulfilled that was given unto Moses
behold
I am he that gave the law
and I am he who covenanted with my people
Israel
therefore
the law in me is fulfilled
for I have come to fulfill the law
therefore it hath an end

[3 Nephi 15:4-5]

The time came when it was no longer expedient to keep the law of Moses, as had been prophesied:

I say unto you
that it is expedient that you should keep the law of Moses
as yet
but I say unto you
that the time shall come
when it shall no more be expedient to keep the law of Moses

[Mosiah 13:27]

and

yea
and they did keep the law of Moses
for it was expedient that they should keep the law of Moses
as yet
for it was not all fulfilled
but notwithstanding the law of Moses
they did look forward to the coming of Christ
considering that the law of Moses was a type of his coming
and believing that they must keep those outward performances
until the time that he should be revealed unto them

[Alma 25:15]

The commandments of the Father for the church of Christ:

It became expedient instead to keep the “commandments of the Father”, instead of the “law”:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law
or the prophets
I am not come to destroy
but to fulfill
for amen I say unto you
neither one iota nor one serif has passed away from the law
but in me it has all been fulfilled
and behold
I have given you the law
and the commandments of my Father
that ye shall believe in me
and that ye shall repent of your sins
and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit
behold
you have the commandments before you
and the law is fulfilled
therefore
come unto me
and be ye saved
for amen I say unto you
that except you shall keep my commandments
which I have commanded you at this time
you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven

[3 Nephi 12:17-20]

Jesus gave two things:

  • The law
  • The commandments of his Father

In him [that is in his birth, life, suffering, death, and resurrection], the law is fulfilled – therefore all that remains “before you” are the commandments of the Father, which are:

  • Believe in Christ
  • Repent of your sins
  • Come unto Christ with a broken heart and a contrite spirit

Therefore, choose the commandments of the Father over the law — and be saved.  To choose otherwise goes against the doctrine of expediency — and leaves a person damned.

Group worship after the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

When Jesus visited Lehi’s descendents and ministered the gospel among them, they were taught the new, expedient pattern for how to gather for communal worship now that the law had been fulfilled in him:

And it came to pass
that Jesus commanded his disciples that they should bring forth some bread and wine unto him
and while they were gone for bread and wine
he commanded the multitude that they should sit themselves down upon the earth
and when the disciples had come with bread and wine
he took of the bread and brake and blessed it
and he gave unto the disciples
and commanded that they should eat
and when they had eaten and were filled
he commanded that they should give unto the multitude
and when the multitude had eaten and were filled
he said unto the disciples
behold
there shall one be ordained among you
and to him will I give power that he shall break bread
and bless it
and give it unto the people of my church
unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name
and this shall you always observe to do
even as I have done
even as I have broken bread and blessed it and given it unto you
and this shall you do in remembrance of my body
which I have shown unto you
and it shall be a testimony unto the father that you do always remember me
and if you do always remember me
you shall have my Spirit to be with you
and it came to pass
that when he said these words
he commanded his disciples that they should take of the wine of the cup and drink of it
and that they should also give unto the multitude that they might drink of it
and it came to pass
that they did so
and did drink of it and were filled
and they gave unto the multitude
and they did drink
and they were filled
and when the disciples had done this
Jesus said unto them
blessed are you for this thing which you have done
for this is fulfilling my commandments
and this doth witness unto the Father that you are willing to do that which I have commanded you
and this shall you always do
to those who repent and are baptized in my name
and you shall do it in remembrance of my blood
which I have shed for you
that you may witness unto the Father that you do always remember me
and if you do always remember me
you shall have my Spirit to be with you
and I give unto you a commandment
that you shall do these things
and if you shall always do these things
blessed are you
for you are built upon my rock.

[3 Nephi 18:1-12]

In this pattern of group worship, described by Jesus, and commanded of the church of Christ — we are to:

  • Bring forth bread and wine
  • Sit down upon the earth
  • Have one man set-apart among the group to break the bread, bless it, and give it to the group in remembrance of the body of Jesus
  • Eat the bread until filled
  • Have the one ordained man take the cup, bless it, and give it to the group in remembrance of the blood of Jesus
  • Drink from the cup until filled

This should be done “always” to witness to God that we always remember Christ – and if we do always remember Him, then we will always have his Spirit to be with us.

