Worship v. Instruction

by: Hedgehog

June 20, 2013

 

Worship, v.:

a. trans. To honour or revere as a supernatural being or power, or as a holy thing; to regard or approach with veneration; to adore with appropriate acts, rites, or ceremonies.

b. transf. To regard with extreme respect or devotion; to ‘adore’.

c. absol. To engage in worship; to perform, or take part in, the act of worship.

(OED)

We describe our sacrament meeting as a worship service, we talk about temple worship. But, how much time do we actually spend on worship while we participate in these things? And how much on instruction? How are we defining worship?

The subject of this post began to take form in my mind following a particularly frustrating sacrament meeting. The second speaker began his talk by quoting from the preface to the hymn book:

“Inspirational music is an essential part of our church meetings. The hymns invite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord.

“Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end.”

[emphasis mine]

He finished by over-running his allotted time, and the presiding officer deemed it necessary to cut the intermediate hymn. Oh the irony! Just as well he hadn’t gone on to quote the next sentence in the preface:

“We hope to see an increase of hymn singing in our congregations.”

Following the final speaker, the closing hymn was “Keep the Commandments”, a primary song*, very short, and not a hymn of praise, worship or an expression of gratitude. Grrr!

Feeling rather frustrated it occurred to me to wonder how many of our hymns are, in fact, hymns of praise or worship. According to the topical index, all too few. Those hymns are the ones I tend to favour, and back in the past when I had the task of selecting the hymns for sacrament meeting, they always got a good and frequent airing. I’m missing them now.

For our sacrament meetings then, how much time do we actually spend on worship? Most of our hymns are not hymns of worship, though the sacrament hymns would probably qualify, even though they are not all listed under that subject. During the passing of the sacrament itself, we have the time to ponder on and feel gratitude for the atoning sacrifice. And that’s about it. About 20 minutes of the 70 minute service is what I consider to be a generous estimate. The talks are frequently on assigned topics, and more often than not are instruction rather than worship. I don’t object to instruction, but frankly, we get plenty of that in the Sunday School classes and other meetings that either precede or follow our sacrament meetings.

I have heard that the new Handbook of Instructions isn’t nearly so prescriptive when it comes to the form a sacrament meeting should take. Nevertheless, I have seen no departure (bar one) from, for me, the weary format of 2 or 3 speakers and (I hope) an intermediate hymn.

That one departure was an incredible Easter service I attended visiting another ward: there were readings from the New Testament, choral items, congregational hymns, and one talk on the subject of Easter. Local dignitaries had been invited and were in attendance. Clearly the usual format was not considered to be appropriate when inviting the mayor et al to attend.

I feel bound to ask why it is appropriate for the membership in general to put up with it week in week out. Could we grasp our freedom and make some changes? A lot more singing of hymns, and an increase in the the number of hymns of praise and worship would be a good start, because I wholeheartedly agree with this statement from the preface of the hymnbook:

“The hymns … unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord.”

Only when we get to sing them!

And for me, for worship, nothing beats singing or playing my heart out in a hymn of praise.

  • When do you feel you are worshipping?
  • What has been your experience of the balance between worship and instruction in sacrament meetings?
  • What changes would you recommend?

Discuss.

(*Just what precisely is that doing in the hymn book? Given a choice I’d take “Come Follow Me” or “How Gentle God’s Commands” for that topic.)

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33 Responses to Worship v. Instruction

  1. ji on June 20, 2013 at 7:17 PM

    I have thought that a good program might be–

    OPENING HYMN
    SACRAMENT HYMN
    SPECIAL MUSICAL NUMBER right after sacrament (solo/small group or choir or instrumental) (every Sunday in a large ward, or as often as possible in a small ward)
    REST HYMN (standing?)
    CLOSING HYMN

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  2. ji on June 20, 2013 at 7:30 PM

    My wife and I got speaking assignments a while back, with the actual assignment to be given later — I told her that no matter what my assignment was, I was going to speak on faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I felt a need for worship and sharing/building faith. Give me an assignment on food storage or whatever else, and I can turn it into a talk on faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

    The story is told about President Packer, back while he was a mission president, how he was a guest on a TV or radio show — he was asked some difficult questions, but kept the discussion on track — when asked about it afterwards, he said he answered the questions that the interviewer should have asked, rather than those he actually asked.

    I’m not in favor of disobedience, but I like President Packer’s approach.

