What do you mean by "informality?" By "informality," I mean an environment that accents the flesh, not the spirit. Individuals in such an atmosphere are viewed more as friends than brothers and sisters in Christ. The mundane is more easily emphasized in an informal setting, and spiritual focus becomes an interruption. It is easier to speak of the world than of heaven, more natural to complain than bless the Lord, and easier to get caught up in social, political, and domestic issues than eternal things. Spiritually uninformed people are more apt to "speak up" in an informal setting, and confusion can enter without difficulty.

Advantages and Disadvantages Informality has advantages and disadvantages. One of its primary advantages is that it allows for profitable expression. It also can provide an atmosphere where serious inquiry can be made by those seeking the truth. In most of the informal assemblies I have visited, however, these have not been dominating. A casual atmosphere frequently encourages the development of fleshly relationships over spiritual ones. It also appears to greatly inhibit God-consciousness, something that is indispensable in the assembly of the righteous. The formality of focused prayer transfigured Jesus, while an undisciplined outburst from Peter brought a rebuke from God (Matt. 17:1-6).

Although informal assemblies have some apparent advantages, you will find little support for them in the Word of God. This, to say the least, should lead us to question the advisability of assigning superior value to them. Casualness and godliness are not easily joined. It requires an extraordinary amount of spiritual discipline to bring them together. The reason for this condition is clear. Informality tends to give the upper hand to our lower nature. It operates more freely in that type of surrounding. This was one of the besetting sins of the Corinthian assemblies. They lacked orderliness, thus giving rise to interrogations and outbursts that were rebuked (1 Cor. 14:34-35). The gatherings of the righteous are to be characterized by "decency and order" (1 Cor. 14:40).

We encourage the opening of our assemblies with prayer, and the singing of disciplined praise to God. It is also refreshing and beneficial to our spirits to enjoy the reading of Scripture. Entered into properly, these help us to break out of debilitating casualness, making us more alert to God and, consequently, more available for His blessing. These help to direct our minds toward God, where informality becomes a near-absurdity. Note with care that whenever people were aware of the presence of the Lord, informality tended to disappear. The giving of the Law, the dedication of the tabernacle and temple, and the announcement of Christ's birth are examples (Exodus 19-20; 40: 1 Kings 8; Luke 2).

This is not justification for establishing a purely liturgical religion. Form is not an end of itself. It allows for a disciplined approach to the living God. But if the individual does not personally draw near to God, with the intention of obtaining spiritual benefit, the form has been a thief and a robber, although meticulous and even pleasant to the eye. Candidly, there is a lot of religion these days that parades itself as spiritual liberty, that is nothing more than formalized chaos.

Restating the point

As used in this lesson, "formality" is a focused effort to subdue the lower nature, shutting the door to unprofitable speech and action. It involves marshalling our resources for the glory of God. Our minds are focused, and our hearts are tender. This has a purifying effect upon our speech.

I have used the word "informality" to describe a disarming condition, that allows "flesh," or the sinful nature, to enter our assemblies. This is a condition that makes us dull to God and inordinately sensitive to earth and earthly things. When informality is dominate, people tend to act and speak without due consideration of God.

However your assembly can achieve sensitivity to God and the subduing of the Adamic nature, see to it that it is accomplished. I have chosen to call the practical means "formality."