The revelations given to Joseph Smith describe this same pattern:

it is expedient
that the church meet together often
to partake of bread and wine in the remembrance of the lord Jesus
and the elder or priest shall administer it
and after this manner shall he administer it
he shall kneel with the church
and call upon the Father in solemn prayer
saying

O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

the manner of administering the wine
he shall take the cup also
and say

O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this wine to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

[D&C 20:75-79]

The Nephite church’s example in practicing this pattern of group worship:

In the first couple generations after Christ visited the descendents of Lehi, they observed these commandments, even as he had shown them, and therefore lived as a Zion-like community of believers:

behold
the disciples of Jesus had formed a church of Christ in all the lands round about
and as many as did come unto them
and did truly repent of their sins
were baptized in the name of Jesus
and they did also receive the Holy Ghost
and it came to pass
that the people were all converted unto the Lord
and there were no contentions and disputations among them
and every man did deal justly
one with another
and they had all things common among them
therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free
but they were all made free
and partakers of the heavenly gift
and it came to pass
that there still continued to be peace in the land
and there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus
insomuch that they did heal the sick
and raise the dead
and cause the lame to walk
and the blind to receive their sight
and the deaf to hear
and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men
and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus
and they were married
and given in marriage
and were blessed according to the multitude of the promises which the Lord had made unto them
and they did not walk any more after the performances and ordinances of the law of Moses
but they did walk after the commandments which they had received from their Lord
and their God
continuing in fasting and prayer
and in meeting together oft
both to pray and to hear the word of the Lord
and it came to pass
that there was no contention among all the people
in all the land
but there were mighty miracles wrought among the disciples of Jesus

[4 Nephi 1:1-13]

This religious community was alive with the miraculous works of the Father and the signs following them that believe.  And even when the people fell into general wickedness a couple centuries later, a segment of the people still remained gathered as the church of Christ and kept the commandments Jesus had given their ancestors earlier:

and after they had been received unto baptism
and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost
they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ
and their names were taken
that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God
to keep them in the right way
to keep them continually watchful unto prayer
relying alone upon the merits of Christ
who was the author and the finisher of their faith
and the church did meet together oft
to fast and to pray
and to speak one with another
concerning the welfare of their souls
and they did meet together oft
to partake of bread and wine
in remembrance of the lord Jesus
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

[Moroni 6]

The church of Christ “meets together often” to:

  • Fast
  • Pray
  • Hear the word of God
  • Speak about the welfare of each other’s souls
  • Partake of the bread and wine in remembrance of Jesus
  • Preach
  • Exhort
  • Pray
  • Supplicate
  • Sing

“Often” does not mean every Sunday – it doesn’t even mean once a week.  To determine ahead of time how “often” or on what days the church will meet prevents it from being conducted by the workings of the Spirit.

These “meetings” happened as often as they were desired to happen or as often as they were needed to happen among the various congregations of believers in Christ.

Also, no one did anything unless the power of the Holy Ghost led them – or in other words, they followed the principle of:

if ye receive not the Spirit
ye shall not teach

[D&C 42:14]

– meaning nobody spoke a word unless the Spirit of prophecy and revelation came upon them and led them to speak that word.

Doing this makes the discernment of a dead congregation [a group without the Spirit] easy because, in practical terms, what that means is that unless members are cleansed from all sin and therefore can be moved upon by the Holy Spirit – the meeting will be dead silent.

Approaching group worship backwards:

There is a problem when we approach this pattern backwards — when we work at keeping people coming to church — as a way to make them feel the Spirit.  It’s backwards.

People aren’t stupid — and it doesn’t take long for an interested investigator to realize that the Joy they feel in spontaneous meetings with missionaries lacks in our church meetings.  The Spirit that manifests while studying the gospel in a more intimate setting with missionaries is not repeated in the meetinghouse.

This “deadness” happens when the religious experience is approached as something that can be brokered by some all-male merchant-class who deal in religion and religious paraphernalia.  It’s all image and no Life — because the Life’s been suffocated by the Box we’ve put Her in.

Our current practice of assigning everything before church meetings [for example] — the songs, sermons, etc. — is based on the doctrines and commandments of men and not the commandments of the Father that Christ gave to his church — which is why there is no one prophesying or healing or speaking in tongues, etc. during our meetings. The commandments of men are not accompanied by any manifestations of power [just good advice, nice music, etc.]

To get back to a reliance on the Spirit, in which it is the Spirit that directs and guides the conducting of our meetings [and not any man or group of men], we would need room for that spontaneity because that’s how She works.

The church of Christ, when it meets [not when it “has meetings”], should select no one beforehand to say prayers, or prepare talks, or prepare musical numbers, or be given sermon topics, or be given material from which to base a sermon on, etc.

The scriptures say that if the Spirit is not given to a person, then they should not speak.  And the scriptures say that everything must be done at the very moment, which means spontaneously, as the Spirit directs.

Without the pervading presence of the Holy Spirit, a congregation has no “spiritual gravity” drawing the converts together — keeping them gathered in a body of the church of God.  Hence, we see a scattered group of strangers we just happen to meet at the same place at the same time every week.  We get dismal “activity”-rates because “activity” flows out of a person [and thus out of a body of gathered persons] spontaneously or naturally — it can’t be something “stuffed” onto a dead body.