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  3. dba.brotherp on June 20, 2013 at 7:32 PM

    The best sacrament I ever attended was in a singles ward. They had different ward members play musical instruments and sing. It was the first time I had been exposed to a sacrament that did not have anyone giving a talk (or narrating which happens a lot when the ward choir/primary does the sacrament program).

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  4. dba.brotherp on June 20, 2013 at 7:49 PM

    The worst sacrament meetings are those which the speakers recite General Conference talks. I don’t count those as worship or instruction. It is during those times I look backwards upon the beach and discover there are only one set of footprints and they’re mine! :)

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  5. Angela C on June 20, 2013 at 11:04 PM

    We are just not that worshipful in Mormon culture. I agree we could do a good deal more. We instruct the heck out of ourselves, though, and I too feel that talks on talks are 15 mins of my life I’ll never get back.

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  6. Hedgehog on June 21, 2013 at 1:13 AM

    Ji, #1&2
    Your suggested programme is a big improvement on my overall experience, where a musical item results in cutting out the rest/intermediate hymn. As though time for speakers is sacrosanct, and congregational singing is seen as the lowest priority.
    And yes please on the standing. For some reason that has fallen out of favour where I am. Just because some of the congregants have diffculty standing doesn’t mean the rest of us couldn’t do with stretching our legs and filling our lungs. It’s not like they’d be forced to stand, and I don’t like having to sit.

    I love that you manage to turn any talk assignment towards Christ.

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  7. Hedgehog on June 21, 2013 at 1:33 AM

    dba.brotherp #3
    That sounds like a wonderful service.

    dba.brotherp #4 Angela C #5
    I know what you mean. It can be grim.
    I recall on a couple of occassions I was assigned the rather meandering closing addresses to General Conference, which mostly don’t have a topic at all, to speak on. I think I managed to used bits of them in the talks, but it sometimes seems those making the assignments really aren’t thinking, and haven’t read them…

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  8. Hedgehog on June 21, 2013 at 1:58 AM

    Angela C #5
    “We are just not that worshipful in Mormon culture. I agree we could do a good deal more.”
    Do you have any ideas as to why we aren’t? What would you suggest for more?

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  9. Nona on June 21, 2013 at 2:36 AM

    We recently had a sacrament meeting wherein the bishop said he had been inspired by a scripture about the importance of hymns and then we basically just sang as a congregation for pretty much the entire hour usually devoted to speakers. It was an incredibly uplifting meeting!

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  10. Hedgehog on June 21, 2013 at 2:45 AM

    Nona, I wish I’d been there.

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  11. Virgil on June 21, 2013 at 8:16 AM

    This is a major issue for church attendance for my family – the general drudgery of the meetings (3 straight hours of Sunday School essentially). Not too long ago, I went through the new handbook to try and get a feel for just how much ‘freedom’ there really could be in re-arranging things. There is a bit, but it’s still fairly constrained.

    Having had opportunity to visit lots of other Christian services, the outline I came up with to make things more worship focused was something along the lines of:

    – 5 Minute Prelude Music – organ or special number, special numbers are much more likely to be listened to
    – Call to Worship and Greeting – conducting person welcomes congregation, gives SHORT scripture or other devotional laying the theme (if any) for the meeting
    – Member Greeting – this is a staple of most Christian services – everyone stands up and greets people in their vicinity for a few minutes – we sort of do this ‘over’ prelude music as a culture, but this would formalize it and maybe make people more likely to listen to the prelude [this is the biggest stretch vs the handbook mostly because it's not a part of LDS tradition and not explicitly allowed]
    – Opening Hymn & Prayer
    – Sacrament Devotional – 1-2 minutes max, Christ centered scripture, etc, great place to use children/youth, new speakers
    – Sacrament hymn
    – Sacrament
    – Baby Blessings / Confirmations as needed
    – Talk 1 – unfortunately, the handbook to me seemed to consign us to at least 1-2 ‘talks’
    – Rest Hymn – Standing up
    – Talk 2
    – Church business & Announcements – I attended an Anglican service at the San Francisco Cathedral one time and it really struck me how much more appropriate it was to handle ‘business’ stuff last in a ‘worship’ service rather than as the lead-in. Not to mention that more people are usually present at the end vs the start to actually hear things.
    – Closing Hymn & Prayer
    – Postlude

    Unfortunately, while I think the above would be ‘allowable’ from the handbook perspective, I have doubts it could survive in a Ward without a very supportive Bishop and more importantly a supportive Stake President willing to entertain experimentation and back up the Bishop when conservative members complain (and someone will for sure).

