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Ritual vs. Reality: The Book of Revelation
Week 40, 2016
One of the most destructive practices that permeated the church during the “falling away” in the Middle Ages was the substitution of rituals for reality. For example, instead of communion being done in “remembrance of the Lord” and as a commitment to partake of Him, His life, and His body—known in the first century church as koinonia—a ritual took its place. Instead of having communion with Him and His people, they just took communion in a ritual and felt they had fulfilled their obligation. This was devastating to the truth and reality of Christ with His people.
When the Reformers realized the depth to which the substitution of ritual for the reality had devastated the church, they began to believe this was “the abomination of desolation” prophesied by Daniel (or as it is literally translated, “the abomination that desolates”). They specifically saw this in relation to the doctrine of transubstantiation. This doctrine taught that the bread and wine offered by a priest for communion literally became the body and blood of Jesus.
What was so devastating about this doctrine was that it taught that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was only to atone for Adam’s sin. For daily personal sins, people had to partake of “the sacrifice of the mass.” Only a priest could offer this. Only a priest could perform the miracle of changing the elements into the literal blood and body of the Lord, and only a priest could give this to the people for the remission of their sins. This placed the priest, not Christ, as the mediator between God and man. This made the people dependent on the priests for salvation instead of on Christ and His atoning sacrifice. Not only did this give the priests, and therefore the church, unfathomable authority over the people, but it completely removed Christ from their daily lives, bringing about an ultimate desolation of the church.
Not all Protestant movements held to this view about the mass, but the most prominent, the Lutheran church, maintained it in their doctrine. However, most of the others saw this as the ultimate depravity and false teaching of the church at the time.
There were other rituals that were also used to supplant the truth. Baptism, one of the most powerful and important rituals of the church, was intended to point to a truth, not take its place. A wedding is important and we make a big deal out of them because marriage is important, but the wedding is not the marriage—just the commitment to be married. So it is with baptism. You can dunk someone in water unlimited times and not have them partake of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Immersion is important as a ritual, but it is ultimately the commitment to be united with Christ, just as a wedding is the commitment to be married but not the actual marriage.
Through the New Covenant, we come to understand that all rituals are prophetic messages of what we do and become. It demeans who God is to think that He is so petty as to carefully watch that a ritual is done properly. This does not mean that we become careless with them, but it means that we care-less, implying we are not as concerned about the message they represent. However, basic to understanding rituals is understanding that they represent a reality we must have in our lives.
Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Way is not a formula or procedure but a Person we follow. Truth is not just accurate doctrine but a Person we must know. If that Person is not our Life, then we really don’t know the Way or the Truth. It’s all about Jesus. The purpose of knowing the Way and the Truth is for them to change our life and for Jesus to become our Life.
The great revivalist Vance Havner once said, “You don’t have to know everything about electricity to turn the switch on.” This is truth. I know people who have flawed doctrines about some things, such as communion, but there is no question that they have communion with God and His people even though their doctrine isn’t perfect. Of course, if we love the truth we want our doctrines to be accurate and biblical, but even more than that, we want them to be who we are and how we live.
next week 41