A Warning about Rituals

I’m pretty sure I’ve baffled a particular group of Christians. To their thinking, because I know what their belief is, then I can’t help but believe the same way and do what it is they do. Knowledge should invariably lead to action. But having spent quite nearly a year on the subject, they haven’t won me over. So they don’t understand how I can thoroughly know what they believe and yet not believe it. Most of them have the same story: “I didn’t know. I found this passage. I looked into it. I studied it thoroughly. I decided that it did apply to me. I’ve been acting upon it for months / years.”

But they also believe that obedience is proof of love. My disobedience might as well be a bold declaration of my hatred for God. Anything less than complete and unquestioning obedience from Genesis 1:1 all the way through Revelation 22:21 shows a lack of love for God. Perhaps they would use the word rebellion. Because I know, I should obey. If I obey, then I show that I love God. If I disobey then I do not love God. If I know about God and disobey Him, then I must be in rebellion against Him.

To be honest, I sort of am jealous that they are all on the same page in a rather simple world. To them everything is either black or white. Good or bad. Righteous or evil. I don’t have it so easy. Try as I might, I can’t suspend what understanding I do have on things like history, culture, and languages. I can’t not ask whatever questions bubble up to the surface. I can’t act upon a teaching I don’t believe in.

One reason I find it extremely difficult to believe is that in order to make it ‘fit’ for everyone, you have to go ‘beyond what is written.’ I also find that it’s not something that is completely embraced even in the churches that do as the passage suggests, they only do so partially and inconsistently from one church to another. Some of them even boast that while they carry out the action of one part of the teaching, they do not carry out the action of the second part of teaching. That’s like bragging that you brought in coats to give to cold children this winter in the same breath as you praise the deacon for shutting down the soup kitchen because there were too many ‘undesirables’ around.

Few rituals exist for the New Testament believer (some would argue that because they are the few, the few that exist are extremely significant, but that’s another post for another day). Though this teaching can technically fall under the category of a ritual, there’s a warning in that. The Old Testament featured ritual as a way to be right with God. Eventually people began doing rituals in an ‘auto-pilot’ sort of mode and their hearts were far from God. Jesus remedied that in a big way. Over the centuries, believers added back rituals. It reminds me of the ancient Israelites demanding a King to be like the other nations. Christians added rituals to be like the other religions. In the process, we worried more about the ritual than the meaning, the symbol than the significance, and the preparations more than what Jesus had done. I still see this teaching as a ritual unto itself and into the church. Something that people spend a lot of money on to be seen but can be a big distraction from God disguised as doing something ‘for’ or ‘because of’ God.

I remember a ritual I participated in, well, sort-of. We were at a church where the tradition was to buy a candle (out front from the vendors who weren’t in the church but near it), take it to a particular area of the church, stand it up right, say a prayer, and leave the candle there to melt into a pool of wax. The room was crowded, I was constantly bumping into somebody on my left or right. I was fairly confused about what was expected and that probably didn’t help. It’s something I won’t forget, but it’s something I don’t exactly remember as a moment of sacred prayer on holy ground. Perhaps the next time I am there I will see it differently.

I am worried that if this teaching picks up it’ll be much the same thing. I’m worried that some who do not participate will be seen as in rebellion (worst case scenario) or spiritually inferior (in general) compared to those who do participate. I’m worried that it’ll be a matter of style and color, that more money will be spent on being seen than will go to more practical matters, for example helping the poor people in our very own communities. I’m worried that a whole sub-set of teachings will be written beyond what the Bible says to make it ‘fit’ everyone. I’m worried that people will lose themselves in the ritual and forget to follow Jesus … it wouldn’t be the first time that it’s happened.


...Anyway, that's just how I feel about it ... What do you think?

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