Scripture, especially in the Old Testament, goes into great detail about the specific ways of doing certain worship-related things. For example, The ordination of Aaron is a highly ritualized procedure. The sacrifices are each a little different and are laid out as detailed rituals performed by priest and worshiper. Even the camp around the tabernacle was highly organized and only set out when the trumpets were blown a certain way.

Given the ceremonial aspect of all the rituals laid out in the Sinaitic law, the specific guidelines for priests and sacrifices, and the ceremonial and symbolic nature of communion and baptism, is there any biblical basis for rejecting ceremony and ritual? In the worship service, this would be a question for non-liturgical churches. For things like weddings and the like, please give biblical support for why the ceremony or ritual of the wedding service itself would be considered unnecessary.


2 Answers 2


As a Protestant evangelical under the New Covenant in contrast to Jews under the Old Testament, or various forms of Catholics and Eastern Orthodox denominations, the answer is pretty clear comparatively - ritual and ceremony have almost no place in the church today.

At the top level of the idea this is merely a division between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. For most Protestants there are only two rituals enshrined under the word 'sacrament' which force an external observation that would not necessarily occur spontaneously out of worship for God. These two rituals are baptism and the Lord's supper. In contrast to this I do not know how many sacraments existed under the Old Testament but would imagine if they were counted it would be over a hundred.

So why the transition by God of over a hundred sacraments to two? A common starting point is often traced to Jesus himself who predicted how things would be aft he died, but left it to the Apostles to have those things revealed to them and subsequently taught by them after Christ ascended into heaven.

You will recall that all the ritual and ceremony of the Old Covenant was integrated and based upon worship in the temple of God on Mount Zion. In predicting the new order of things Jesus said:

Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “ Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. (John 4:20-23, ESV)

Notice Jesus made a contrast between the location of worship and its implied rituals with the 'truth' and 'in Spirit'. Clearly Jesus was contrasting the 'external form' of religion with the inward 'truth' of it. This contrast of ritual verses truth, implied that the ritual was within the old order primarily to foreshadow the reality but the worshippers often never had the reality within themselves. That is the point of ritual, it does not rely on the spontaneous sincerity of the people but prescribes an external rule.

This foundational statement of Christ is further established by the church in Acts that broke away from ceremony but in stead practiced brotherly love and community within peoples family homes. Furthermore the Apostles established this freedom form ritual and the need to have genuine love in the Spirit in their writings and when referring to the God ordained rituals of the past said things like:

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. (Hebrews 10:1, ESV)

As far as subsequent traditions and ceremonies that may have been established in churches such as when performing marriage, burial, etc. These are not to be made inflexible rules but for those cultures that find more meaning with more structure around them, let them be free to enjoy such structure and form those who enjoy less structure and ceremony let them enjoy less. The Apostles always relied on brother love and forbearing with each other's differences and the rule of church government. It was only later that some denominations took upon the form of pagan governments designed to enforce top down authority as like a Monarchy.

Regarding those churches who do enforce top down government and want to return to many outward forms, most Protestants feel it is a betrayal of the Spirit of Christ and the liberty of the gospel so that it is a denial of the inward reality in accordance with predicted apostasy of the church among many:

having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2 Timothy 3:5)

Therefore although some tradition is alright and may be highly valuable to some, the external forms of tradition rather than the invisible doctrinal forms, are often considered the enemy of Christ if they become abundant and made mandatory as this opposes 'the spirit and the truth' in the gospel.

  • Thank you for answering. Would you please specify in your answer which denomination/doctrinal foundation this represents? Also, if you don't mind, would you please flesh out a little more the biblical basis for going from the God-prescribed "external form" to the "inward truth"? I've heard the terms before, but I'd like more clarity.
    – Sticmann
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 1:27
  • @Sticmann - I think it is fair to say this view is the dominant view within Evangelical churches. Evangelical faith spans across nearly all protestant denominations. However some old denomination have both evangelical and non-evangelical versions like Anglican and Lutheran. As far as more detail goes refer here to the difference between Gods old external form of religion under the Old Covenant and Gods new form of religion under the new: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/8231/…
    – Mike
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 6:08
  • This view would not be consistent with Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians and other liturgical Protestant Evangelical churches (though Episcopal may arguably be on the border of Evangelical). These are not minor groups. It sounds more like a Baptist or Charismatic position.
    – Sticmann
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 16:16
  • @Sticmann - Yes an no. We start to talk about a non mandatory degrees of formalism among protestant churches which is very unlike the mandatory and enshrined practices under Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches who call various things sacraments in addition to the Lord's supper. Their emphasis on the external is considered by most protestants to be the more along the way of the pharisees or Jusaisers who opposed the new order of the gospel. As far as the differences among evangelical churches in worship preference there is a wide range and is in the spirit of the gospel to allow preferences.
    – Mike
    Commented Oct 30, 2012 at 0:11
  • Very good. Thank you for clarifying. It seems that you've represented this side competently.
    – Sticmann
    Commented Oct 30, 2012 at 1:01

