Chapter 14: Ritual? No
THERE should be, realistically, no more ritual and continued predictability than Jesus exhibited in the three‑and-a-half years with his twelve disciples. He had no weekly “Bible Studies” with the men that He was pouring out His Life for. No monthly prayer breakfasts. Jesus began a “religion” that, when lived out in the way that He walked, continues to confound the world. Unlike the other world religions, it is without ritualistic “services,” religious incantations, or locked‑in form.
If you study church and world history, you’ll find that man is a predictable animal who loves ritual. All the world religions of men are filled with ritual for people to hang their hats on. The similarities between religions in that respect is not a coincidence, but part of unregenerate man’s fallen religious nature. In other words, fearful, lazy, compromising (and even sincere) religious folks in every world religion (including Americans) may need a liturgy, ritual, a legal code and man‑made “order” that they attribute to God — to enable them to know that they are appeasing god. A Muslim in Cairo told a couple of brothers and myself that their “Mosque Services” consisted of some prayers, some songs, a collection, and a man giving a sermon. He sheepishly confessed that he and many others often dozed off during the speech part. Sound familiar?
Jesus didn’t have liturgy. He had very few “things” that you could point to and say “this is the way we do it.” He simply lived out his three‑and-a-half years with his disciples, walking along the streets and talking with them. He would say, as He spotted an illustration of what He wanted to communicate to them: “The Kingdom of God is like this field. . .” or “The Kingdom of God is like a pearl merchant…” In simplicity, they shared their lives in the Truth and Light of God, roasted hot dogs, laughed, threw a frisbee, and just plain lived life, out loud and on purpose, together. That was, and is, the Kingdom of God, with Jesus as the Head.
The early church was not ritualistic. It had no “locked‑in” format. But note this: it was not a “loosey‑goosey,” “we’re too spiritual to get together,” “my church is wherever I am” kind of universalism. I am not promoting a Sunday morning stay‑home-and‑read‑the‑paper type of pseudo-Christianity. No way! God’s manifested “Holy Nation” will bring about more gathering, life-transferring, transforming, and teaching than ever. In one day in the first century the new Christians encountering Jesus on Pentecost changed their approach to religion RADICALLY. They went from a religion of “hearing another wonderful message from the Word” during a Jewish “worship service” at a set time and place to: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts [city park]. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” This is Christ’s effect on any life swallowed by His Spirit! Holiness. Self‑sacrifice. Depth of relationship. Everyone. Lives “joined and knit together by every supporting ligament.” “And all those who believed were together, and had all things in common.” Cultural? No way! Read His teaching and watch His Life. That’s just Jesus!
Has your life, and the life of your church, been enveloped by the Spirit Who was in Jesus? Really? Verifiably? For Jesus’ sake, for His honor and testimony, let’s get on our knees and call out to God for a transformation of the magnitude encountered on Christ’s Pentecost. Settle for nothing less!
Let’s go back, for the sake of a somewhat humorous illustration, to the beginning of Immanuel’s (“God with us”) life on earth. In Matthew, chapter two, and Luke, chapter two, we find the accounts of the shepherds and the wise men coming “to worship” Jesus, just like we do today. Did it go something like this?
“Brother Shepherd Number One will have the opening prayer, Brother Magi Number One will bring us another wonderful message from the Word, Brother Magi Number Two will be taking up the collection, Brother Shepherd Number Two will be leading us in our Song Service today… Now, let’s all stand for thirty minutes of praise and worship and then we’ll…”
It just wasn’t that way, was it?! Do you think that’s what it meant (or means) to “worship Jesus?” Or was it far more real and natural than that? If that is not what it meant to worship Jesus then, that is not what it means today, either. If that is not what the disciples of Jesus did then, with Jesus in their midst (and it definitely wasn’t, as the Biblical record shows), then that is not what His disciples need to be doing today, with Jesus in our midst. Especially since He is no longer a child in a manger, but a grown up King, a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Other religions go through a set of prescribed rituals on a preset schedule of days and hours for a dead or distant god. But that was never the way of our Teacher, nor the Church that He died for, at least in the early days. Of course, history shows, that it was only a short amount of time before Christianity sagged into the lifestyles and religious practices of its pagan neighbors. But to all that care and long for a better future I say confidently, “It was not so from the beginning.”
In the early days of Christianity, the people still viewed themselves as Jews and went to the temple at 3:00 to pray. But as you look through the book of Acts, you’ll find less and less of that. By the time of Acts 15, there was a judgment from the elders of Jerusalem to eliminate the requirements of the Law, with exception of the exhortation to continue to not eat blood. And after they broke away from circumcision, they moved farther and farther away from the Jewish legalities and rituals as they realized that these external things that they had held to were only “shadows of the reality that is in Christ” (see again Col.2:16‑17; Hebrews chapter 4, 8, 9, 10). They desired to make concessions at times, but the pattern was that these concessions with Judaism and its system, other than the debt of love to the individuals involved, quenched the Spirit and brought only more difficulty.
