I need to get this off my chest before I walk out of the office and work on my sermon at a local coffee shop. Please bear with me for a moment.
This morning I was led to this article from the Wall Street Journal. Overall, I thought it was an interesting challenge to some of our institutional struggles. We do have to look in the mirror. If you follow the link, take the time to read the comments. They are helpful as well.
Now, here's the thing that threw me. After nodding my cursory assent, at the very end the author tosses off this line with no context/backing whatsoever.
Back in the first century, the Christian church was organic, communal and mostly free of ritualâ€”and it needs to become so againâ€”as does every organization, public or private, large or small.
I know I have a strong bias. It's true. But let me just say this much...Anthropologists will likely concur that we are ritualistic creatures. Every culture in every time subscribed to some kind of ritual system. Whether lighting candles, passing the peace pipe, or whacking one another across the noggin with sticks, we have rituals. Do you sing happy birthday? That's ritual. Have you been to a High School Graduation? Ritual. Said "honey, I'm home!" when you walked in the door? Ritual. Do you gather in a specific place at a specific time to do a specific thing? Ritual!
Habits, rituals, rites of passage...I don't see anyone saying that we should not stand up and place our hands over our hearts and sing the national anthem at baseball games. That's a ritual, too. Rituals matter. They are important. Attend a worship committee meeting in your local Baptist church watch the sparks fly. Even we Baptists have a love of ritual...as long as you avoid using the monstrance and the the word "liturgy."
What is this constant fixation with the notion that the first century of Christianity was free of ritual? No human community in history has ever been free of ritual. And isn't baptism a ritual?
The first century Christians were Jews and/or Hellenist pagans. They participated in ritual all the time. The Temple in Jerusalem, life in the synagogues, familial ritual practice, civic ritual practices...It was everywhere. There has never been a time in the Church when ritual was absent. It has varied and changed, adapted and found new expression, but absent? No.
So, if the author would rather say "Hey, don't get caught in the worship wars" or "Don't be afraid to challenge all your assumptions" then great. But that's not what he said and it irked me.
Adaptation is fine. Heck, it may very well be necessary. Baptize people in your homes or the lake. Light a candle and pray at dinner...or not. It doesn't matter what you do so much (Well, that's not true.) as that you do it....and thoughtfully. But to shun ritual in the name of...I don't know..."sound managerial practice," is to miss one of the most important aspects of being human.
For the Christian, ritual/liturgy is an art form through which we learn what it means to be human. It is a way in which we express our relationship to God and to one another. Do you think I have a dog in this fight? Damn right I do.
I'm irked. Seriously irked. If we want to convey our faith, we need every tool available to us. If we want to be human, we have to embrace all of what that means. Christianity is an incarnational faith. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and liturgical practices are all essential to being Christian. They are all expressions of our shared humanity with Christ Jesus who prayed in the Temple, knelt on the mountainside, and ate the Seder meal with his friends.
God bless the business folk who understand and encourage adaptive change. Please! It's good stuff. I'm all for it. But let's not toss the baby out with the bathwater, okay?
Breathe, Tripp. Breathe.