Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Real Pitfall of Ritual

Some Christians oppose ritual. Others maintain that a detailed system is necessary. Is there a danger in ritual, and if so, what is it? In the Old Testament there is a detailed system of ritual, with precise instructions on what must be done. In the New Testament we see no such detailed system. But we do see certain key ordinances commanded: baptism (Matthew 28:19) and the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Besides the sacraments there are other actions of spiritual significance mentioned as commonly practiced (James 5:14; 1 Timothy 2:8, 5:22; Ephesians 3:14). But we do not see in the New Testament a command against all ritual. Therefore, it is difficult to claim that a detailed system of ritual, one that exceeds the clear commandments of the New Testament, is required. Nor can we take the idea that all physical ritual is bad, though there is a greater emphasis on the inner man (John 4:21-24; Mark 7:14-23; Colossians 2:16-23). Also, we are not given a detailed prescription for public worship even of a simpler sort, though we are given general principles (1 Corinthians 14:40; Hebrews 10:24,25; Acts 2:42). I am therefore forced to conclude that whatever God did not command, He left free (Deuteronomy  4:2; Proverbs 30:5,6; Romans 14:1-12).

The simple fact is that all churches have their rituals. They all do things in a certain way and follow certain patterns. Whether it is having three songs before the offering or communion at the end of the service. It is impossible to totally get away from them. We may have detailed, thought-out rituals. We may have spontaneous, off-the-cuff rituals. But we will have rituals. The danger is simply going through the mere outside performance with the idea that this in itself pleases God or even just to impress other people (Malachi 1:10; Isaiah 66:3; Matthew 6:1-18). This is especially true if our life does not match up with what we are professing. Genuine rituals should be an expression of genuine faith and obedience. God is not requiring perfection, for none of us comes close to measuring up to that standard (Romans 7:14-25; Galatians 5:17; Philippians 3:12-14). But He does require reality. Merely eliminating or minimizing rituals in and of itself does not solve this problem. We can even claim that the fact we have so few rituals makes us acceptable to God. The real issue is what is in our hearts. I do think it is a good idea to eliminate meaningless rituals, as it is easier to see them as just a duty we do to impress God. But these are just as likely, if not more likely, to occur in churches without a detailed system of ritual as in those who have one. The less clearly you have thought out something, the more purely meaningless stuff it is likely to have in it. But the real issue is heart attitude, and you cannot solve that simply by changing the externals. 

No comments:

Post a Comment