When Ritual Overtakes Worship
In this article, I want to explore how we can navigate to a more authentic worship of the Father and His Son, unencumbered by Ritual. I want to show how in some churches, it seems that ritual overtakes worship to our detriment. Thankfully, I have now found a church where ritual is kept to a minimum in favour of freely expressed worship!
“Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”Matt 23:25 NET
An Authentic Relationship with God and Jesus
“You will experience dry spells where there is no sense of God’s presence. Learn to live by faith, not feelings.”Frank Viola (Unknown Citation)
John Eldredge in “Wild at Heart” (p54 para 2) introduces us to Adam after the fall in Eden. He describes how Adam felt after the fall.
“Adam doesn’t just make a bad decision, he gives away something essential to his nature. He is marred now, his strength is fallen and he knows it. Then what happens? Adam hides. ‘I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid’ (Gen 3:10)… Understand that verse, let its implications sink in, and the men around you will suddenly come into focus. We are hiding, every last one of us. Well aware that we too, are not what we were meant to be.”Eldredge, 2001, 2010, p. 54 (Wild at Heart)
The single biggest barrier to an authentic relationship with God, with Jesus, with our spouse and family and indeed with the greater community is this internalised fear, even spite for ourselves because we think we are failing (and in a sense we are). We think that it all relies on us, our strength, our capacity for doing good and not evil. We think that because we sin, we can never be authentic in how we approach others, especially God and Jesus.
Ritual overtakes worship when we seek to expiate our sin and appease God by repetition and meaningless actions.
Sinners saved by Grace
Make no mistake, we are sinners. From a purely legal perspective, without grace, we are failing, we are dead in trespass and sin. You sin, I sin and our sins are a burden too heavy for us to carry. Thanks be to God and His provision of Jesus that we can cast this heavy burden on Jesus.
It is not until we overthrow the legal perspective in our lives and understand that there is nothing we can do to expiate our sin, that no amount of restraint, strength, ritual or front that we put on will hide our wretchedness before God, that we can finally out off the mask, be authentic with God and understand that our complete reliance is on God and Jesus. No longer do we allow that ritual overtakes worship, understanding that appeasement is not required.
Thank God for grace.
When we are brought to face our sin-wound, our nakedness, we realise the pointlessness of the poser mask.
As men, we have been programmed through the long millennia, that it is all up to us. That’s a burden that none of us are able to bear. In our darker moments, we realise this and the realisation is often too cataclysmic for us to face.
And so we hide. We hide behind everything. Many of us hide behind our gender roles (though these days, that is hard to do). We hide behind our phones (or in an earlier generation our newspapers). What about our work roles? Most of us hide behind a “façade of Christianness”. In Church ritual overtakes worship.
For women, it seems to me to be a similar fear. Am I good enough? Society expects so much of me, to be feminine and capable, to be beautiful regardless of what is going on. Expectations around motherhood and work. The list goes on. As a man, I am not willing to try and speak for women, but this is what I see and empathise with.
And so we hide, men and women all. John suggests that we all hide behind masks that hide our true desire for connection. In Church, the biggest mask is ritual.
Ritual overtakes worship because it is easier than being authentic. After all, these rituals are all God ordained anyway, aren’t they?
If you want a forensic breakdown of many of the rituals of the church and their origins, I encourage you to read Frank Viola and George Barna’s “Pagan Christianity?”. The origins of many of the rituals that Christians engage in are clearly not of God.
Over the last four or five years, I have read a range of books from John Eldredge’s “Wild at Heart” and “Fathered by God” through Frank and George’s “Pagan Christianity” and “Reimagining Church”, CS Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”, Francis Chan’s “Letters to the Church” and Scot McKnight’s “A Fellowship of Differents”. There are influences for me from other books such as John Pople’s “To Speak Well of God” which give me considerable pause for thought.
I have over the last 5 years become unsettled in my conservative Christian lifestyle and Pople’s book finally took me to a new place of thinking altogether. I now become very uneasy every time ritual overtakes worship.
Rituals can be a lie about who God is
In a sense, rituals are a lie about God. On the surface, they make us appear Godly, but they are a form of Godliness but deny the power thereof.
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.2Tim 3:1-7 ESV
To avoid an authentic relationship with God, when ritual overtakes worship, is to potentially speak ill of God rather than well. To lie about Him in rituals that deny His power is certainly to speak ill of Him.
