It’s no secret that we Mormons aren’t big on praise worship in our meetings. You won’t hear any “hallelujahs” or “amens” in our sacrament meetings. And that’s fine for us. I think that members of our church tend to believe that worship is best accomplished through living in accordance to God’s commandments — that obedience expresses reverence. And since “righteous living” is difficult to perform in a Sunday meeting (as opposed to, say, praise), we settle for the next best thing: instructing each other toward righteous living.
Now the fact that we spend our church meetings in preaching rather than praising isn’t news, but I’ve just come to realize how pervasive instruction-as-worship is our church. In all the places traditionally associated with worship-through-praise, we instead tend to worship through instruction. This is obvious in our Sunday meetings, general conferences, and temples, but it’s also true of our less formal religious gatherings — in our home and visiting teaching, in our family home evenings, and in our youth programs.
Back in high school I spent an evening at the home of a Christian friend. After dinner, the father gathered the family together for a family worship service. It was different from the family home evenings I was used to. What I remember most was the father singing “Dust in the Wind” and talking about the greatness of God. I contrast that with the family nights in my home, where we learned how to budget, plan a fire escape plan, and consider how to apply the lessons of the scriptures.
I’m not suggesting that instruction is an inferior form of worship, or that we need more shouting in our meetings (the practicality of the family home evenings of my youth appeals to me — however, I wouldn’t complain if we could get a little more “oomph” in our Sunday worship). I’m just pointing out that our tendency towards instruction as praise is, perhaps, a distinctive marker of the Latter-Day Saint faith. Does it explain our reputation for being a “works-based” faith? Or does our focus on merit lead to instruction as our primary form of worship? That’s probably a chicken and egg question. So let me ask those of you more familiar with worship in other faiths — is our almost-exclusively instructive worship distinctive to our church, or am I just showing my ignorance of the wider Christian world by posting this?