The Fork in the Road: On What God Wants, Continued

[Moved and expanded from the comments]
Guy,

You ask such interesting questions!

How are ceremonies and rituals antithetical to God wanting our love? When God prescribed various ceremonies and rituals to be performed by the Jews of the OT, did He expect them *not* to perform such motivated by love? Were such ceremonies and rituals enjoined by God not in any sense designed to be expressions of love for God? (You also say you’d much rather i clean your study than stand outside it and sing to you. Why then does God ask for ceremony in the OT? And not just ceremony, but *so much* ceremony?)

It is, of course, true that the new covenant is not the same as the old. There are parallels, and there are certain elements of the old that remain: love God, love neighbor, etc. But God certainly never intended to replace the Mosaic covenant with one built on the same pattern.

Of course, if God had commanded that we undertake various rituals today, well, that’s what we should do — he is, after all, God.

But before I wrote the last post, I read every post-resurrection verse that mentions “worship” or else “love” and “God” in the same verse. The verses that speak to how to worship God or how to love God are all relational and push us toward love of our fellowman in response to the crucifixion. And it’s the inspired text that repeatedly tells us that the fruit of Spirit are loving attitudes, or that love is the greatest command and the most excellent way, etc., etc.

You see, the reason I say what God wants today is love and not ritual is because he simply doesn’t command ritual. It’s that simple. The commands just plain aren’t there.

But because we come to the text asking how to worship, rather than asking God what he wants from us, we “find” instructions in incidental references, silences, and such like, and so we find ourselves forced to invent a strange way of thinking and reading just to have “commands” for how to appease God on Sunday mornings.

And I do mean “appease.” The churches I once attended prayed for God’s forgiveness for any errors in worship at least 6 times (opening prayer, “main” prayer, prayer for bread, prayer for juice, prayer for offering, closing prayer). In each one we asked for forgiveness and that our worship be found decent and in order. We were afraid — so afraid that we weren’t sure we even remained saved from the opening prayer to the main prayer — while worshiping God.

God radically changed the system –

(Jer 31:31-33) “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, ” declares the LORD. 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

The new covenant “will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers.” Rather, the new covenant takes us back to the covenant with Abraham — faith being credited as righteousness (Rom 4, Gal 3). And there was no temple and no rules for worship — just a faithful but deeply flawed man walking with God and forming a community dedicated to God. And this likely is why the epistles simply do not establish an order of worship or required ritual.

(I urgently note that the new covenant also forms us into a body, saved as family together, to be a community that testifies about Jesus to the world. We are not saved to go it alone.)

Now, why did God then require elaborate ritual under the Law of Moses? I don’t know. Maybe it was because the people needed that kind of ritual to feel like they had a relationship with God. It was a primitive society leaving a deeply pagan Egypt.

But why didn’t God have Abraham build a temple? Or go to church weekly? Or even sing God’s praise? That, to me, is an even more interesting question.

Now, I am big on the assembly, and I would never recommend that we give up meeting together — just as the Hebrews writer told us. But it’s just critically important that we get shed of the lie that our relationship with God centers on the assembly. It does not.

The marks of the church are its love for each other, the Spirit, and its unity in the faith. And they’re not much of a mark if people have to go inside a church building to see them.

No, the marks are only marks when the church is the church outside the building — where it’s participating in God’s mission. Then the marks will become evident to a world that is desperate to see the marks.

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5 Responses

  1. I love the phrase “But because we come to the text asking how to worship…”

    I recall many years ago when I was in elementary school, we were given assignments to read a chapter in a textbook and answer questions 1 through whatever at the end of the chapter. Often, the teacher would not tell us what questions to answer until after we had read the chapter. The thought was that we would read the questions first, then skim the chapter until we found the answers and quit.

    Reading a text with a question in mind does skew what we read. We should take care. An “open” mind is impossible as we cannot erase our lives before we read a text, but it is something to consider.