Pople really leads you through a careful consideration of Job’s life to really think about what happens when all the trappings of life (and our masks) are stripped away altogether. You see ritual tends to strip God of His character and make Him an automaton.
When we engage with God through ritual
Let me give you an example. When ritual overtakes worship in how we engage with God, we start to think of Him in terms of stimulus and response. At its basest, that means that we “stimulate” God with a prayer for forgiveness and He “responds” with forgiveness as an obligatory response. To bring it to its basest terms, we can start to think of God as an automaton, a vending machine where we insert a coin inscribed “repentance” and out pops a can inscribed “forgiveness”.
Ultimately, this leads to for, example, the confessional and all of its associated rituals or some other way of “expiating” sin.
The alternative is to daily acknowledge your position before God, that without Him in our lives, we are rightly related to death, we are slaves to sin and death but with Him, we have life washed clean.
I have been drawn to these writers and others aside including Chuck Swindoll, John Piper, Watchman Nee, Dallas Willard, David Platt and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, because of my own feeling of inadequacy in trying to connect authentically with God.
Ritual Overtakes Worship
Ritual overtakes worship. What do I mean by this? Worship is the act of ascribing worth to someone or something. We can worship idols by ascribing worth to something we have made. Some people worship (or idolise) their cars, their homes, their gardens and many other things besides, because they assign worth and time to them.
To worship God and Jesus is to assign worth and time to them. Connection with God, feeling His presence and striving to connect with Him, is worship. When you feel worthless and disgust at your state and you turn to your Father and your eldest and most loving Brother, and seek connection with the only ones who make sense in this evil and degenerate world that has tripped you up again, when you are so unbelievably grateful that they still love you and care about you, then you have connection.
Ritual does not create authentic connection. At best it reminds you of God and Jesus but truly by the very familiarity of the ritual, this is of fleeting value.
My strongest connection with God
In my old church, I simply didn’t feel a connection with God. I feel that ritual overtakes worship too often in many churches.
My strongest connection with God has come in the strangest of places. It often happens in the car as I quietly pray while I drive. Possibly, prayer comes easiest to me in the car because I can switch the radio off and won’t be distracted by anything except the normal mechanical process of driving in traffic (generally).
My current church holds a night once a month called Encounter. It is a night of personal testimony, prayer and most importantly for me, musical worship. It is using the medium of music that brings me closest to God. Music with a thoughtful phrase that is repeated allows me to sink into that phrase and build my connection with Him.
What bothers me not a little, is that I often struggle to feel a bond with Him unless all else is stripped away, I am in crisis and I cry to Him from the depths. Perhaps that is the reason for the chastening trials of this life.
Expecting God to “Perform”
A friend said something sage to me recently. Sometimes, we seem to expect God to act so that we can feel His presence, when instead He is always present.
Here now, as I write, and as you read. I pray that His Spirit is working through me to direct my thoughts and my writing to best effect. I pray that He is with you as you read, so that whatever you are seeking from this article, that it might benefit you in your relationship with Him.
With respect and reverence, God is not our “performing monkey”. He does not need to perform mighty acts before us to prove His existence. It must be faith that motivates our relationship with God and Jesus, not some form of proof. The evidence of our eyes is insufficient to sustain our relationship, otherwise Israel would never have slid from the path, the Pharisees would have seen the miracles and believed and we would observe the wind in the trees, the rising of the sun, the power of the ocean and all the wonders of Creation and never forget our creator. It would not be that ritual overtakes worship because we would be ever mindful of God’s presence as a real and vital force in our lives..
I have had many prayers fully and unequivocally answered in unmistakeable fashion and yet there are times when I have wondered if I have believed cunningly devised fables. (2 Pet 1:16)
The disciples saw the Light that was Jesus and recounted it to the believers so that we develop faith and believe. That faith, that belief is what glorifies God.
What Glorifies God?
The Israelites in Ex 14:11 said:
“Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the desert? What in the world have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?”Ex 14:11 NET
Paul comments on this in Heb 3 and 4.
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has an evil, unbelieving heart that forsakes the living God. But exhort one another each day, as long as it is called “Today,” that none of you may become hardened by sin’s deception. For we have become partners with Christ, if in fact we hold our initial confidence firm until the end. As it says, “Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks!
Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” For which ones heard and rebelled? Was it not all who came out of Egypt under Moses’ leadership? And against whom was God provoked for forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose dead bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear they would never enter into his rest, except those who were disobedient? So we see that they could not enter because of unbelief. Therefore we must be wary that, while the promise of entering his rest remains open, none of you may seem to have come short of it. For we had good news proclaimed to us just as they did. But the message they heard did them no good, since they did not join in with those who heard it in faith.Heb 3:12-4:2 NET
The question of what glorifies God really cuts to the root of this article.
We gloss over it
The simplest answer is sadly the one we kind of just gloss over.
What most glorifies God is our faith in Him. That we believe Him. That even in the day to day humdrum of life, we rest secure in our belief. That in crisis, we reach for Him, not as a last resort, but as our first action. That we believe that He is highly desirous of our wellbeing. That simply we believe in Him. No longer allowing for mindlessness where ritual overtakes worship.
From a human perspective, is God’s existence predicated on our belief in Him? Does He exist because we have faith that He does? (I speak as a foolish man).
God does not need us!
I have four adult children. Do I need them? Suppose one of them decides that I can’t be trusted? Suppose one of them completely misrepresents what I have said?
Do I stop loving my children? Of course not. Do I feel hurt by things they might say falsely about me? Very much so. What is my response? It is to seek to correct the misunderstanding and to rebuild the relationship.
We are God’s beloved children. He hates it when we lie, especially when we lie about Him. (Prov 6:16-19; 12:22; Jn 8:44; Eph 4:25; 1Pet 2:1; 2:22) We are nonetheless, a part of His family, even if we fall short of this high calling.
The Eternal Purpose of God
We were born for the express purpose of becoming part of God’s community. Community signifies harmony. We are united in the common purpose of God in perfecting His community. We cannot glorify God without believing Him and having faith in His word.
Let’s unpack this.
When I say that we were born to be part of God’s community, I am referencing Frank Viola in “The Eternal Purpose”.
I am sure many of you puzzle as I have, over why God created not just us, but indeed all things around us? I mean, what is the purpose of all of this?
In Numbers 14:21, we get a sense of God’s purpose or least some of His purpose. He tells Moses:
But truly, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD.Num 14:21 NET
He reiterates it in Hab 2:14:
For recognition of the LORD’s sovereign majesty will fill the earth just as the waters fill up the sea.Hab 2:14 NET
The Full Purpose of God
But as I have covered in another article, this isn’t the full purpose of God. The beauty of the purpose of God in creating us, far exceeds the world we dwell in.
In Ephesians, we get some real sense of His purpose:
Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ. For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him in love. He did this by predestining us to adoption as his legal heirs through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will — to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our offenses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight.Eph 1:3-8 NET
He chose us
He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. God’s purpose in creation was to make us part of His family. He adopted us as His legal heirs! Indeed, He seeks to expand His family by adding us to it.
That’s beautiful and it also gives some insight as to what glorifies God. God is not glorified when ritual overtakes worship.
What glorifies God is that we grow up as a fully functioning, member of His family, furthering His purpose, in the short term by seeking to fill this earth with His majesty (knowledge of Him, obedience to Him, faith in Him) but ultimately, by inviting others into His community that His family might be ever growing.
Grown Sons and Daughters of God have a genuine, intelligent and loving relationship with their God that seeks to further His will in the earth.
A relationship that is bounded by structures and rituals can never be truly genuine. It is not genuine when ritual overtakes worship. Stripping away the masks and seeking to engage with God on His terms (never our own) but in as authentic a fashion as we can, is vital.
The importance of “Getting it Right”
In the preface to Pagan Christianity, Frank Viola and George Barna point to the Sadducees and Pharisees as an example of the harm that comes of either adding to or subtracting from the authority of God’s Word. Rev 22:18-19 provides a full stop to this. If you add to the words of the book, you invite the plagues of it. If you take away from the words of the book, your share in eternity will be taken away.
That’s sobering to say the least.
Anyone who puts pen to paper in relation to the Word of God, must give serious consideration as to what he or she is about.
Uzzah learned to his cost exactly what the penalty is for being casual about the requirements of God. Read 2 Samuel 6:4-9.