God has made it clear in His Son. Jesus was and is the spiritual flute playing Alpha and Omega of all the Father’s intentions and pleasure. Jesus has made Himself plain by how He lived His Life in the midst of the orthodox religion of His day, and by His teaching. He desires captives set free, not main‑streamed and institutionalized in a “service‑attending” spiritual orphanage. As an older brother, Tom Holland, has often said, “Let’s not ‘hold meetings’ — let’s let them go!” Let’s embrace that freedom!
We can easily stifle the Holy Spirit by slumping into ritual or predictability (usually as a security blanket to protect us from the “bogey men” of boring meetings or someone taking over the meeting). Think about it again. If the twelve had felt the need to have an “order of worship” every time they met with Jesus, they would have been usurping Jesus’ right to run the meeting, would they not? It is no different today. How many ways are there to say it? Jesus is as alive today as He was then, and still deserves to be Head of the Church! As radical, and by now redundant, as it may sound, ungodly clergy/laity systems and ritualistic, decided‑in‑advance choreography for the “service” have all but destroyed the rights and responsibilities of the Priesthood of Believers, and the Lordship of Christ, in gatherings.
As I’ve said, there is nothing inherently spiritual about, and there is no special prize for creativity or informality. There is, however, a mandatory need to be led by God, not a calendar, a program, a liturgy, or a hierarchy.
“As many as are led by the Spirit are sons of God.”
As a church, we must be free to gather the Saints in the park on a Saturday or Sunday or Monday or Tuesday night — in living rooms, apartment clubhouses, hotel banquet halls, gymnasiums, warehouses, restaurants, city streets (or even a religiously-purposed building). Or, as a church, maybe we’ll go in smaller numbers to different assemblies during their “service” times and gather together afterwards to pray for the groups and people that we’ve met. Or possibly God would send every last member of the church, with very little notice, into other nations. We are called to be the people of God who worship “neither in Jerusalem or on that mountain,” “neither here nor there.” We’re free to be and to do. We have no ball and chain that has us trapped in a format by which we must abide. Jesus walked as a friend along the way with his disciples for three-and-a-half years, “daily in public and from house to house,” and I’d encourage all of us to do the same with Him, and one another, by living Life out corporately in simplicity and freedom.
I must add here that some whom George Gallop has included as Christians do not yet belong to Jesus Christ — because their faith is not yet in Him. These are not converted to Jesus Christ with “all of their heart, all of their soul, all of their mind, and all of their strength.” Some, though “religious, church‑going people,” will despise the idea of not having “set times and places.” It will bother them to no end that their 20th‑Century American idols of lifestyle, job, vacations, sports, education, “private time” (usually meaning “TV time”) are threatened by their Lord (if He be that to them) possibly calling on them at any time.
Jesus called out to a man along the way, “Come with me.”
“Wait Jesus. Can’t you see that I’m mending my nets? This is important! This is my dad’s boat and I do need to ‘honor my father and mother,’ don’t I? Can’t we make an appointment for, say, every Sunday morning for a couple of hours? Anything that you have to say can surely be said in that amount of time.”
Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”
But he answered, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”
Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”
And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid farewell to my family.”
But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
“That’s a little radical and unreasonable, Jesus. I used to think that way too…before I came to understand the love of God and my position in Christ. My God would never say such a thing as what you just said! You don’t even seem to understand my situation. I have two children and, you know, if a man doesn’t get braces for his children and save for their college and get them into after‑school activities, he’s worse than an infidel. But after I get these other obligations out of the way in a few years, I can go on a mission trip for you, or something like that. I do give 10% (before taxes!). And I think that you should watch out — you’re beginning to sound (don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to criticize, but)…you’re beginning to sound a little judgmental, legalistic and even cultic….”
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it…Depart from me. Though you would have sworn your allegiance to me on a stack of Bibles, I never knew you.”
It is frightening how many millions of church-goers have been deceived by religion because they signed a little card, said a few words into the air, or got wet. Many (and some, from God’s perspective, who are reading this now…stop and at least pray through it) consider themselves Christians when the teachings of Jesus and a hundred other Testimonies in the Bible positively deny the possibility. A person without Life from Heaven, born in death to self, cannot truly be saved. And if not saved, then obviously not a part of His Church. And if not a part of His Church, then no wonder they wouldn’t want to be where He is, in His Presence and exposing Light in a gathering, or daily and deeply in the lives of others! Regularly scheduled ceremonies and Bible discussions are far safer and more convenient.
To modify a quotation from Samuel Johnson, from the late 1700’s, “Ritual is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” Why? Because if we can hide behind meeting a minimum requirement of religious “times and places” in order to feel justified before God and man, then we can live any way we please the rest of the time. At least our “socially acceptable” sins (wickedness) will be out of reach. We can live comfortably in the world of “At least I don’t ______.”
“You’re just judging me! Get the log out of your own eye! Grace covers — we’re only human, you know!”
Attending “services” (protestant mass or catholic mass), “waiting on the Lord’s Table,” preaching sermons, giving to the poor, praying long prayers, speaking in tongues of men or angels, memorizing the Bible, or even lifting hands during worship…mean nothing in themselves. I know that you know that in your heart.
