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Written by Jim Jordal   
Thursday, 16 October 2014

RITUAL VERSUS REALITY

By Jim Jordal

 Now on the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink! He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, from within him will flow rivers of living water." But he said this about the Spirit, which those believing in him were to receive. For the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus wasn't yet glorified.                  John 7:37-39, WEB

This Scripture makes clear that there are favorable outcomes associated with sincere Christian worship. One of these favorable outcomes is the promise that rivers of living water will flow from within worshipping believers. These waters constitute the infilling of thirsty souls and a subsequent outflowing of the Holy Spirit of God through their lives.

Unfortunately, the world has substitutes for most gifts and anointing of God. The human spirit often masquerades as the Holy Spirit as it seduces suggestible Christians into believing that strident declarations can substitute for truth, and that excesses of emotion in a service indicate the presence of God’s Spirit. True, the presence of God and His Spirit do often elicit emotion, but that emotion must lead to something other than lots of noise and activity.

God’s Spirit places the spiritual virtues of faith, love, and obedience above the exaltation of human beings or their religious activities, however well-meaning they may be. God’s Spirit exalts God and His Son, Jesus Christ. It encourages a deep “knowing” of Christ arising from experiencing the “power of His resurrection” and the “fellowship of His suffering” as we gradually die to self-will and become “conformable to His death,” (See Phil. 3:10).

God’s Spirit also creates a yearning for more grace, wisdom, and obedience to God’s word. Acts 5:32 says that God gives His Holy Spirit to those that obey him. It’s factious extreme to claim to worship God in Spirit and in truth, then to deliberately and fragrantly ignore his word, especially the portions of it urging love for one another and righteousness and justice as the cornerstones of human society. Where there is God’s Spirit there will be a matching hunger for instruction in righteousness and the opportunity to act on our faith by spreading this truth on a wider scale. Passive pew sitting by jaded consumers of religious services is not a viable option in Spirit-filled churches.

That brings up a profoundly vital question: How does what began in the early church as an outpouring of Holy Spirit freedom, truth and joy become transferred into a spiritually deadly combination of biblical doctrine, tradition, ritual, and dogma that has lost most of its power to transform people and to change entire cultures and nations? Where has the power gone?

It’s my contention that the power disappeared somewhere along the way as we formed religious institutions and practices aimed at somehow “capturing” the Spirit of God. Ritual replaced reality!

We don’t like the risks and uncertainty of vital relationship with Christ because it rocks the boat of religious certitude and complacency. What will we do if the Holy Spirit suggests that we might move in the direction of more freedom in our services? What will we do if the Spirit brings someone racially and culturally different into our midst? What can we do if the Spirit says we need to take action on our supposed faith by giving a much larger portion of the church budget to charity? And what will we do if the Spirit asks us to match our uninvolved charity with very involved and even threatening advocacy against the social evils that create the very poverty we seek to alleviate?

The church has a duty, as Jim Wallis says, “to speak truth to power.” This is Christian reality because it threatens our placid existence as purveyors of delusion concerning the true demands of a Spirit-filled life. Reality demands that we view the world through the eyes of Jesus and that we then act accordingly as he taught.

As the prophet Elijah learned (I Kings 19:11-12), the Lord doesn’t always speak through the awesome power of a great wind, or an earthquake, or even a consuming fire: Sometimes he speak in the “still small voice” of truth, justice, and righteousness. It’s up to us to learn how to comprehend the promptings of the still small voice of truth and justice.