On the other hand, David, a man after God’s own heart, treated one of the sacred elements of the tabernacle with casualness and God did not punish him in 1 Samuel 21:6.
The disciples of Jesus in Matthew 12:1 did not appear to honour the sabbath.
What are we to make of these examples?
What can we make of the fact that many of the rituals of the church today do not match those of the apostolic period and therefore could be considered an “addition” to the words of the Book?
Does this suggest that Christians down through the ages have been adding to the Book and therefore are subject to the plagues of the Book?
Are we to make of this, that so many of our brothers and sisters down through the ages are subject to condemnation because they are not strictly adherent to the apostolic practices of the New Testament?
I think not, (I am not the Judge of all creation anyway), but I think that when we become aware of some better way, it is incumbent on us to explore it and if we believe it true, to act accordingly.
I intend to explore in overview some of these traditions taken on by the church over the years, but for right now, what is the “organising principle” for dismantling ritual in our worship of the Father?
In short, am I suggesting that we must seek out apostolic practice and follow only that?
What Rituals Appear to be God Given Anyway?
There are a number of “ordinances” that are argued as God given by various groups. I will explore some of these in the next section, but for now, there appears to me to be only two “rituals” required by God. Our own “ritual” sacrifice in baptism that symbolises a life dead to the world and made alive in Jesus. Some form of “ritual” meal remembering Jesus on a regular basis.
Stay with me here because I want to really dig into these far more than the surface portrayal I have provided in the paragraph above.
Immersion in water or even some form of sprinkling with water has been symbolic of cleansing throughout history and in many religions.
It could be argued that Elisha’s command to Naaman in 2 Kings 5:10 was a form of this sort of Baptism. Of course, baptism goes deeper than mere cleaning.
Baptism means that your previous life was over. You are no longer a dying human, you are now a new creation and a “Son of God”. You go under the water, you cease to breathe, you emerge from the water in a new relationship with God.
Baptism is an integral and important step in obedience. You have been developing a relationship with God, and now it has blossomed into a public declaration.
It is all about our relationship with God and because of its physical effect on you – you cease to breathe deliberately with a focus on your declaration (otherwise you are just taking a bath) – you will likely remember this turning point for the rest of your days.
For Naaman, who had leprosy (a living death), emerging from the water on the seventh washing, it was as if he was completely a new man. He had been dying of an awful disease and now he was cured. In fact, in 2 Kings 5:14, his skin was like a young child’s. He was now living a new life.
He washed himself seven times. The number seven has a significance in the bible and appears often. (I am not going to go into a detailed dissertation of biblical numerology here.) The number seven refers to spiritual completeness or perfection. Naaman’s seven immersions signified that he had been made spiritually complete.
He was embarking on a new life and it was intended to demonstrate for us reading thousands of years later that we can obtain a new life free from death by obeying God and submitting our pride and ego. We had been dying of the disease of sin and death and now our lives are hidden with Jesus awaiting our proclamation with him of our new lives.
A Public Declaration of an Internal Reality
In our public declaration of obedience, in the waters of baptism, we declare that we are a new person. We had a relationship with God that developed over time, but now we have made a public declaration of our submission to His sovereignty – that He is our Father and we His children.
The important thing is that Baptism wasn’t unusual. There is evidence that baptism may have occurred in ancient Sumerian civilisations. John the Baptist seems to have been the first “Christian” (even though he precedes Jesus) to have practiced Baptism, indeed baptising Jesus. Of course, John preached baptism for repentance and remission of sins.
Baptism means to be immersed. It was used commonly in relation to dyeing cloths. Commonly, some Christians argue that this means that one must be fully immersed in water and leave it at that. This can be where ritual overtakes worship.
Baptism Saves Us
Peter in 1 Pet 3:20 speaks of baptism saving us, but he is clear in verse 21 that he is not talking about water.
Peter refers to inner purification of our conscience towards God. This sprinkling of our conscience that Paul speaks of in Hebrews, delivers us from our sin prone nature and rebuilds our relationship with God and Jesus. Our baptism therefore is about our immersion in God and Jesus, our putting on of the new garment.
Baptism is not about being immersed in water.
There are many forms of baptism in the New Testament including water baptism, the baptism of the Spirit, baptism of crucifixion and others besides.
