Why Christians Really Do Need Rituals to Increase Their Faith
“Mom, do I really have to go to church?” Have you ever heard that coming from the dark dungeon that is your teenage son’s bedroom? Well, I am a pastor and even I heard it. I have heard it from people in my church. I have read it all over the internet. Do we really need religious rituals to increase our faith? Do we need communion? Do we need to go to church? Do we need to be baptized? Do we really need any of these things?
In Western Christianity, even if you are Catholic, the role of Christian rituals has been diminished significantly over the years. Some of it is the result of our understanding of Scripture.
We understand from the Bible that God is omnipresent. He is everywhere. We know from Scripture that Christ, the Word, is near us. He is in our words and our hearts. Our body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. We can talk to God whenever we want whether we are sitting on a pew at church or driving down the highway. We can worship from anywhere. We got our worship tunes and we can jam out shouting glory to God as we drive down the highway. We know this, so are the rituals prescribed to us in Scripture really necessary? Or are they?
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Christians Rituals are Important to God
From the very beginning, God has called upon His people to engage in religious rituals. Adam and Eve were to give offerings to the Lord. Abraham was instructed to create altars. The whole of the Temple system was nothing but rituals of making sacrifices, each with its own rituals of how it was to be done, when and how to offer these, and on what days.
These rituals were also instituted through festivals and celebrations. The Israelites had to travel three times a year to Jerusalem for these festivals. The Passover established a ritual that we still do. We are still celebrating the ritual of Passover when we come together for communion. Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, these are all names for how we still celebrate the Passover. One thing we know is that rituals have always been important to God. But why? What is the purpose? If all of these are symbols to help us understand that we need to love, honor, and serve the Lord, can’t we just remember that without having to go to church to eat a cracker and drink some wine??
Engaging the Battle Within
For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (NIV)
Most of us have not fully understood the effect of original sin upon our life. We just came through New Year’s. This is a time when we all create lists of things that we need to start doing. Now…most of the items on these lists are things we have known for a long time that we needed to do. Maybe we put on our list that we need to start exercising, eating right, getting more rest, reading the Bible, going to church. The point though is that nobody went and read an article online and suddenly realized they needed to add something to their list. These are all things we know we should be doing. So, why haven’t we already been doing these things? Even now, how many of us have already stopped doing what we said we were going to do? How many stop doing resolutions because we have given up on trying because every year, we are faithful for a week or so, then life happens and we stop.
According to healthline.com, it can take between 18 to 254 days to start a new habit. What?@!??!!? Are you serious? The habits that are pleasant are much easier. For example, how hard was it for you to start watching religiously your favorite bing-worthy show on Netflix? Not that hard, right? Well, it’s because it entertained you. I have a habit of drinking coffee every morning. This is something I have done forever and I never had to work at it. I love coffee!!!! (Excuse me for a minute while I fill up my cup).
Sin has caused our flesh to desire pleasure above everything. To start doing something that brings you pleasure is not hard at all, especially if it doesn’t cost you a lot of money. Those things that we need to do that we struggle doing are not completely and totally pleasurable. The rituals of the Old Testament involved sacrifice. For Passover, the family had to go out and choose a lamb to be slaughtered and bring it into the house a week before it was sacrificed. How quickly would you get attached to a cute little lamb running around in your house? Well, they did too. Not only did that Passover lamb represent financial sacrifice, it was an emotional sacrifice as well. Whether you are sacrificing time, money, attention, talent, it is still a sacrifice.
I love church, but I hate getting up in the morning!
We Need Rituals to Overcome our Pleasure-seeking Flesh
Our pleasure-seeking flesh struggles to start earthly habits like working out and exercise because these things are not always pleasant. Have you ever tasted broccoli? It can’t hold a candle to ice cream. Will someone please make some broccoli that tastes like ice cream? Then, I will have no problem eating it.
If our flesh fights against earthly habits, how much more will it fight spiritual habits. The reason that our flesh craves pleasure and rejects anything designed to discipline us into something better is the effect of original sin. It is a spiritual effect so the resistance to spiritual disciples is even more when it comes to going to church, praying, reading the Bible. And this is where rituals are needed for our Christian walk.
Rituals move our mind from the flesh to the spirit
The act of sacrificing our time and attention to go to church provides a pathway for our consciousness to move from the flesh to the spirit. We are made in the image of God and God is spirit therefore we, too, are spiritual. But this is not our natural operating mode. We need to move into a different dimension. We might say that we don’t need these rituals, but God is the one who has prescribed them. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper to remember what He has done for us. The memory of His sacrificial death that we might be forgiven of our sins moves us to love and worship Him. Getting up and going to church can help us sacrifice time and attention to move into the spirit where He communes with us. We sing songs to move us from the flesh to the spirit. This is the power of music whether we are talking secular or Christian, it moves us to a new dimension. We start singing our favorite song and the emotions start to flood out and we are taken to a different place. And when we sing about God or to God, the power of music can help us escape into His metaphysical temple that is within us.
Without rituals, we let fatigue, laziness, pleasure keep us from investing in our relationship with God. When we go to church less, we actually worship Him less, we learn less, we grow less. If we go to church, but don’t participate in the ritual of song, we miss out on the spiritual experience He desires for us. If we stop praying or reading Scripture, the effect begins to show up in our lifestyle. Before long, we are ok with not praying or only praying at mealtime. We stop praying for friends. (Of course, we still say we will, but we don’t.) We stop interacting with God. Without Christian rituals, God becomes like a distant relative that you know exists, but you never spend time with.
There is a battle within us between the flesh corrupted by sin and the spirit inhabited by God’s Spirit. These are at war. Our Christian rituals are the weapons we use to defeat the cravings of the flesh that are leading us further away from God. Pick up your weapons brothers and sisters and get your butt in church!!! Stop daydreaming while the preacher is preaching. Get out of Instagram and sing with all your heart. Drink some coffee. Stay awake as you gather with the saints. We need these rituals!