Thursday, December 05, 2013

Ritual and ritualism

Ritual is the repeated outwards performance of an act. Religious rituals provoke the senses. In Roman Catholicism, as in many non-Christian religions and sects, the smells and bells offer worshipers with an encounter, a mystical encounter, with the divine. Protestant Christianity has or had rightly rejected the mysticism in both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, and it's only due to the infection of Liberalism that a focus on liturgy has returned in the apostate mainstream denominations.

Since Christianity is a revealed religion centered on the Word, true Christians should be highly skeptical of ritual. Ritual and liturgy in apostate Christianity has become a substitute for Christ and His revelation. Like the strange fire in Lev. 10: 1-2, such "rituals" and "liturgies" are abominations before God since they violate God's commands on how Man is to approach him. Since the Creator-creature gulf is so great that God must condescend to His creatures in order for us to know Him, such man-made will-worship does not bring any person to a true encounter with the true and living God.

Yet there is no escaping from ritual and liturgy. No matter how one organizes a worship service, one cannot change the order of service from week to week, or all would be chaos. Such a fixed pattern is indeed a liturgy, even though it is not called one. The stuff done are also rituals, although they may be called "cool." The "contemporary" church has its own liturgy all right, even though they do not call it one.

The reason why [older] liturgies are rejected while people flock to the "contemporary church," or whatever type of church they might fancy, is basically a matter of taste. The newer low-church liturgies are appealing to them in ways that the "old-fashioned" ones aren't. But what they embrace is still a liturgy. In "contemporary" megachurches, the usage of CCM, strobe lights, smoke machines etc are high-tech versions of the smells and bells of "old-time" religion, and similarly their usage is meant to create an environment where worshipers can have a mystical encounter with God. It is ironic therefore that we have come full circle. To those in "contemporary" churches, why is it that they have no problems with their modern rituals, but are highly skeptical of ancient rituals? And just to show that rituals are not just in "contemporary" megachurches, why is the ritual of the altar call sacrosanct?

Ritual and liturgy is unavoidable. So the question is: What ritual(s) and liturgy(ies) should be adopted? On this we consider that precisely because we should be skeptical of ritual, therefore we should only do the rituals/liturgies that are necessary, and what is necessary is commanded by God (Regulative Principle). The skepticism of ritual should bring us to be skeptical of all rituals that God has not ordained. And through our skepticism, we come to find out that God has condescended to us even in our senses. While proscribing all other forms of smells and bells, God condescended to the weakness of our flesh in giving us His two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper, in which we receive the grace of God through the Spirit. In the simple act of sprinkling, pouring or immersion in the triune name, we are visibly named as part of the people of God. In the simple act of eating the bread and drinking the wine corporately in remembrance of Christ, we partake of Christ's body and commune with Him spiritually. These two sacraments are the only two "rituals" that involve more of the senses, and are God's condescension to us.

Biblical Christians ought to be skeptical of ritual, and not just ancient but modern rituals. It is precisely this antipathy towards ritual that guards against ritualism. At the same time, precisely because we are skeptical of ritual therefore we must strive to follows those which Christ has ordained, for otherwise we would just have swapped the ancient or modern rituals for "non-ritual rituals" of our own designs.

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