    If we’re willing to entertain changing the handbook, then also change Sacrament meeting to 60 minutes which means the talks have to be shorter. Give a full 20 minute fellowship break between Sacrament Meeting and the start of Sunday School (many churches use a full 30 minute break). Eliminate the universal 3rd hour – have monthly ‘quorum / RS’ meetings on Fast Sunday for 30 minutes of a business nature after Sunday School (or replace Sunday school with these meetings once per month). Primary can then drastically shorten class and sharing times more in line with children’s actual attention spans.

    Hold presidency meetings, ward leadership meetings, etc… as needed during the 3rd hour. Any ‘extra’ lessons, classes, etc. (like Temple Prep, Family History, …) can also be held 3rd hour as ‘electives’.

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  12. mark gibson on June 21, 2013 at 8:36 AM

    We need more sacrament hymns in our next hymnal, since we use one every week. “How Great Thou Art” and “Rock of Ages” can both be used. I just wish some meditation music could be played during the serving of the emblems. Anyone know the story behind the “quiet time”?

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  13. Justin on June 21, 2013 at 8:42 AM

    We had a bishop a few years back who made it a point to tack-on “coming unto Christ” onto every speaking assignment that was given — because he agreed with what ji [#2] was saying:

    My wife and I got speaking assignments a while back, with the actual assignment to be given later — I told her that no matter what my assignment was, I was going to speak on faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I felt a need for worship and sharing/building faith. Give me an assignment on food storage or whatever else, and I can turn it into a talk on faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

    namely that any speaking topic can and should be turned into a talk on how we should be coming unto Christ — or using that topic/principle to help us or others come unto Christ.

    I think it’s true that our theology lacks a good working definition for what “worship” is/means. I don’t know if other Christians have this problem too or not — but I can say that I honestly don’t know how I’d describe my “worship” of God [as a Mormon] to another person if they were to ask me.

    … maybe other than to say it’s something to do with my family life. I see that as my solemn dedication to God and as my worship of Him — working to submit myself to my wife and children; to love, serve, and build-up my family. But in terms of the church building on Sunday mornings — I got nothing that I’d call “worship”.

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  14. Jeff Spector on June 21, 2013 at 10:53 AM

    We did have a guy get up and read an entire conference talk once and he wasn’t even that good of a reader. I do no like talks on talks unless the speaker injects their own observations about it and does very little quoting from it only to reinforce their own ideas.

    But yet, I also realize that not everyone is a good public speaker so I do try to cut some folks a bit of slack. After all, they are my friends and family.

    The worship part of Sacrament Meeting is, in fact, the Sacrament, the main reason we are there. So, it is OUR responsibility to be worshipful during that period. Not talking, texting, kissing, massaging and the other distraction I see on a regular basis. Minding children is a challenge, but we all have pretty much been there, so most people understand that.

    I am not sure why some people seem to think a rock band and a screaming preacher is more worshipful than our quiet Sacrament meeting. After all, we are instructed to teach each other. Not sure what is wrong with that, if you can look pass the delivery and see the intent.

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  15. Justin on June 21, 2013 at 11:20 AM

    Jeff #14:

    After all, we are instructed to teach each other.

    Yeah but what about:

    and if ye receive not the spirit
    ye shall not teach.

    ?

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  16. Jeff Spector on June 21, 2013 at 11:30 AM

    Justin,

    “and if ye receive not the spirit, ye shall not teach.”

    So does that mean, we will not have the opportunity to teach? Or that what we say is not to be considered by those hearing it a teachings because it is not under the influence of the spirit?

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  17. Hedgehog on June 21, 2013 at 11:42 AM

    Jeff: “I am not sure why some people seem to think a rock band and a screaming preacher is more worshipful than our quiet Sacrament meeting.”
    I don’t think I or any of the commenters have so far suggested that it would be…

    “After all, we are instructed to teach each other. Not sure what is wrong with that, if you can look pass the delivery and see the intent.”
    Well, we’re certainly doing plenty of that! If we made our sacrament meeting a lot shorter, we could go straight into Sunday school and all the other meetings and still be obeying that injunction. Would you go for that?

    “The worship part of Sacrament Meeting is, in fact, the Sacrament, the main reason we are there. So, it is OUR responsibility to be worshipful during that period.”
    Well, we’re agreed there. But is that 20 minutes I mentioned in my post enough? It would seem to be for you. I do think we are lacking in the singing praises. Seriously lacking sometimes. But we don’t have to have a rock band. Just more congregational hymns.

