I go to church because of the mysterious and comforting power of ritual.
If my self from 10 or more years ago had read that statement from future me, he would have been very concerned. He would have asked:
Doesn’t the Bible warn against rituals?
Isn’t ritual just empty motions?
Don’t rituals cause people to behave one way on the outside without actually making a difference in the heart?
To an extent, those questions are valid. The Bible does warn against ritual. Ritual can be empty. It can give people false security in their outward acts.
But these questions assume the worst of ritual, and miss the best. The Bible warns against empty ritual, but it also encourages and even commands ritual. Ritual can be full of life. It can give people the opportunity to outwardly practice what they believe, or what they are struggling to believe.
Each Sunday, and in special church calendar services throughout the year, one of the most compelling reasons I go to church is to participate in rituals like:
Witnessing the water baptism of a covenant child or a new believer is a visible reminder of God’s covenant with his people in general, and with me in particular. If I’m feeling lost, disconnected, or unclean, the ritual waters of baptism say “You belong, you are clean, you are chosen, you are sealed.”
Week in and week out, the bread and wine of Communion “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 7:26). There is absolutely no substitute for this proclamation to the world and to my soul.
It’s one thing to read the Bible alone in my bed every night. It’s a very different thing for me to stand with the congregation as the Word is read and proclaimed over me, from Old Testament and Psalms, to the New Testament and Gospels. When I hear the Word read and preached, I hear truth from outside of me and over me, a place that is impossible to access when I’m trapped within my own perspective.
No matter how much I sing at home or in the car, my solo performances pale miserably in comparison to the experience of singing with groups of people. When the congregation stands to sing the mighty power of God together, to sing songs of lament together, and to sing of the work Jesus has done for us in his life, death, and resurrection – there is Spirit-filled power.
Do you feel lost? Witness the ritual of baptism and God’s seal upon your soul, and upon his people.
Do you need comfort? Eat the bread, drink the wine, and ritually remind your soul what Christ has done for you
Are you confused or in distress? By ritual, go the house of God every single week to hear the Word of God spoken over you and preached to you.
Are you struggling with doubt? Join the church in confidently singing the ritual songs of your faith.
By our sinfulness, rituals have the potential to become empty to us, and burdens to God (Isaiah 1). But by grace, God has given these rituals to us as live-giving reminders, comforters, teachers, and shepherds to our souls.
That’s (one big reason) why I go to church.