When is Church Ritual Too Much?

I was recently delving into the Sermon on the Mount, and digging into Matthew 5, 6, & 7 respectively. After the Beatitudes, which were absolutely Earthmoving for me to finally comprehend in context, Christ moves forward to help clear up our sense of legalism. We’re taught about the need to remain preserved and visible – Salt & Light.

Then, there is a quick quip about the issue of the Law. Most people, including me, zip right through that assuming this was a quick jab at the Pharisees and Scribes, which we’ve seen before in Matthew. But it isn’t… Rather, Matthew 5:17-20 explains that the Jews had made the Law, God. There is also the deep realization that the Disciples had made salvation, God. Both got it wrong. Christ came to fulfill the law by paying a sinners debt He did not owe. Only He could have done so, and did.

But… The idea of the Jewish hierarchy making the Law, in practice and thought, God Himself, made me wonder about all the ritual that was erected throughout this endeavor. Eat this food, not that. Place this on your head, not that. Go this place, not that. Many can argue back and forth on Torah, but the arguments cease with Jesus.

And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  Upon these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40

Matthew 22:37-40 just like the echo in Mark 12:29-31 and Luke 10:27 make the understanding simple. Love the Lord completely, and love your neighbor as yourself. There are plenty of examples in the New Testament about things like circumcision, foods you no longer have to avoid, etc. We tend to make things complex when we shouldn’t. That got me thinking about how many rituals we import into our churches.

My parent’s church follows a handout each Sunday. They use it to guide what is said, when the congregation speaks, what they say, who is leading whom, etc. If you’re crazy enough to skip grabbing a bulletin when you walk in on Sunday morning, you’ll be lost. LOL… But, contained in the bulletin, among other places, are the things you’re expected to do. What do you think would happen if I sat in the front row, and didn’t stand or recite the words when we’re prompted to do so?

What about my own church? Stand for this. Sit for that. Bow your heads and close your eyes to pray. It goes on and on. Communion on the 1st Sunday of the month, like clockwork. Find me where during a church service I’m commanded to sit or stand. Show me where I’m to bow my head and close my eyes during prayer. Should we actually take communion in the literal sense during a church potluck, instead of during predetermined times and only in the sanctuary?

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not seeking to lead or advocate for a church riot or some misplaced exodus. However, I can tell you we’re just about as messed up, biblically, as a culture as I can imagine. Even for biblical standards, and that’s saying a lot. I often worry we’re spending our time on things we shouldn’t, and there is also a touch of dishonesty associated with too much ritual. If we don’t love the Lord with all our hearts and love our neighbor as ourselves, and I’m telling you I don’t think many of us are, then can we possibly justify ourselves to Him when we meet?

It is as if I can hear the Big Guy saying something like, “Well, Michael, it seems you were spectacular at observing the church rituals I didn’t request, but you didn’t actually love your neighbor as yourself, did you?” What am I to do with that? Yeah, we’re all hypocrites, but there can and should be a halt to the length at which we’ll lie to ourselves and others. If we’re feeling good about adhering to insignificant and unimportant rituals, but can’t get the two things right Christ offered us, as we have the gall to tell people we’re saved, I submit to you this isn’t really great witness…

When is church ritual too much? I’m not sure. But, I wonder if we could place as much emphasis and submission to the call as we can on standing for this and setting for that, just how much discipleship we could actually muster? How much better servants of Him might we become?

I pray you’re both salt and light. I pray I can be both, myself.

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