Christian Living

Does Ritual Have Any Value?

A byproduct of my spiritual formation is a disdain for ritual. To me, a ritual is a meaningless religious activity that is mechanically performed; it is an empty ceremony and a mindless habit, devoid of substance.

This perspective is due in part to what I read in the Bible, where God repeatedly criticizes his followers for their meaningless rituals. However, I don’t think he was attacking their rituals, but their attitude behind them; after all, much of the Old Testament Law prescribed ritual.

The other reason for my dislike of ritual is that I was always repelled whenever I was expected to participate in one. It may be that I see rituals as a relic of the past, something that Jesus freed me from—or it may be nothing more than a rebellious spirit.

I am even resistant to the traditional mealtime prayer because it is so hard to keep it from becoming a requisite and meaningless habit that must legalistically precede the proper ingestion of food.

However, I also know that, unlike me, many people find a spiritual ritual to be an inspiring and meaningful act. Perhaps this is why some churches have a liturgical service and others do not. Different strokes for different folks.

Despite my dislike of ritual, a friend recently pointed out that I have, in fact, adopted my own rituals, which I call spiritual disciplines.

For example, I usually end and begin each day with prayer; I regularly have a time of daily Bible reading and contemplation, and I generally fast one day each week. These are my rituals, they aren’t done mindlessly, and they do hold meaning for me.

They have become a significant part of my spiritual formation and growth. So, when done right, rituals are valuable after all.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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