Next Article by Justin:  Spicing up your church experience: Women’s edition

Previous Article by Justin: … and I’m a Mormon

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3 Comments

  1. After reading about the concept of tribal/group worship several months back on this site, I have had a desire to hold a service in my own home.

    My wife and I have talked about holding a family meeting in the near future to dedicate our home to the Lord in conjunction with casting Satan out as we have been commanded to do (I am not saying he is a regular guest, however I have felt a strong desire to participate in this action more regularly since my last temple visit). We talked about having our immediate family over to participate. I would like to hold a sacramental service as part of the evening. It might freak my parents out a little, but I think my siblings would be OK with it.

    I have a question or two. I would love to know the opinions of those who are currently holding tribal services.

    1. One of my sisters is either disfellowshiped or on probation from the church. Would her behaviour restrict her from partaking of the sacrament in a family setting?

    2. Being that it is my house I was going to bless the bread and wine. Am I over stepping authority since my father would be there too? To be honest I don’t think he would feel comfortable doing it even if I asked him to. Should I just avoid inviting someone who will not appreciate the ordinance for what it is?

    3. I will admit for this next question I have’t put the prayer in to get a firm answer. I would like to know if children not yet baptized would participate in a family sacrament. I currently let my children take the sacrament when at church, but I am starting to lean more on the side of waiting until they have made the covenant. If it is wrong would the sin be on me since they are doing it without proper understanding?

    I might just be overthinking the semantics and just need to follow my heart a little more. Again I am just looking to see what some of you other saints are doing inyour homes. Thank you in advance for your responses.

  2. 1. One of my sisters is either disfellowshiped or on probation from the church. Would her behaviour restrict her from partaking of the sacrament in a family setting?

    I guess it would depend on the particular behavior — and what your family feels about it. Participation in the family’s sacrament meeting comes with the consent of the family.

    2. Being that it is my house I was going to bless the bread and wine. Am I over stepping authority since my father would be there too? To be honest I don’t think he would feel comfortable doing it even if I asked him to. Should I just avoid inviting someone who will not appreciate the ordinance for what it is?

    I’d personally consider the eldest male holding the Melchizedek priesthood as the presiding priest of a meeting. However, he need not perform the duties of his calling, nor act in that office if: (1) He is not willing to do so — and/or (2) The family does not consent to him doing so.

    D&C 20 reads:

    the elders are to receive their licenses from other elders
    by vote of the church to which they belong
    or from the conferences
    each priest
    teacher
    or deacon
    who is ordained by a priest
    may take a certificate from him at the time
    which certificate
    when presented to an elder
    shall entitle him to a license
    which shall authorize him to perform the duties of his calling

    And, with respect to administering the sacrament — the presiding priest [your father] needn’t be the one priest that shall: be ordained among you — and given power that he shall break bread — and bless it — and give it unto the people of your family — unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in Christ’s name — even as Christ has done — even as he broke bread and blessed it and gave it unto the disciples — in remembrance of his body — and as a testimony unto the father that you do always remember him — that you may have his Spirit to be with you.

    3. I will admit for this next question I have’t put the prayer in to get a firm answer. I would like to know if children not yet baptized would participate in a family sacrament. I currently let my children take the sacrament when at church, but I am starting to lean more on the side of waiting until they have made the covenant. If it is wrong would the sin be on me since they are doing it without proper understanding?

    From D&C 46:

    but notwithstanding those things which are written
    it always has been given to the elders of my church
    from the beginning
    and ever shall be
    to conduct all meetings as they are directed
    and guided
    by the holy spirit

    nevertheless
    ye are commanded
    never to cast any one out from your public meetings
    which are held before the world

    ye are also commanded
    not to cast any one
    who belongeth to the church
    out of your sacrament meetings
    nevertheless
    if any have trespassed
    let him not partake
    until he makes reconciliation

    and again I say unto you
    ye shall not cast any out of your sacrament meetings
    who are earnestly seeking the kingdom
    I speak this concerning those
    who are not of the church

    It seems to suggest that only those who have trespassed [and not made reconciliation for that trespass] should be forbidden from partaking of the sacrament in a sacrament meeting.

    Though Jesus words in 3 Nephi:

    >behold
    there shall one be ordained among you
    and to him will I give power that he shall break bread
    and bless it
    and give it unto the people of my church
    unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name

    and this shall you always observe to do
    even as I have done
    even as I have broken bread and blessed it and given it unto you
    and this shall you do in remembrance of my body
    which I have shown unto you
    and it shall be a testimony unto the father that you do always remember me
    and if you do always remember me
    you shall have my Spirit to be with you

    seem to define the “people of the church” as people “baptized in his name”.

    Personally — we let children take the sacrament in our family meetings.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts Justin. I look forward to seeing and feeling the difference of a family service.


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