So much of the English language has been slaughtered s-o-o-o-o very badly, that it has become nearly impossible to understand what a person is saying. For example, when we hear a person say someone is "sick," we usually understand that to mean he has a health condition. However, when we refer to something as "sick," it may be taken that it was disgusting or that it was impressive. Years ago, the theme song for the original TV show "The Flintstones" had a line in it: "We'll have a gay old time." Back then, "gay" meant fun and carefree. Nowadays, no one in their right mind would ever use that phrase (“gay old time”) for fear of being severely criticized -- both from the "straight" and "gay" communities. In fact, there is yet another word, "straight." Although the original meaning of "extending or moving uniformly in one direction only; without a curve or bend" is still in use, it has also come to refer to sexual orientation. I could cite dozens of other examples.
However, the one I want to discuss is the term "ritual." Today, just the healthy habit of daily brushing one’s teeth is loosely referred to as a ritual. However, doing something, even repeatedly, does not match the official dictionary definition of that word. Be assured, I am not complaining about people loosely using words in this manner. It would be like standing in the middle of a raging river and complaining that the stream is too strong. To base one’s intellectual evaluation of a matter on common usage is wrong. Languages change with time -- it is just one of those “facts of life.”
But with regards to religious practices, what truly constitutes a “ritual”? (Although I’ve written about it before, this article takes a slightly different angle.) Originally, Jehovah had never expressed any such desire to have ritualism associated with his worship. Even though corrupted humans had set up ritual worship, it was not until some 2,000 years later that anything formalistic was set up for true worship. Before that, for those humans that were loyal to God, sacrificing an animal seemed to represent the depth of appreciation some had for the true God. The healthier, the more prized, the animal was, the greater the demonstration of appreciation. It was more than a ritual killing, it was truly a sacrifice, a personal loss of valuable livestock, that was readily given. (In contrast to making a real sacrifice and just going through a cursory ritual, notice this account.)
Focusing on the very first sacrifices mentioned in the Bible: Scripture does not say what or how much insight Abel's parents gave to him and Cain. Scripture does not say what individual conclusions Abel and Cain may have reached in seeing the angels and the flaming sword standing at the entrance to the garden. They both seemed to know enough that there was a God to be acknowledged. What Abel did was a demonstration of heartfelt appreciation for Jehovah’s material blessings. He slaughtered the animal and offered it up. Was it a form a ritualistic worship? One definition used of “ritual” is: An “established or prescribed procedure for a religious or other rite.” So, no, Abel’s offering was not a ritual. In contrast to Abel, what Cain did seems to have been a perfunctory offering.
Today, what can we offer God that truly goes beyond merely performing some rite or ritual of a religion? Hebrews 13:15 recommends making a “sacrifice of praise.” But Jesus cautions us that mere “lip service” is insufficient. The sacrifice of praise we offer must be sincere and heartfelt. To know how to do that, we must first learn what God really wants from us. (Hint: Rituals, rites, and ceremonies are not what he wants.)