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.