Resolution of Faith vs Ritual
Religious ritual and faith are locked in a deathly struggle. Are they mutually exclusive? Can strong faith exist in rigid ritualism? This was the battle for the early believers. They discovered it is one thing to have a resolution that sounds good but what you do with it determines what it is worth.
In Acts 15 we read of the resolution about ritualism and faith that the group reached. It allowed for recognition of relationship with God to be enough on its own. There was no requirement on anyone to follow certain rituals in order to be acceptable.
They went the next step and sent a letter which read something like this:
From: The apostles and elders, your brothers
To: the believers who don’t have the right heritage in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia
We have heard that some people who didn’t have our authorization came to you and said things that disturbed you. So we are sending some guys we do authorize to tell you this is what we say. God agrees with us that we shouldn’t place a lot of burdens on you so we are only insisting on three things: that you make a total break with idolatry, you don’t eat blood, and you don’t get involved in sexual immorality. You’d be really smart to not do these things.
All well and done? Sort of. It gave freedom and encouragement to those who didn’t follow the rituals and they were excited to get the news. They overlooked the short-falls of the letter from their religious “friends” and got on with the fun of learning and spreading the knowledge of God. Without a lot of petty rules and score-keeping they were able to focus their energy on what really mattered.
Meantime in Jerusalem nothing changed. The ritual practices continued and folks who joined them were expected to follow those rituals. Some newcomers resisted and wouldn’t do everything and so a two class system was developed – the true believers and the “other believers.” Ritualism adds power to the grip of religion. Some of this sounds a bit familiar? It is. The struggle between religious ritual and relationship with God has continued to rage. At issue is the understanding of what God requires of us and what other people expect. The ability to distinguish between these two things gets blurred and with it our understanding of what really matters. Then it becomes easy to begin pushing the wrong bandwagon. The tangible familiar thing becomes most important while the relationship gets quietly forgotten. We focus our judgment on the visible.
Btw, the recipients of that letter showed amazing grace. They had been disturbed and harassed in a serious way. The guys in Jerusalem had been sending people to “police the state of affairs” in Antioch – that’s why Barnabas (who changed sides) was sent there, you can be sure there were others. The letter was short on apology and minimalist on confession. They didn’t take responsibility for their actions, nor for their excessive delay in curbing these messengers. They shifted the blame for their actions – “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you . . .” – as if God had been somehow involved in burdening these people and then changed his mind. If they had listened to God in the first place none of this needed to happen. If they truly believed in what they were writing, how come there’s no recognition that their own practices have been “over the top” and no indication of the changes they were going to put in place to put their own house in order? This letter wasn’t good and the action of these leaders was less than convincing. They had failed to work through what their decision meant for themselves and what changes they needed to make to what they did. Realistically, the church in Jerusalem had been sucked into the religious ethos of that place and their focus on ritual cemented that fact. They failed to understand that this resolution was a two-way deal. It was not enough to back off requirements for others; they also needed to re-think their own actions. There’s no doubt that there were many sincere believers in Jerusalem but it is also obvious that they were seriously confused about how to express that belief. Once the slippery stone of setting rules and practices for each other to follow is in place it is only a small fall into the stream of legalistically requiring those practices to prove you have faith. The means quickly becomes the end and sadly the end is a prison cell. We lose the trail of life and end up locked in empty rituals.
There’s a better path. The recipients showed grace and forgiveness. They took encouragement from the implication that they were not wrong, they were excited to be free from the burden of exacting ritual and of the mean, critical spirit that comes with that package. They acted with total grace towards the messengers from Jerusalem and sent them back in peace. Then they got on with the exciting job of helping others find a meaningful relationship with God.
- Rituals and Faith in Religion (citesimon.com)
Posted on September 22, 2011, in Active faith, Self-awareness and tagged book of Acts, Christianity and faith, Holy Spirit, Jerusalem Council, knowing God, pleasing God, Religion and Spirituality, Ritual. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off.