There is a difference between religious ritualism and worship. Religious ritualism is a performance of certain religious actions, words or ceremonies without any heart-rooted belief in God or communion with Him. Indeed there are so many of the world’s religions whose members can do nothing but perform rituals. They are to be pitied. The one whose name they call on as their “god” is not really there, so how can he hear them or answer?! (I Kings 18:29). Or they are bowing to a mere carved image or wood or stone. A dead thing! They are left longing for religious satisfaction but always walk away thirsty.
But not only pagans fall into the vanity of unsatisfying ritualism. There are professing Christians who also do so. They come to church with their heart still bound by the Covenant of Works. They are trying to earn God’s favour by their religious works, words, and ceremonies. Without knowing God or the Gospel they merely go through the motions. They have to admit that their prayers are but “vain repetitions” (Mat.6:7), their tithes are “vain oblations” (Is.1:13), and their Sabbath rest is not a delight to themselves and so how could their worship be pleasing to God? (Is.1:13-15, 58:13).
But that is also the kind of worship that the people were left with in Jerusalem – with the externalizing of the Temple worship and of the law of God that was taught there by Jerusalem’s religious leaders. They went to Jerusalem on the Feast of the Tabernacles and did not find any “living water.” (Jer.2:13) All their worship was like going for water to a broken cistern. It left them feeling dead, unsatisfied and even more thirsty. Until Jesus came and said: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” (John 7:37). He still says, “Come.”
But – no matter what you do ceremoniously, no matter what you say or sing, no matter whether you attend the table or not – you will go away thirsty if you have not come to Him in the way of repentance and faith. Union is by faith. Communion with Christ is by faith alone. By faith alone we truly “drink in” the water of life; and only by faith can we “live out” the life of this spiritual water. Without faith we are left with mere ritual. We are left spiritually thirsty. Come to Christ (again), drink and truly worship.
Rev. Pieter VanderMeyden
Rev. Pieter VanderMeyden currently pastors the Free Reformed Church in Vineland, Ontario, Canada. He has also served as visiting instructor at the Puritan...