Something about human nature loves rituals. A ritual is to step from the symbols ofalphabetical characters (which convey words unto ideas) to fabricating symbols out of gestures, designs (in fabric, glass, works of art, etc), set phrases, and any other sensual stimulus to support an idea being communicated. It is called a ceremony for civil activities. In the religious world there are a number of terms describing the same: liturgy, ceremony, and rite.
The approach to God is not found in the spreading of hands, the ceremonial bow, the chant, the prescribed prayer, the candle’s glow, the earthen bowl, or the golden cup. It is found in what God has given for us to approach Him. This is illustrated when Peter, James, and John were taken to a mountain with Jesus. There He was transfigured before their eyes; “His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.” (Mark 9:3) There, Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus. Out of fear and a loss for words Peter said; “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Mark 9:5) Peter must have had some notion of honoring God and the occasion. This represents the best of human intention, yet it wasn’t enough. God’s answer was; “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” Therefore, it is through the revelation of Jesus Christ, the New Testament scriptures where we find our approach to God. The Lord has accomplished what was necessary for our redemption. Subsequently, He has revealed and provided all that we need to live and serve God in reality.
Under the law of Moses, there were many services at the tabernacle / temple which were symbolic in nature. These all were directed by God and designed to foreshadow the real; the redemption and raising up of sons and daughters to the glory of the living God. When Jesus fulfilled the true atoning sacrifice, the way was made for us to be created anew, a people serving God in Spirit and Truth, not with religious artifice. “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” (Heb.10:14)
Do we please Him in newness of life, or are we pleasing ourselves with our own comforting notions of religion? The real issue is what God thinks of us. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Heb.4:13) Charlotte Elliott and William Bradbury wrote a hymn whose line is harmonious with the above scripture; “Just as I am, without one plea, But that Thy blood was shed for me.” To be just as we are requires awareness of how we stand before our Creator, and living by that awareness. Sometimes it gets us down, because we need correcting. “For whom the LORD loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Prov. 3:12) At other times “the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11) is graced upon us through our Lord’s tender mercy. To shun His correcting hand is to drift into fabricating an image of ourselves, which is hypocrisy.
If individual hypocrisy is a problem, what then do we have to do with man made religious liturgy? It is not a doorway to spirituality. It is a guide to ignorance and a pillar of foibles. It deflects us away from the reality of who we are. It deflects because
it distracts us from self examination in the face of God’s revelation. Yes, we can get that “Oh it really made me think” or, “Wow, it made me confront. .” When in fact, the thinking and the confronting are not real. They are charades of what we would like to think of ourselves. (“I am real, I confront, I. . .”) Human liturgy is almost erotic because it relies on stimulating the senses (howbeit in the guise of leading us to profound revelation). The candle’s glow, the atmosphere of stained glass, a fragrance of incense, that certain setting which poses the best formula for a religious experience. . . these things are contrivances of the flesh and have no bearing on spirituality, other than to bury it with deception. Jude described the advocates of such religion; “These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit” (Jude vs. 19)
The apostle Paul and those who labored with him brought reality to the Corinthians (subsequently to us): (God) “who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels.” (II Cor.3:6-10) The “ministry of condemnation” used extensive symbolism ordained by God. It is now replaced by “the glory that excels”. That is, the ministry of life. . . reality.
A testimony of God has been fully given for us to be innocent in spirit and truth. It is the fruit of that covenant which God gave through Moses: “For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious. Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech– unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (II Cor.3:11-18)
For the Jews who sincerely look to the Law, liturgy is a veil keeping them from who they truly can be. For the Gentiles, inventive ceremony is like a concrete wall infused with quotes from the Bible coupled with rites born of paganism, philosophy, psychology, and imaginations. Such service to God is farther removed from reality than any shadow could ever be.