Scared of Rituals or The False Focus on the Heart

Lately I've been thinking about the spiritual disciplines and rituals in the church.

A brief disclaimer before I begin: Any of you who know me or have done any sort of gathering, whether large or small, with me know that I am not fond of keeping meaningless rituals, so I am not making the point that we should keep meaningless rituals. When I use the word ritual, I do not imply meaningless before it.


Above all physical actions is the heart. We can be loving, yet our acts of love can be meaningless for our spiritual life. We can be people of prayer, yet our prayers can be meaningless for our spiritual life. We can people of the Word, yet our studies can be meaningless for our spiritual life.

Before any action matters spiritually it has to grow from the heart. Whether it's a memorized prayer that we state every morning or a more spontaneous prayer, it doesn't matter spiritually unless it comes from the heart.

"Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water" (Luke 7:38)

So what do many people do? They stop participating in the disciplines, in the rituals, or in outward acts of love because those outward acts can be corrupted. We have seen so many people who just go through the rituals that it appears noble in some minds to not participate in those sometimes meaningless rituals. The Pharisees of Jesus' time practiced all the disciplines and rituals while ignoring the heart. They adhered to the letter of the law while ignoring the law's spirit. Because of people like the Pharisees, for some it has become noble to not pray, to not say a repetitive prayer, or to not love their neighbor. We've created the New Pharisee.

"You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" (James 2:24)

The New Pharisee ignores action and declares that all spirituality is just a matter of the heart. Faith is all that matters. They say we are saved by faith alone. The disciplines, rituals, and loving actions become irrelevant, and the New Pharisee treks on a journey that focuses solely on the inward state of his being. Spirituality for the sake of spirituality. Personalized faith. Spiritual masturbation. The most dangerous thing facing the church in America today. We can sit around and talk about how corrupt the world is and how it is infiltrating the Church, but if the New or Old Pharisees weren't in control of the Church, then the Church would have nothing to fear. The people of God cannot be corrupted by what goes on around them only by that which happens within.

"Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile" (Mark 7:14-15)

The Church is like an inpenetrable outpost standing on a hill in the middle of a town. Nothing from outside can damage it. Though the lost world might try, the Church cannot be destroyed by the lost world. Like Rome (and perhaps the United States) the fall will happen as a result of continual decay within. The Church is too powerful to fall from attacks from outside of its walls. If we truly believed that, we would stop concerning ourselves with the immorality of the lost world around us. It is the lost world; it is expected to live in a way contrary to what we believe. Rather, we should turn our focus towards discipling those who are part of our body and reaching out in truth and love to those outside of the body. This is a much better alternative to sitting around and criticizing the lost world for being what the lost world is supposed to be and a much better alternative than waging war against the lost world by trying to prevent them from living the way the lost world is expected to live.

"For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge?" (1 Cor 5:12)

Earlier I wrote, "Whether it's a memorized prayer that we state every morning or a more spontaneous prayer, it doesn't matter spiritually unless it comes from the heart." It would also be true to say, "Whatever is in our heart, it doesn't matter spiritually unless it manifests itself in the physical world." The New Pharisee is just as dangerous to the Faith as the Pharisee of Jesus' day.

"The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil" (Luke 6:45)

The heart is the most important thing to change in our life; however, disciplines, rituals, and loving actions are not seperate from our heart. An inward/outward dicotomy does not exist in the life of a Christian. Our whole being has been given over to the cause of Christ. All disciplines, rituals, and loving actions should be spurs to our heart, and all exuberance of our heart should manifest itself through disciplines, actions that might become rituals, and love. When we don't feel our heart being in love with God, focus on our actions because they are the key to our heart. When we don't see oursevles doing the actions of the faith, focus on our heart. The two are joined together.

Watch out for the potholes.