Can You Be a Christian Without Your Rituals and Traditions?

By Donavon Riley

Take away your church’s rituals and traditions. What’s left? Can you be a Christian without your rituals and traditions? Take away liturgy, and hymns, and sermons. What about now? Can you still be a Christian without them? Take away the water, words, bread and wine. Can you be a Christian without water, words, bread and wine?

If everything that gives you meaning, that explains the unexplained, is stripped away, what’s left for you? Can you still be a Christian if all that’s left are your politics, or your customs, or your relations?

Is it enough that you share something in common? Some need for love, or acceptance, or company. How much can be taken away before you’re not able to call yourself a Christian?

What if the measure of a Christian is the same measure society uses to distinguish between conservative and liberal? What if they will know we are Christians by our love? How do we gauge a Christian versus a non-Christian?

Can we distinguish a Christian from a non-Christian by asking their opinion on abortion? Gay marriage? Women in the military? Public bathrooms and wedding cake?

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What if a Christian isn’t a Christian because of their rituals and traditions? What if there’s more to Christianity than that? What if the mechanisms of religion, whether the religion is called Islam, or Judaism, or Shinto Buddhism, or Christianity don’t have anything to do with whether one is Christian or not?

Can we strip away talk of love and acceptance and good company, and still not be any closer to the truth of the Christian faith?

Can we divorce politics from our church and still have something to say to society at large?

Take away time-worn rituals, the meaning we inject into our customs, and the politics that offer us a common bond of unity. What’s left of Christianity? Most important, take all those things away and how many who profess to be Christians will remain in our churches?

Have we ground up Jesus in the mechanisms of our religion? Can we receive his body and blood for the forgiveness of sin, or do we require more, and better sacrifices? Is Jesus Lord and Savior, or must we vote for another?

Does Christian behavior, or Christian ethics, or Christian living make a Christian “Christian”?

No. The moment we believe in the promised Christ — the moment we look away from any supposed righteousness of our own, any means we use to measure Christian from non-Christian apart from Christ, and instead look to the external righteousness that Christ provides for all of us wicked — we are reckoned as wholly righteous before God. This is Christianity.

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What distinguishes Christian from non-Christian? The Gospel. Not traditions, or community, or politics makes one a Christian. Not our focus on ourselves and the meaning we inject into our religion, but Christ Jesus outside us, his blood poured out for us, makes us Christians through faith.

At present, God delivers what Jesus earned for us at Golgotha through earthly water, words, bread and wine. The delivery mechanism is ritual and tradition, yes; and liturgy, hymns, and sermons. All instruments God puts to use delivering the Gospel for the purpose of making Christians.

Take away everything, but so long as we have Christ Jesus, and him crucified, we never have to ask, “What’s left?” Jesus is enough. His blood is enough. In Christ we have already received everything: forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation. That’s Christianity.

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7 thoughts on “Can You Be a Christian Without Your Rituals and Traditions?

  1. “Take away everything, but so long as we have Christ Jesus, and him crucified, we never have to ask, “What’s left?” Jesus is enough. His blood is enough.”

    This article falls short IMO. Christ is only good news to sinners through the preached Word (even if internally preached by reading) and Sacraments. We might boil it down. But Christ and the Spirit come to us from outside us by the Word, in Law and Gospel.

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  2. Take away everything, but so long as we have Christ Jesus, and him crucified, we never have to ask, “What’s left?” Jesus is enough. His blood is enough. In Christ we have already received everything: forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation. That’s Christianity.

    Even Quakers!

    I was as much saved when I was a Quaker as I am now as a Lutheran.

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  3. “Take away everything, but so long as we have Christ Jesus, and him crucified, we never have to ask, “What’s left?” Jesus is enough.”

    As I prepare to preach a sermon, I am exploring the related idea of Christian freedom; the great theme of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. I will share a fairly long quote from Alicia Vargas’ Commentary on Galatians 2:15-21 (see https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2872). She wrote: “In his mission to take to gospel of Jesus Christ to non-Jews, Paul confronted the large questions of ethnic and religious practices and requirements for Christians of different backgrounds and traditions.
    How do we as the church measure up in these kinds of questions?
    To what extent are our congregations mixed at all, combinations of people from divergent ethnic and religious/denominational backgrounds?
    Do we diligently strive to find ways to be both fully respectful of racial/ethnic differences among the people while at the same time being mindful and discerning of what are those things that are and are not essential in making us who we are?
    In our churches, do we implicitly or explicitly require new participants (“members”) to conform to previously existing patterns of congregational behavior? Are there requirements or expectations for specific doctrinal affirmations or other expected behaviors?
    How diligent are we in discerning what is necessary and what is contingent in these matters of congregational life and faith?
    And as important as these matters are, — and they are very important — do we really and truly take to heart Paul’s message that no human acts or works, none whatsoever, are what ultimately justify us with God?
    May God help us to live into the freedom of the Gospel.”

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  4. While it is true that “His blood is enough. In Christ we have already received everything: forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation”, it is also true that these are given, over and over, as often as needed, in Word and Sacrament and Word and Sacrament are delivered through a called office, in an orderly manner, and this is done in public according to what has been passed down to us. A visible church, all of us gathered to worship and receive is part of what God uses in His elective process of calling to the least, the last, and the lost. The role of this visible church as a fountain of grace should not be diminished in the life of a Christian. In fact, we should desire a pure and holy church purged of anything which impedes the Gospel simply because it is so necessary (Eph 5:25-26)

    I think ritual and tradition follow conversion, follow from a need to worship and receive, to grow and be nurtured. Paul gives us the words to use at the altar when we obey Christ’s command to “do this…” Christ gives us the formula to use in baptism. The Word is to be preached, that is proclaimed by the preacher to us (1 Cor 9:16, 2 Timothy 4:2), worship is to be orderly (1 Cor 14:26-40). These things speak to offices within the priesthood of all believers.

    I was brought into the Church, as an infant, through water and Word – by ritual, by action, through an effective Baptism. Not by some enthusiastic revelation or calling but by the direct action of Gospel applied according to scripture. While the true Church cannot be seen, we are still visible to each other, we are here, physically, and God does not come to us merely in spirit but He engages the whole person in love and service to one another (vocation/ masks of God) and with His true, real and whole presence in Word and Sacrament.

    Is it possible to be a Christian in full possession without Baptism, absolution, the Lord’s Supper, preaching, prayer, praise? To exist in this world solely in possession of salvation without respect to anyone else, without nurture? Praise God we don’t need to ask! Because God works in and through us for the good of all. So, while none of this makes us Christian, it would seem to be inevitable that a Christian can and should have a living faith in this world. The question should be rephrased: Should a Christian be without rituals and traditions?

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  5. “Should a Christian be without rituals and traditions?” Yes, at least occasionally. We are creatures of habit and every new way I worship trends from meaningful to mind wandering. I’d like to submit that the church should be continually in a state of reformation (where have I heard this before?), as should we all in our daily walk with Christ.

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