I wrote a post some time ago on whether they Pharisees were given a bad rap in the New Testament. It can be found here. One of the other bad raps against the Pharisees is that they were more concerned about the performance of the Law than the spiritual meaning of the Law. The story of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:10- 14) is meant to illustrate the point. Since modern Judaism is the outgrowth of Pharisaical Judaism, the same charge is made of the most observant Jews of our time. More on that a bit later.
In the LDS Church, we are asked to do a lot of things. Performances, if you will. Daily prayer, multiple times a day, over meals, with spouse, family, personal and in our heart at all times; Daily scripture study, with family, spouse and personal; weekly Family Home Evening; Monthly Home/ Visiting Teaching; Regular Temple Attendance (at least once a month) and Family History Work; Pay tithes and offerings (10% of increase plus Fast Offerings and other contributions); attend our meetings, Sunday, weekday and other; Accept and perform callings given to us by the Bishop or Stake President; Acquire, keep, use and rotate a 1 year supply of food, 3 day emergency kit, supply of funds for emergencies; Strictly observe the Word of Wisdom: perform acts of services for others, meals for the sick, moving families in and out of the ward, yard work, repair work, community service, etc.; Attend a yearly Tithing Settlement with the Bishop and a bi-yearly Temple Recommend Interview. And more.
These performances are meant to assist us in becoming more like our Savior and Heavenly Father. There is a spiritual meaning and intention behind each of these acts that should be carefully considered as we are doing them. These acts are not an end to themselves, but the means to an end. In most cases, they are recommended, strongly recommended and with a recommended frequency, but the regularity of performance is really a personal choice.
I get concerned both for myself and others that we may fall into the trap the Pharisees found themselves in. That the performances themselves begin to overshadow their meaning and the true intent. I fear that going through the motions becomes more important than real intent of the act itself.
For example, the purpose of Home Teaching is to “watch over the members of the Church, home teachers visit their assigned families at least once each month to teach and strengthen them. Home teachers establish a relationship of trust with these families so that the families can call upon them in times of need.” (LDS Church Website). But, if that relationship of trust is never formed because the Home Teachers do not take the time to really get to know the family and each of its members, does it really matter than they show up once a month? I realize it is a reported statistic, but what it purpose of the report? To prove we have gone through the motions?
Another example. Regular Temple Attendance. Most members of the Church (80%) are blessed to have a temple within 200 miles of their homes. This means that regular attendance is more possible than ever before. The days of saving up for a lifetime to attend once and receive Temple ordnances for you and your family are rapidly coming to an end. Though, it is probably still true for some. We only need to attend once for ourselves. The other times we go have a benefit to us and a service performed for others. We get to experience the serenity of the Temple environs, learn more of the meaning of the ordinances and provide a service for those who have passed from this life without receiving temple ordinances. But, if in striving to attend once a month as directed, we rush, do not fully pay attention and just go through the motions, are we really doing as we are asked to do? Maybe once a month isn’t possible or the right frequency for us?
Here are two stories from my Jewish experience.
Years ago, one of my great uncles was traveling in Africa (Ethiopia, I believe) and, as a very observant Jew, wanted to attend synagogue for the Sabbath. After the service, a man came up to him and, observing that my uncle had a pen in his shirt pocket, spat on him and accused him of defiling the Sabbath by carrying a pen in his pocket. Carrying a pen would be forbidden because one might be tempted to write with it on the Sabbath and that is considered work.
My family and I attended a large family reunion at a famous Jewish resort in the “borscht belt” of the Catskill Mountains of New York. This resort had seen its better days but was world famous in its heyday. I must admit there were more different types of Jews there than I had ever seen, from the most observant Hasidim with their black suits and peyos (side curls) to others in shorts and t-shirts. I imagine my family was the only Mormons there.
On Friday night, at the start of the Sabbath, one of the two elevators was set to automatic so that one need not push any buttons for it to operate. In other words, the doors open, you get in, the doors close and the elevator goes to the next floor. The doors open, people get in and out, the doors close and proceeds to the next floor. It allowed the people to ride the elevator without doing any work (pushing the buttons).
Well my uncle got into the non-automatic elevator with two young ladies. They asked him to push the button for floor 2 because they got into the wrong elevator. They told him they could not push the buttons themselves. He said to them that the scriptures say that they should not work nor should they make anyone else work (See Exodus 20:10). The two young ladies looked at him with a rather quizzical look. They did not understand what he was saying. He then pushed the button for their floor.
So, I worry that we, as a Church might be getting a little too carried away with the performances (the checklist as we have discussed recently) we are asked to do without the thought of the spiritual significance of what we do.
In some cases, if a 1 year supply is good, a 3 year supply is better. If the Word of Wisdom means abstaining from coffee and black tea, then abstaining from any caffeine, “hot” drink or chocolate is better. If going to the Temple once a month is good, going every week is better.
The regularity of these things is really a personal choice and should be aligned with all the other things we are doing in our life and should be based on our own spiritual growth and development. After all, the objective is to become like Jesus and Our Heavenly Father, become the best person we can, serve others and return to live with them in the eternities, not rack up a bunch of impressive statistics.