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  18. Justin on June 21, 2013 at 11:50 AM

    Justin,

    and if ye receive not the spirit, ye shall not teach.

    So does that mean, we will not have the opportunity to teach? Or that what we say is not to be considered by those hearing it a teachings because it is not under the influence of the spirit?

    It means that the presiding elder of the congregation [i.e., the bishop] is responsible for making sure that members who “have not the spirit” shall not be allowed to teach the congregation — because they do not have the spirit

    [D&C 46:27]

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  19. Hedgehog on June 21, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    Virgil #11. That’s an interesting programme you’ve outlined. Not enough congregational singing for my taste, but I really like the additions – formalising greeting and the scripture reading, and then the business at the end.

    Mark #12, I like the suggestion of more sacrament hymns. I don’t why the quiet time. I suppose it gives the organist/pianist time to ponder too (they’d have to pause to take the sacrament themselves anyway).

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  20. Hedgehog on June 21, 2013 at 11:57 AM

    Justin #13
    This would be “coming unto Christ by….”. That sounds like a great way to phrase a talk assignment.
    I agree we don’t seem to know what we mean when we’re talking about worship. Most of it doesn’t look like worship to me.

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  21. Virgil on June 21, 2013 at 12:05 PM

    #19 I wouldn’t be opposed to more music, less talks, but I was trying to construct a best case but still technically OK with the handbook and I had the feeling (at least at the time) that at least 2 talks were probably going to be necessary.

    I suspect the issue with music during passing the sacrament was more about the notion that ‘good’ music could take away from the spirit by focusing too much on the talent of the individual playing it. There are some very strange notions in LDS culture about music in services (speaking as a lifetime member, but Protestant trained organist) – RE if someone is too talented, we shouldn’t use them in services as it might be perceived as more of a ‘show’. Same for certain classes of instruments.

    A lot of mediocrity in meetings gets passed off as trying to have a ‘more authentic’ spiritual experience vs acknowledging that other faiths can teach us a fair bit about how to conduct worship in more overt and uplifting forms.

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  22. Hedgehog on June 21, 2013 at 2:56 PM

    #21″There are some very strange notions in LDS culture about music in services (speaking as a lifetime member, but Protestant trained organist) – RE if someone is too talented, we shouldn’t use them in services as it might be perceived as more of a ‘show’. Same for certain classes of instruments.
    A lot of mediocrity in meetings gets passed off as trying to have a ‘more authentic’ spiritual experience vs acknowledging that other faiths can teach us a fair bit about how to conduct worship in more overt and uplifting forms.”

    I hear you, as a brass player, I definitely hear you on this. Organ and trumpet can be sublime. And I really don’t believe that an instrument beautifully played in a spirit of worship is a show.

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  23. Roger on June 21, 2013 at 4:47 PM

    The guys working on your handbook approach it as though the attendees at Mormon sacrament meetings have no choices. As one who has exercised a choice and has spent almost the last 10 years attending a large conservative Protestant service, I hear very well prepared, insightful sermons, beautiful, uplifting anthems and hymns (they have managed to keep the infiltration of garage bands to a bare minimum) and winding it up in 60 minutes keeps both one’s brain and backside from going numb. As I read thru the previous comments, I realized how little I missed harangues from the Dry Council and monotonous readings from Especially for Mormons.

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  24. Hedgehog on June 21, 2013 at 11:28 PM

    If assigning conference talks has done anything Roger, it seems to have eliminated ‘Especially for Mormons’ as source material. One good thing. I haven’t heard it used for a very long time.
    I do have that ‘Holy Envy’ thing for protestant anthems though. Really badly.

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  25. Velocity on June 21, 2013 at 11:42 PM

    Check out The Music Of Creation, with CD-ROM (Theology and the Sciences Series) at Amazon.

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  26. Hedgehog on June 22, 2013 at 12:05 AM

    That looks very interesting Velocity. Thank you.

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  27. mh on June 22, 2013 at 10:19 AM

    A little variety can go a long way. A few years ago, I attended a Sunday morning devotional at the Community of Christ temple in independence, Missouri. It was one of the most moving worship services I have ever attended, and consisted mostly of singing. It was jointly conducted by BYU professor Alex Baugh, and CoC apostle Susan Skoor. Every song we sang was written by WW Phelps, and in some cases the CoC version had a different melody than the LDS version. Between each song, either Baugh or Skoor gave a 1-2 minute talk about the background of the hymn. It was a memorable experience and I don’t recall ever being in a meeting where we sang so much (and I don’t really like to sing). I also remember as a missionary in the MTC, I really enjoyed singing with gusto.