The Key to Baptism
The key in baptism is not the ritual itself. It is our relationship with God and His son that is important. As we become immersed in God and Jesus, our former man is stripped away and is replaced with our new creation.
Water baptism without being immersed in God and Jesus is pointless.
I think John Piper’s words in “A Hunger for God” fit here:
If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.John Piper – A Hunger for God
Simply, as John also says, “He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” (John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life)
Glorifying God In Baptism
We glorify God when we are baptised, immersed, saturated in Him. Without this glorification, our declaration is just a meaningless ritual.
To focus on the act (the ritual) rather than the commitment and intent of our lives is to lose the power of the worship.
If our ritualistic immersion is not accompanied by a life committed to worshipful immersion in God and Jesus, then ritual has overtaken worship, we are liars and speak ill of God rather than well.
By far the most sacred cow of Christianity is the keeping of the memorial feast (communion) and yet it is practiced in many different ways in Christianity.
For some churches, the communion is taken every Sunday by every baptised person (unless they have been put out of the congregation for some “sin”). This is the tradition I grew up in.
In other churches, part of the communion is taken by the congregation and some by the priest.
Some congregations only take communion on a special occasion.
For some, they take the warrant for regular communion from 1 Cor 11 and others see this as Paul simply correcting communion gone very wrong.
The Upper Room
What are we to make of this ritual or ordinance? Jesus instituted something in the upper room did he not?
Let’s think about the upper room. How did Jesus institute this ritual? Ultimately, this was a meal among friends with Jesus in their centre. Jesus chose everyday food from the meal. Yes, you can layer the bread and wine with meaning, and I agree that they were meant to have meaning but they were also staples of every meal at the time.
The point was that they spent time reclining around the table, deep in meaningful conversation and love for one another. John even reclined against Jesus’ chest!
The centre of the meal was to enjoy a relationship between each other and Jesus. Even more, this meal going forward, was designed to anchor them back to Jesus.
Compare this with the highly structured process engaged in on a Sunday in most churches today. I’ll deconstruct some of this below (though you really should read Pagan Christianity to get a serious analysis of this).
- First the believers arrive at a building and park their vehicles before making their way as a family group to the room of meeting. They are greeted by someone at the door whose duty it is to provide a greeting.
- Next they seek out some acquaintances and strike up a conversation about the week gone by, the weather or some other small talk.
- Eventually, the appointed time approaches and the musician starts to play loudly to remind everyone to take their seats in the rows facing the front, where there is a table at which a man is seated and upon which are placed morsels of bread and thimblefuls of wine carefully covered with a cloth.
- As people get quiet and settle in their seats facing the backs of the people in front of them, the music moves to a quieter, more sombre tone. In some churches, several men will then walk to the stage and take their seats facing the congregation. They will have duties for that Sunday.
- Finally, the music ceases and the man at the front stands and addresses the congregation reminding them of the solemn purpose of the meeting, perhaps pulling part of the cloth covering the bread and wine back.
- He introduces a hymn chosen earlier in the week and possibly associated with the sermon if the speaker and the musician have spoken about this. The congregation arises and sing the words of the hymn they usually know very well.
- The order might change from church to church, but often, another man is then introduced from among those seated on the stage and he will read the designated passage from the bible, chosen to introduce the sermon.
- He will then take his place back in the congregation and the man at the table will call on the congregation to stand. Then a man will start to pray whilst the congregation stand with heads bowed and eyes closed.
- At the conclusion of the prayer, the congregation take their seats for a moment, whilst another hymn is introduced and then rise to sing again.
- Taking their seats again, the man rises again and introduces the other man on stage who then stands at a pulpit and delivers a speech with an introduction, several points and a conclusion. This can take an hour but is usually somewhere between twenty and forty-five minutes.
- He takes his seat back on the stage and the man at the table rises, removes the cloth from the bread and wine and reads a passage related to the bread and wine. This might be from 1 Corinthians 11 or Matthew 26 or one of the other gospels. Rarely, it might be from Hebrews 2 or Isaiah 53.
- The man then proceeds to pray a prayer of thanks to God for the bread. He might remember to thank God for what is symbolised by the bread, Jesus’ sacrifice. The bread is then distributed to the congregation and many sit in prayer and meditation.
- This process is repeated for the wine.
- A hymn follows reminding the congregation of the bread and wine.