Jesus calls out to us in our hazy state:
“If you will lay it all down for me, in a statement of absolute trust, all the Heavens and the earth can not contain the gifts and reality from My Life that I will shower upon you. Try me!”
“However, unless I can have all of you: your tongue, your emotions, your savings account, your favorite things, absolute control of your relationships, all of your time (including your all‑american family vacation, your ‘family time,’ your wasted time with TV, etc., your evenings, and even your Saturdays)…unless you will turn to me and offer all that you are and could be to me, then you’re only fooling yourself. ‘Unless you forsake all, you cannot be My follower.’”
Now we can see why unconverted religious people squawk and cry “Foul! Cult!” when they are challenged to consider the Church of the Bible, rather than the accommodating, luke‑warm substitutes of today. “Ritual is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”
And Jesus said, “In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men….” And He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition…making the Word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
Please consider the quality of your heart before God, with all issues resolved before the Holy Spirit of God. Then you will have no problem “seeking first the Kingdom.” Jesus, His House, and His Purposes will be the air that you breathe. You’ll be more than anxious to be where Jesus is, where folks are “gathered in His Name.” You will grow faster spiritually than you ever dreamed possible, while in the religious world only a tiny, tiny proportion of the “church” population grows beyond the barest infancy (by Biblical standards). Give your whole life to Jesus, destroy the security blanket of ritual, program, and clergy/laity hierarchy (that “make null and void the Word of God”) and WATCH! It is wonderful!
If, by some slim chance, you are trembling in your heart as you read this book and its challenges…? If you desire to be all that God wants you to be, but you’ve failed — if your flesh is weak, if your conscience is fouled by shadows and condemnation, if your hope is blurred…? If any of this is true, know this: God is faithful. In Christ, no mountain is immovable. None. Biblical history, and all of history since, is filled with men and women just like you and me who have been stripped, by their own foolish sin, of any grounds whatsoever for reliance on their good performance. Murder, immorality, prostitution, lying, unbelief, and every form of darkness imaginable have been cancerous boils on the flesh of so many of the men and women that God has healed, and loved on, and even used in His Plan. They have, of necessity, cast themselves wholly on the mercy of a loving God. Period. That’s all that was left. Yet it is enough — and infinitely more. Those that turned to the Lord in their distress, God vindicated by their Faith in the Blood of His Beloved Son. No matter what they have done, regardless of the magnitude of their failings, my failings (and they are shameful), or your failings, those that call on the Name of the Lord shall never be put to shame. Pardon me for sounding just a little religious…but too bad: Hallelujah!
52 So subtle is this pagan trait of fear and pride in christendom that no one thinks it odd to find, as I did very recently, Roberts Rules of Order displayed prominently on an easel at a Christian Bookstore — right between Smith’s Bible Dictionary and Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Most people don’t even realize that this textbook on “What is ‘Decent and In Order’” is frequently the standard of today’s acceptable religion, rather than the Bible. Back
53 Acts 13:27; John 4:21. Back
54 Acts 18:5‑7, 19:8‑10, 21:17‑30; Galatians 2:11‑21, 4:9‑11, 5:1‑12. Back
55 Matthew 11:17‑19. Back
56 Is it not odd that there were no “church buildings” for about the first 250 years of Jesus’ Church (Early Christians Speak, Everett Ferguson, p.76; Acts of Paul (2nd Century); Acts of Justin 2; Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture, Richard Krautheimer, pp.1‑15; etc.)? This is longer than the United States has currently been a country! That’s how long Christianity existed without “church buildings.” This is the case even though all of the Jews and all of the pagans that were the new converts had grown up with synagogue and “temple worship” in buildings, at a regularly scheduled time and place. Remarkable. A normal home, acquired and remodeled to hold more people, has been excavated in Dura Europas. This is the “earliest identified christian meeting house” — a structure, though still just a normal abode, specifically for christian meetings (rather than just meeting in homes and “rented halls” and such when the numbers were too large for a home). This “earliest identified christian meeting house” was a “third century” structure!
By just a few decades after Pentecost, the Believers, during a famine of true God‑Sent Leadership, were already fossilizing and losing connection with the Head (as evidenced by the compromise and ritualism that had sprung up so quickly — Rev.1‑2; Didache; Hermas; II Clement; Epistle to the Philippians, Polycarp; Letter to the Corinthians, Clement of Rome; etc.). In spite of many evidences of spiritual dullness so early on, still they did not revert to the appearance of pagan temple worship with Christian lyrics. Is there a reason why Jesus and the Apostles He had equipped, and the generations that followed, did not follow in the footsteps of the “practical” pagan religions? Of course! Once again, the “religion” the carpenter from Nazareth began was not even remotely similar to those “of this world.” Nor can it be today, and still find His highest Blessing and Anointing. Back
57 Believe me, I don’t say these things lightly. It breaks my heart when anyone has given up (at least to the naked eye) the means of giving such gifts to their children. But we must, like the father of our faith, desire to reason “that God can raise the dead.” We will, at the very least, by the Grace of God, offer to our children “better and lasting possessions.” May God strengthen and en‑courage us. Back