The Absurd Ritual

I know this is kind of out of date, but let’s think back to the 2nd season of Lost. If you watched the show, you would remember the mysterious hatch where the character Desmond was discovered slavishly typing a seemly random number sequence (4 8 15 16 23 42) into a computer every 108 minutes. If he failed to do so, supposedly the world would cease to exist. Eventually, this provided a compelling opportunity for the characters in the show to be challenged to either embrace the “ritual” as an act of blind faith (which was based on fear of the unknown) or to reject it on the basis of reason and empirical evidence.

I love this picture as a metaphor for the spiritual state of many churches. People participate in a religion based on doctrinal laws that must be observed or else you get zapped. They have a relationship with their religious worship rituals that is based mostly on fear. Fear that failure to persist in “pushing the button” would result in incurring the wrath of God. In this version of Christian worship, the laws of God are more like thermodynamic laws than covenantal relationship.  If you violate the laws of thermodynamics, you can’t plead for mercy from the universe.

This is why so many people reject the church. They get the idea that it’s all just a big game and that you are a great fool if you get sucked in to believing that the game is anything more. They don’t ever interact with the personality of God or get a taste for the power of the gospel of grace. Grace is so much more rich and satisfying than the absurd rituals that we perform in response to fear. It is for freedom that Christ set us free.

Stop pushing the button and come boldly before the throne of God.

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  1. #1 by Heidi Vincent on May 26, 2010 - 4:20 pm

    I think there is a lot of truth to this post, but I also know many christians who go to much more ritualistic churches and see the ritual a means of entering in deeper into relationship. I come from catholicism and much of what I saw there reminded me of your post, but I also know people who use the rituals as ways of prepairing their own hearts for the personal relationship (like warming up for a race). Take even the issue of prewritten prayers-a very common tradition in ritual based churches. There is something powerful about repeating a prayer now and again; sometimes my muddy heart needs to hear things MANY times before I humble myself and listen. And I also liked not having to worry if the prayer I was about to say was going to make sense or ramble on…etc.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about ritual because many of my friends are going Orthodox and I want to understand why. It gave me a softer understanding ritual in the way the chuch intended (not that this is always how it is practiced). In any case, I LOVE New City, but I also love that God boldly used an inperfect ritualistic church to bring me to Him-even a church with some deep theological issues!

  2. #2 by kirkwardmusic on May 26, 2010 - 4:44 pm

    Heidi,
    I chose to qualify ‘ritual’ with ‘absurd’ because I don’t think that we should reject rituals entirely. All the sacraments are necessary and important rituals that we are commanded in scripture to observe. Also, no church is free of ritual. NCF is HIGHLY ritualized in it’s liturgy: 1 song, call to worship, 3 songs, prayer in circles, 2 songs, announcement, break, sermon, communion, fold up chairs. The same thing is repeated every week with very little change. Every church tradition including the most free-spirited Pentecostals have a predictable liturgical pattern that they stick to.

    My point was that fear should not drive us to practice “performance-based religion” like it’s pushing a button out of fear. Again, even the most free-spirited worship styles are subject to this trap. It’s the devils way of choking the seed of grace with the weeds of religion. So, I’m not specifically referring to the “smells and bells” worship styles. That’s a perfectly valid way to celebrate and reverence Jesus. If anything, my critique is aimed more at myself and at the mainstream evangelical church of which I am a part.

  3. #3 by Heidi Vincent on May 26, 2010 - 4:59 pm

    True! Well said!

  4. #4 by Heidi H on May 26, 2010 - 11:59 pm

    This is a great post!!!

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