Monday, September 07, 2015

High Impact Worship: Ritual without Ritualism

By Robin G. Jordan

High impact worship is Christian worship that makes a difference in people’s lives. It transforms them. High impact worship qualifies as high impact because it not only affects the lives of the congregation but also the lives of people outside the congregation, in the community and the region.

In high impact worship the people of God gather around the Word of God and experience its transforming power. The Holy Scriptures are read and expounded. The gospel is proclaimed. Biblical principles and truths are applied to daily living. Voices are lifted up in praise and thanksgiving. Concerns and needs are shared and prayer offered. The gospel sacraments may be administered.

High impact worship is not confined to the weekly gatherings of the local church but extends beyond those gatherings. It honors God not just with praise and thanksgiving but also obedience and service. It gives full expression to the Great Commandment and to the Great Commission.

High impact worship may involve ritual but it does not involve ritualism. A ritual involves “a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.” In other words, the same actions are performed in the same order every time they are performed. In Christian worship this order and the actions themselves may be prescribed by a liturgical book in the form of a rite or service or a set of guidelines or they may be prescribed by local custom or a combination of the two.

The performance of a ritual becomes ritualism when how the ritual is performed and who performs it determines the outcome of the ritual in the minds of those performing the ritual and/or for whom the ritual is performed. If the ritual is performed differently or improperly and even a minor action is omitted or a new action is added or the ritual is performed by the wrong person, the outcome of the ritual will be affected negatively. The performance of the ritual will not produce the desired result.

Ritualism is associated with what is known as “magical thinking.” If a particular person performs a particular action, it will produce a particular outcome. Magical thinking is associated with animism, occultism, shamanism, and witchcraft. It is also a component of a number of world religions and influences Christian beliefs and practices to some degree not only in Catholic circles but also Protestant ones.

Ritualism is one of those traps into which Christians are tempted to fall. Rather than recognizing God as a supreme being who exercise free and unrestricted will in all matters, it reduces God to the status of a djinn, a supernatural creature whose actions may influenced by our own.

This is not the only danger associated with ritualism. The performance of the ritual may become an end in itself. Performing the ritual may help to maintain a sense of order to life and of continuity with the past. In a changing world performing the ritual provides a measure of stability. Surrounded by the increasingly unfamiliar, the ritual provides something familiar to cling to. It meets our psychological needs.

While there is not necessarily anything wrong with these reasons for performing a ritual, they should never be permitted to overshadow what should be the focus of Christian worship—God. This is what happens when the performance of a ritual becomes an end in itself. The performance of the ritual can become a barrier between God and ourselves. Instead of drawing closer to God, we are attracted to the ritual. The ritual becomes an idol displacing God.

Rituals in Christian worship should usher us into God’s presence—focus our hearts and minds on God. They should not draw our attention away from God.

The difference between ritual and ritualism is reflected in the difference between Cranmer’s Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer and the Roman Catholic view of the Mass in the most recent edition of the Roman Missal. Cranmer’s Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper does not tie Christ’s presence to the species of bread and wine. Rather Christ is present in the heart, or innermost being, of the believer in fulfillment of his promise to send another counselor in his place—the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit unites the believer to Christ who is in heaven, seated by the throne of the Father. Through the Holy Spirit Christ is present to the believer.  

In Cranmer’s Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper the bread and wine are consecrated, that is, set apart for sacramental use, by prayer, which includes the Words of Institution and in the 1662 version of the 1552 Communion Service the Manual Acts. The only change that occurs is the use of the bread and wine. Otherwise, they are ordinary bread and wine.

When the congregation shares the bread and wine, they not only commemorate Christ’s atoning death on the cross for the sins of the world but also proclaiming his saving work. Through this commemoration and proclamation of what Christ has done for them God invigorates, confirms, and strengthens their faith in Christ. By the means of faith they spiritually feed upon Christ and appropriate the benefits of his sacrifice.

Ultimately their faith, it must not be forgotten, is a gift from God. When they were made regenerate, God gave them the gift of faith as well as the gift of the Holy Spirit. From beginning to end what occurs at the Lord’s Supper is God’s doing. The sacrament accomplishes what God purposes.

In the Roman Catholic view of the Mass the priest is viewed as having mystical powers bestowed upon him at his ordination that enable him through the recitation of the appropriate formula and performance of the appropriate ceremonial to transform bread and wine into the very substance of Christ’s Body and Blood. The priest is also able to offers to God the transformed bread and wine in what is seen as an extension of Christ’s offering of himself for the sins of the world on the cross. Christ is viewed as being present in the priest in a way that he is not present in the congregation.

The priest’s offering of the Christ’s Body and Blood is seen as Christ’s action and is identified with Christ’s offering of himself on the cross. Christ then offers himself–again through the priest—to the congregation through the species of bread and wine as spiritual food.

Magical thinking is involved in this understanding of what transpires at the Mass since the priest’s recitation of the appropriate formula and performance of the appropriate ceremonial, his offering of the consecrated bread and wine to God and then to the congregation are believed to produce the desired outcome—Christ’s substantive presence in the sacramental species, his offering of himself to God for the sins of the living and the dead, and his offering of himself to the congregation as their spiritual food. Further it is believed that the communicants are in a fit state to receive the sacrament as they have confessed their sins to the priest and have received his absolution—actions which are believed to also have produced a desired outcome—a state of forgiveness.

From a Reformed standpoint this view of Mass involves a denial of the sovereignty of God. It essentially transforms God into a tame deity who does our bidding when the right person says the right words and performs the right actions.

This view of the Mass explains the preoccupation of Roman Catholic liturgists and Anglo-Catholic ones too with the wording and the actions associated with the Eucharistic Prayer. It is not simply a matter of the Eucharistic Prayer expressing the right doctrine.  

Indeed ritualism may be described as an integral part of the sacramental system of the Roman Catholic Church. The principal function of its priesthood is the performance of rituals that are believed to convey benefits to those for whom they are performed. Who performs a ritual, how it is performed, what words and ceremonial are used, where it is performed, and so on are major preoccupations. The primary concern is the proper execution of rituals for the desired results.

When God’s people gather around His Word, God is present and works in the hearts of His people. This is a result of God’s own faithfulness and graciousness. It is his own choosing. It has nothing to do with our actions. God is not bound to make an appearance when we gather in His Name.

Our motivation for gathering around God’s Word should be to honor God and to do His will. It should not be in hope of experiencing a spiritual high or taking something home with us—a blessing or some other benefit. God may bless us but that should not be our reason for gathering. Our attitude should be that of the child Samuel, “Here, I am, Lord.”

When we respect God’s sovereignty, seek the Giver and not the gifts, amazing things happen. Our whole relationship with God is changed. This change is reflected in our lives and impacts the lives of those around us. We become children who seek the company of their father simply because he is their father and not because they hope for some toy or trinket.

Our relationship with God is no longer a series of transactions in which we or others on our behalf perform actions or deeds intended to curry God’s favor or place Him under obligation to us. This may be the way that we relate to our fellow human beings but it is not the kind of relationship that God desires with us. It is not the reason that the Son humbled himself and suffered death on a cross for our sins. 

No comments: