In modern times the word ritual has taken on a negative connotation. Many look at the Catholic mass or the chanting of the Benedictine Monks and see an outdated expression of the Christian faith. To take it further, many would label these ritualistic acts as ‘religious’ and ‘dry’. They would claim that because these acts lack spontaneity, they are not genuine or heartfelt and that what the Church needs is greater spontaneity. Now as Christians we need to follow Jesus every day and to be open to him crossing our path and changing our plans. However, to overemphasise this and to reject ritual is foolishness and will only lead to apathy and further struggles in the Christian life.
This misunderstanding of the place of ritual in the Christian life fly’s in the face of almost two thousand years of Christian history. As well as the biblical history recorded in the bible. God has always provided ritual for his people so as to renew their minds to bring them into a place of correctly relating to God and to others. If we deny the need for ritual then we are basically calling God a fool. The Old Testament abounds in ritual. For example the book of Leviticus consists of various rituals that served to constantly mould the Israelite people. Deviation from these rituals was punished severely because of their importance in the transformation of the Israelite people. God takes seriously, the reality that sin spreads and gains greater control of a person if it is not checked early on.
Human beings have a biological tendency to form habits; Yahweh is fully aware of the way human beings work and has given us ritual to kerb this biological tendency to form healthy habits rather than negative ones.
Every day we are creating the person that we will be tomorrow, we are either turning into a being of light and joy or a being of darkness and misery. Every television programme you watch, every second look at the girl across the street, every decision you make is solidifying what sort of person you will be tomorrow.
As Christians the Holy Spirit is also recreating us every day, seeking to renew our mind and our actions. In the process of sanctification we work alongside the Holy Spirit, who is constantly working to renewing our mind and actions, we can choose to work against or with him. Ritual helps us to refocus our lives around the living God and stops us from resisting the work of the Holy Spirit. If we do not institute Christian ritual in our lives we will struggle to be lead by the Holy Spirit and will feel distant from God. Without reorienting every day to Christ, we will lack the intimacy with God needed to sustain a life of worship.
Ritual is an integral part of the Christian life that has been ignored in the modern Church, due in part to its obsession with relevance. Let’s give up on being relevant and dig into 2000 years of Christian tradition so as to draw closer to God. The transformation that this will lead to will be the witness that the Church needs, no emotional music or good programmes can compare to a good Christian witness. We do not need to be more relevant, we need to separate ourselves from our non Christian society, and offer a wholly Christian way of life. We need to stop making concessions to the world. We are called to be a holy people, not a people that are indistinguishable from the rest of society. Bad ritual should not be replaced by spontaneity but by better ritual. Let us institute set times of prayer, the singing of the Psalms and meditation on the bible in a set daily pattern in our lives, let’s begin to transform our lives into spirit filled bastions of God’s love, and let’s begin to live a life of worship. Better yet, let’s do it as a community.