- There is a collection to defray the costs of running the church and some announcements follow, usually given by an administrator (I used to be one of these).
- Finally, a further hymn and prayer follow and the meeting wraps up with the musician playing it out to some level of muted conversation.
- People then engage in conversation. Some discuss the sermon either with the presenter or with others. A relative of mine used to refer to these people as the “heavies”. Others make plans to catch up for lunch or some other activity.
- Eventually, they all leave and someone closes up the building because church is over for another week.
This varies from church to church, but this is the general gist.
So, let’s get under the bonnet and try to understand it all. What are the elements here?
- Travelling to church: We are church, we don’t travel there.
- Men only perform some duties: arises from a misinterpretation of Paul’s disquiet about prototypical Gnosticism that claimed women have some special wisdom to impart that eclipses men. Those were the women that Paul requested keep silence. This was echoed by others as Gnosticism took hold. This silencing of women became a tradition kept only in part by many churches. Women teach Sunday School and engage in many other “non-silent” activities in the church completely inconsistent with this tradition.
- People get dressed up in their “Sunday Best”: I have discussed this elsewhere, but ultimately, this is a tradition really only a few hundred years old.
- The order of service: again is a tradition that is not instituted in the upper room. It was in fact only really codified in the last few hundred years.
- Performing duties rather than spontaneous worship: I have also written a lot about this. Our worship should spring from the abundance of our heart, not because it is our duty to present a sermon, or sing at a particular time or some other such thing.
- Sitting in rows: How do you engage in mutual worship and family feeling with the back of the head of the person in front of you?
I could go on, but you get the gist.
How should it be?
The entire point of what was instituted by Jesus perhaps should be more in this wise.
Two believers happen upon each other in the marketplace. The one invites the other to come to dinner. Over dinner, the believers reaffirm their faith in discussing the things of eternity, remembering the centre of their faith, Jesus. They finish the meal with bread and wine, remembering the upper room and the relationship they hold with Jesus and stretching back to the disciples.
This is a true joining of hearts and minds in the light in Jesus.
The joy of walking in the light together is enhanced and heighted in mutual, everyone participating worship. It is obscured when ritual overtakes worship.
What Other Rituals do we see in Church Society?
I suggest you read “Pagan Christianity?” and research other writers, meditate and pray and form your own conclusions as to what should be part of our authentic engagement with God and each other.
Some rituals you might wish to consider include:
- Church in a purpose-built building.
- The sacrosanct and unchanging order of worship
- Having a sermon or homily or any other man directed sophistry
- Church leaders and pastors instead of every member functioning, priests of God
- Gender roles in the church
- Attire – especially women’s attire (in some churches)
- The restriction of women’s behaviour
- An insistence on certain types and times of music and prayer
- The collecting of money
- How we conduct weddings
- Sunday school instead of each family undertaking the education and encouragement of their youngest members in the joy of the Lord
- Periods of instruction prior to allowing baptism
The list is far more extensive than those I raise here. They also vary from church to church.
As an example, prior to my baptism, I spent two years receiving weekly instruction including mandatory “marking” of my bible. I had a wide margin bible and I was expected to insert commentary and cross references in the margins as evidence of my bible study. I took to leaving my bible at home when I went to instruction so that I didn’t have to explain my lack of notes in the margins.
Compare this to the determination of the Ethiopian eunuch who have been studying personally, forming a relationship with God from one passage in the old testament (Isa 53), who after an afternoon of discussion with Phillip, requested and was granted baptism.
What is Worship?
Worship is fundamentally, the filling of our heart with the things of God and Jesus. Worship is the determination that God and Jesus are the foundation of our lives, the focus of our lives and ultimately, the purpose of our existence.
Our saturation in them in a world that always seeks to draw us away from them ascribes worth to God and the sacrifice and advocacy of Jesus for us. It states that God is our loved Father and that we recognise and take joy in Jesus’ intercession on our behalf. It means that we understand that Jesus is perfecting us and moulding us for our joining of the community that has God as its head.
In short, God doesn’t need us, but He loves us and wants us to love Him. Worship is sonship. It is not mindless, blind ritual. It is mindful, determined and loving, not because of duty, but because our heart overflows with understanding of the fact that we have been purchased by the blood of our brother.
When ritual overtakes worship, we lose sight of this.