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Are there supposed to be any rituals in Christianity?

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In religious contexts, a ritual is a set form of worship. Rituals involve symbolic physical actions; some examples of rituals are genuflecting before entering a pew, making the sign of the cross, and lifting aloft the Host during the Catholic Mass.

Religion can be defined as “belief in a deity, expressed in conduct and ritual.” The two most common ingredients in religion thus defined are rules and rituals. To be a faithful adherent of Judaism or Islam, for example, a person must observe lists of do’s and don’ts. Ritual-based religion is most prominently displayed in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant, liturgical High Church services, but it is also a mainstay of Buddhism and Hinduism.

The Mosaic Law prescribed a set of rituals for Israel’s worship of God. There were many ceremonial laws for them to observe. Some of those laws were very specific and involved the sprinkling of water, the sprinkling of blood, the waving of grain, or the washing of clothes. The Mosaic Law was fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 5:17). The rituals of the Old Testament were never intended to be a permanent part of worship, as Scripture clearly teaches: “[The gifts and sacrifices] are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order” (Hebrews 9:10, emphasis added). The “external regulations” are not binding on us today.

There is no New Testament mandate to include recitations, ceremonial objects, or symbolic physical gestures in our worship today. Our devotion is to the Lord Jesus, not to various rituals or liturgies. True Christianity, as derived from accurate interpretation of the Bible, is not rules-based or ritual-based. Rather, it is relationship-based. The living God through Jesus has made those who believe in Christ His own children (John 1:12).

The only “rites” the New Testament church is commanded to observe are the ordinances: baptism by immersion (Matthew 28:19) and communion (1 Corinthians 11:25). But, even then, no details are given to regulate the exact methods to use. Baptism, of course, requires water, and communion requires bread and “the cup.” Churches are free to baptize people in baptismals, lakes, swimming pools, or horse troughs. For communion, the Bible does not specify the frequency of the meal, the type of bread to use, the alcohol content in “the cup,” or exactly who should administer the ordinance. Churches are allowed some freedom in these matters.

All churches have a format that they typically follow, and this can be thought of as a “ritual.” Of course, it is good for everything to be done “in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Corinthians 14:40), and having a procedure to follow is not wrong. But, if a church is so liturgical and its structure so rigid that the Holy Spirit is not able to freely operate, liturgy has gone too far.

Additionally, liturgies or rituals designed by people are fallible and are often unscriptural. It is even possible to “nullify the word of God” with the traditions people have created (Mark 7:13). Jesus warned against “vain repetitions” (Matthew 6:7), and many rituals held in churches today are just that. Repetitious prayers or creeds or songs can, over time, lead to dullness in worship rather than the free expression of one’s heart, mind, and soul before God (Matthew 22:34–40).

Are rituals wrong? No, not inherently. Empty ritual is wrong, as is any ritual that replaces, obscures, or detracts from a vibrant relationship with Christ. Are rituals commanded in the church? No, except for baptism and communion. God sees the heart, and He seeks those who worship Him “in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Rituals can be beneficial, but external rites should never be allowed to replace inner devotion.

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Are there supposed to be any rituals in Christianity?
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This page last updated: January 4, 2022