question meetings

Back in the mists of time I posted something here about the traditional Scottish “communion season” and mentioned the Question Meeting, which (currently at least) is part of the Friday theme of self-examination ahead of participating in the Lord’s Supper.

Different people have different stories about how question meetings started and why. There is also some debate about how useful they are and whether it’s worth keeping them going even among the congregations which still hold them. (There are of course real pressures which combine to make the survival of question meetings seem doubtful – being unable to take time off from work for a Friday morning service, developing the skill to speak helpfully in accordance with relatively complex unwritten conventions, not to mention in general being spiritually-minded enough in the first place.)

Anyway, a couple of recent posts by Iain D Campbell are worth highlighting on the topic – one post on the meeting itself (19th century and contemporary practices plus some reflection), and one which quotes the views of Donald Munro of Ferintosh on how these meetings originated:

There are also various suggestions in addition to Munro’s about how the question meeting originated – Douglas Somerset reviews several in an article in the FP magazine a couple of years ago (‘The Origin of Fellowship Meetings,’ available here in pdf, starting on p333).

Questions meetings can be really useful and beneficial, when the speakers manage to demonstrate the distinction between what is experienced in genuine conversion and sanctification and what is artificial or spurious in religious experience. I can’t say that’s happened in every question meeting I’ve ever been at, but when it does, it’s extremely valuable to hear how the universal general features of effectual calling, regeneration, and Christian living, are worked out in concrete terms in the personal experience of other individuals. (If I could think of any of the many staple question meeting anecdotes right now I’d add them in – but maybe that will do for another post sometime.)

In the best-case scenario, nothing about a question meeting would differ from what Christian friends would discuss with each other anyway – how scripture and experience match, and what growth in grace really looks and feels like. Perhaps we don’t really need the (arguably Scottish-specific) formalisation of this natural part of Christian life to supplement it. Yet somehow you can’t help thinking that we could view the dwindling commitment to this public and formalised aspect of self-examination with slightly more unconcern if there wasn’t the sneaking worry that it might just be a more overt expression of our dwindling efforts in the church at large in the direction of striving for sincerity in godliness (and Christian fellowship specifically on Christian experience). Perhaps.

4 thoughts on “question meetings

  1. Hi this is helpful – we had our Fellowship Meeting on Fri past and I can confirm it is not an easy thing to speak to the question. We had 9 in all to speak. The FM is not dead yet.


  2. The most interesting perspective I heard recently was the idea that the question meeting in some ways was the closest we have to that of the Synagogue system where anyone could ask questions regarding spiritual things as a part of the (public?) worship. (Well, the women would ask their husbands at home.)

    Our question meeting could be taken as a particularly focused example of discussing questions – by every means commendable to be orderly and with a clear direction. Though still leaving scope for the many other areas of questions we may have to ask, that don’t fit the “self-examination” category.

    So, while there are certainly issues as you mentioned, this perspective could be one of the strongest arguments for their continuation (in my opinion at least), albeit allowing for practical considerations. [I’m not sure how well I’ve represented the perspective, but whether correct or not, I Corinthians 14 is certainly worthy of some study in relation to this question.]

    Ps: I’m certainly not disagreeing with you regarding the need to be spiritually-minded in order to engage in these things. Tho’ its worth clarifying that lack of spirituality is the main problem, rather than the religious exercises that require spirituality. On that note, it was interesting to read the way your various sources happened to mention “revival” in connection with the question meeting demonstrating a greater desire for spiritual things.


  3. I can’t say I’ve ever heard this story about synagogues before. It seems a bit post hoc surely? I’m also not sure I really see how 1 Cor 14 fits?


  4. Pingback: in praise of the traditional communion « ninetysix and ten

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