  2. You see, the reason I say what God wants today is love and not ritual is because he simply doesn’t command ritual. It’s that simple. The commands just plain aren’t there.

    Maybe I’m not getting the point again, but could it be that the wording of this statement goes into the other extreme? Let me explain:

    Your website-logo is a man praying with raised arms and head and the words “one in Jesus”. I like this picture, because I often pray that way myself. The reason I do it has two levels:
    a) I love my Lord
    b) It is a biblical command to do so (1Tim 2:8)
    You could call that a ritual, but maybe that’s not the correct term.

    This “ritual” is a symbolic expression of:
    a) I don’t doubt, but trust God
    b) I am not angry against anyone
    c) my hands are clean
    So this is more a confession, or better: a call for self-examination when coming to the Lord.

    A different example:

    The man on the picture is not wearing a headcovering. Me neither, when I pray. I do this for two reasons:
    a) I love my Lord
    b) It is a biblical command (1Cor 11:4)
    Maybe removing my hat (which I do wear otherwise) before entering worship could be called a “ritual”, but I would not view it that way.

    It is a symbolic expression that
    a) Christ is my head
    b) Christ wants to be honored by the way I pray and prophesy
    So doing this becomes a reminder that the invisible Christ is present in the assembly and wants to be honored (BTW: there is a meaningful female counterpart to this symbol).

    I leave it with that (just commenting on one picture). The brother in this picture is following Biblical commands and patterns – if I look at it from the outside, I could view it as ritualistic; if I could see his heart, I probably will find love for Christ and a zeal for His glory. Or a heart that focusses on following rules and rituals – who knows? This means, we cannot judge from the outside.

    God wants love, but He is invisible. How do you hug a person that is Spirit? God wants to be honored, and He is in invisble. How do we show (!) respect to a person we don’t see (but who sees us)?

    I am persuaded, that this is the reason why even in the NT He gave some commands and patterns to follow, that are meant to help us love and honor an invisible God; signs and symbols, actions and rituals, certain words and phrases that make us more aware of the presence of a holy God. They are not meant to be burdensome. They are not meant to be divisive. They are simply meant to be done this way in the right attitude.

    Alexander

  3. Dwayne,

    Excellent comment to an excellent post.

    I did a series recently on Acceptable Worship. Note especially numbers 12 – 15 in that series.

    Jerry Starling
    committedtotruth.workpress.com

  4. Jay

    Was God trying to discipline man by OT ritual?

    Psalms 40 starts with what God had done for Israel.. v2 .He lifted me out of the slimy pit. v6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but you my ears have pierced( a servant pledged to service)

    Is this not an appeal for man to obedience, showing him that something better is coming? v8 I desire to do your will,O my God, your law is within my heart.

    Again David’s lament over his sin Psalm 51:10 Create in me a pure heart.

    It seems God’s desires was for Israel to be a discipline grateful people for what he promised that he would do for them

    Are not our ears pierced today? We are his servany, gratefully doing his will.

    Bob

  5. Alexander affirms, “I am persuaded, that this is the reason why even in the NT He gave some commands and patterns to follow, that are meant to help us love and honor an invisible God; signs and symbols, actions and rituals, certain words and phrases that make us more aware of the presence of a holy God.”

    Did Jesus give any commands for Christians to follow? Yes. Did they pertain to “worship services.” NO. Did they pertain to daily life? Yes. We love and honor Jesus and the Father by how we speak and how we act. No rituals are made part of the NEW covenant. No worship leaders are to be appointed, for each of us is a priest. No worship services are ever described or recommended for Christians.

    Our gatherings, the scriptures make clear, are for a different purpose than worship. Mutual edification. Strengthening one another for the work we do when we’re NOT together. That’s the objective the inspired writers aim us toward. No, no worship patterns for Christians can be found in inspired writings–none prior to Heaven. Removing hats is not a ritual! Raising hands while praying can be done any time, but that won’t make the prayer more easily heard by the Father. And surely it’s not an essential for prayer at any time!

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