    On another note, I attended a very interesting singles ward in SLC. About every six Weeks, the bishop wouldn’t assign talks. Then following the sacrament, he would call up people and ask them to bear a short testimony. It was a wonderful meeting, because people spoke from the heart, didn’t read anything in a monotone voice, and it felt very spiritual.

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  28. Howard on June 22, 2013 at 4:53 PM

    For a year or two I alternated or attended both an LDS service and a Christian service at a popular mega church. Try it! The comparison is startling! Jarring! It must be so for God as well! I felt worshipful, uplifted and the Spirit for very large portions of EVERY service at the Christian church but often missed the sacrament as it was provided infrequently and the deeper LDS doctrine they lack. I RARELY feel worshipful in an LDS service. The music almost always sucks even though I love many of the Hymns we tend to drag through them out of time with only a saint or two singing enthusiastically and the rest are barely audible. Most of the hymns are too musically complicated to work in a ward service, Motabs fine. Priesthood acapella singing one of the simpler hymns is the occasional uplifting exception to this painful experience. I mostly feel bored by our sermons and I often feel scolded, guilty or called to repentance than uplifted. Occasionally there is most welcome exception. A large number of Mormons deliver their boring sermons with the same almost depressed GC flat affect and near monotone of all the brethren except Uchtdorf who actually seems to be alive!

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  29. Ziff on June 22, 2013 at 5:11 PM

    My favorite sacrament meetings that increase hymn-singing (and therefore worship) are the ones that work like testimony meetings, only each person names a hymn they like and tell why they like it, and then everyone sings a verse of the hymn. (I describe it in a little more detail here.) It’s a pain for the pianist/organist, unfortunately.

    I’ve heard that some guidance from On High has come down discouraging such meetings, but my impression is that it’s been misinterpreted. I went to a couple of sacrament meetings like this in each of the last two wards I lived in, and they were some of the best meetings we ever had.

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  30. Hedgehog on June 23, 2013 at 1:27 AM

    Howard, I don’t know about mega-churches, but I think communion is often done as a separate service to the main worship service for some. I agree we could do with picking up the pace for our LDS hymns. Our recent stake conference broadcast from Salt Lake. We were standing for the intermediate hymn (we still get to at stake conference just not sacrament meeting), many of us couldn’t see the on-screen chorister, or hear the broadcast organ accompaniment, which came over very quiet. It was a hymn we love, and we were singing enthusiastically. By the end, over half the congregation were a whole half verse ahead, though some of those who could see the chorister insisted on following. It was hilarious. But really, the quicker pace was way better. Onward Christian Soldiers is not a funeral march.

    Ziff, I’ve never experienced a meeting like that. Though my Dad has said from time to time that it was quite common in testimony meetings when he joined as youth for a member to request a hymn as a form of testimony bearing, rather than speak their testimony. And everyone would sing it. Thanks for the link. I also love ‘Be still my soul” btw, more for the music, but the words are lovely too.

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  31. KT on June 23, 2013 at 10:40 PM

    I grew up Lutheran…..no rock band or screaming preacher. However, the pastor was a great speaker and gave great talks that had a lesson artfully given, but also worshipful and spiritual. I believe that we are attending to be FACILITATED in our worship, growth and learning. I have never attended a sacrament meeting that came anywhere close to being as spiritual as the Lutheran church I grew up in. I consider it a big problem for the church. I wish tithing would go toward trained bishops who only spent their time doing that one job. IMO, it’s not the bragging point many Mormons make it out to be that it’s all ‘volunteer’.

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  32. Hedgehog on June 24, 2013 at 2:06 AM

    mh #27 (seem to have missed your comment earlier – sorry)
    So we could maybe have testimony meeting on the first Sunday, and a worship through music (primarily congregational singing) on a third Sunday in a month, for variety, and to break up the weeks where we could perhaps keep (worship-centred) talks (with the intermediate hymn). A bit more frequent than the singles ward you attended, but it would be simple to keep track of, and be helpful to those who like to follow routine. I think that would be amazing.

    KT, I agree that facilitation is important. And all to often not happening. It’s like we have to divorce ourselves from the service to be able to worship a lot of the time.

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  33. […] dba.brotherp, commenting on Hedgehog’s post “Worship v. Instruction” at W&T: […]

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