Is the ceremonial aspect of all the rituals laid out in the Sinaitic law, the specific guidelines for priests and sacrifices, and the ceremonial and symbolic nature of communion and baptism relevant or important?

Okay, the ritual you're referring to here:

The ordination of Aaron is a highly ritualized procedure. The sacrifices are each a little different and are laid out as detailed rituals performed by priest and worshiper. Even the camp around the tabernacle was highly organized and only set out when the trumpets were blown a certain way.

In my opinion is a type of Jesus and the two thieves. The explanation of this is far too long for this answer, but there another person out there that I agree with wholly at this point, you can find that here.

Therefore, with that being the interpretation of the ritual we can see that this ritual has no more significance because a sacrifice is no longer necessary for our salvation, a pure and Holy sacrifice was made.

Now, I would like to focus on the following text for a minute:

...and the ceremonial and symbolic nature of communion and baptism...

These two ceremonies are still very relevant and in fact 100% necessary to our salvation. Let's break each one of them down here.


Let's start here:

18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: 19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; 20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. 21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: (1 Peter 3: 18-21 KJV)

Clearly baptism is still very necessary for our salvation. But let's not just concrete this on one account, let's get another.

15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:15-16 KJV)

So, now we have both Peter and Jesus speaking about the necessity of baptism for our salvation. But how do we do it right? I mean there must be some instruction. Let's start with Jesus:

18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (Matthew 28:18-19 KJV)

Alright, but what is the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? Let's start with the Father:

I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. (John 5:43 KJV)

Now, I don't think we need to review the name of the Son, so let's move on to the Holy Ghost:

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:26 KJV)

Alright, so now that we know the name to baptize in, let's find out how:

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38 KJV)

So, I think we can see now that baptism is absolutely essential to our salvation.


As far as communion goes, it's still a very necessary part of our salvation, and the process by which it should occur is pretty summed up by Paul. The emphasis is mine but it's an attempt to show what parts would need to occur in the service.

20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. 21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. 22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. 23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: 24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. 26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. 27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. 30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:20-32 KJV)

One thing I'd like to point out as well:

...this is not to eat the Lord's supper

As you can see they were calling it the Lord's supper even then, and Paul let them know, that's not what this is.

I understand that Jesus fulfilled the law, but do these rituals as rituals inform our worship of God today?

Generally speaking, the act of worship today can be summed up pretty easily. In fact, you can see that worship began changing with David when he danced out of his clothing. Worship began to become more spontaneous. This would have never occurred with Moses or Aaron.


Would you mind expanding your answer to include a discussion of this nature as a whole?

In regards to this, I believe that just about every ritual that existed in the old testament you will either find was fulfilled by Jesus (as shown with Aaron's sacrifice) or you will find that it still exists and that there is a prescribed way like with baptism and communion that still exists in the new testament.

However, you will find that there are ceremonies created by man which have confused the meaning of things. The one that comes to mind the quickest is marriage. Marriage is clearly defined in the bible as intercourse between a man and a woman and a ceremony or federal law have nothing to do with marriage in the eyes of God. But there is nothing wrong with the ceremony, I went through one with my wife :) ... you can find a more exhaustive explanation from my point of view on marriage here.

  • Your section on Communion is confusing. Paul's point is that they are doing communion (The Lord's Supper) badly and not in the spirit of Christ. He is not saying "Communion is not the Lord's Supper". The fact that you are using an archaic translation is maybe causing trouble. Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 14:51
  • Your section on Baptism is focussed on one controversial aspect - the name used - to the exclusion of everything else. That wasn't what the questioner asked about. Your conclusion is also very much a minority view within Christianity. Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 14:53
  • @BigM You write "worship began changing with David when he danced out of his clothing. Worship began to become more spontaneous." But in fact everything else you are saying indicates the exact reverse. There was spontaneous worship before David, and less spontaneous worship after (the Temple wasn't build until after David's time). Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 15:13

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