Dead Rituals and Rancid Steaks

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my faith journey and shared about a point in life (in my late 30s) where I began to miss some of the rituals I grew up with. I thought back to my First Communion and what a huge event it was in my life. And the party […]

by bob

Sep 17, 2021

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my faith journey and shared about a point in life (in my late 30s) where I began to miss some of the rituals I grew up with. I thought back to my First Communion and what a huge event it was in my life. And the party we had in our backyard to celebrate my taking a step in my faith journey. I recognised that as evangelicals, we didn’t provide any markers like that for kids or teens. Maybe they said the prayer…and then were baptised, but beyond that, there were really no signposts along the way to say, “well done”. Or “you’re on the right track”.

When I began attending a non-liturgical church as a teen, rituals were never referred to as rituals. They were always “dead rituals”. Who wants dead rituals? We have access to a living God! During that time in my 30s, I realised that I didn’t want “dead rituals” any more than I wanted “rancid steak.” But a well-prepared steak? Sign me up.

I’m going to write a bit more about rituals and practices next week. There are some essential things to think about around the topic.

Today I want to explain a couple of things dealing with liturgy. We now comprehend certain words as religious that writers of scripture borrowed from the surrounding culture. Pastor or shepherd dealt with sheep long before it meant church leader. And the word chosen for church meant assembly (see Acts 19). Even the word gospel was merely a word in the surrounding culture that the church borrowed.

Liturgy, which came from the idea of “public work” or “work of the people”, likewise is only thought of in religious terms. But even there, we misuse it. The Catholics, or the Anglicans, are liturgical, ‘but not us’. Well, if your church opens with a prayer, 5 songs, announcements, a sermon, a prayer, and a closing song, that is your liturgy.

A couple of weeks ago, I was re-listening to a podcast from a few years ago. Aaron Niequist was the guest. The discussion was about practice-based faith. Niequist, who is also a worship leader, made an interesting observation. He noted that if you put words up on the screen and we all sing them in most churches, that seems perfectly normal.

But if you put words up on the screen, and we all read them or pray them, something happens. There’s a disconnect. Somehow it is wrong to say words someone wrote (unless it is scripture) but perfectly fine to sing them.

I’m relatively comfortable praying on the spot. But on my best day, I can’t match the incredible prayers the church has handed down to us. This is not to say there is no value in praying spontaneously. Of course, there is. But imagine if worship at your church every week was only spontaneous. I mean, we don’t want “dead worship”.

Niequist’s hypothesis is that there is an anti-Catholic bias for many people in evangelical churches. Whatever we did there, we can’t do here. And yet, when we do that, we’ll miss out on some really good stuff.

Now, I have no desire to go back to the Catholic Church. But there are times when our family travels in Ireland, and we visit one. Something about it is comforting and familiar. Again, I’m not going back, but I recognise how being part of that helped form my faith.

One final point made on the podcast that I thought was helpful. Niequist shared this idea that as we grow, there are steps in that process. For example, when you went to second grade, second grade was excellent, but you don’t want to spend the rest of your life in second grade. (although we all had friends that seemed to:). But to get to third grade, you have to go to second. And there are things you learned in second grade that stay with you rest of your life. And you build on them.

If your third-grade teacher came out on the first day and said everything from second grade was worthless, and we will start over from scratch…that would make zero sense. That would be a terrible teacher. It would not be healthy or wise. We don’t want to get stuck in second grade, but we want to take what we’ve learned and build on it.

So, there are some opening thoughts. Next week we’ll dig a bit more into rituals and practices and how they can help form us. If you have any questions, you want to make sure I address, please drop me a note.

Photo Credit: Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

What about…

I grew up in Western New York and have started and led missional church planting efforts for a little over 30 years. As you might gather, I have opinions about the church, and I share some of them here.

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