RITUAL: Courtney went to a Catholic funeral and mentions how she loves the ritual. I'm a protestant (Baptist, technically, I suppose) and I can totally see where Courtney is coming from. My mom's side of the family is Catholic, and the rituals are quite impressive and do give a sense of weight that is often not encountered in protestant churches and services.

Most protestant churches (at least in Southern California) are more populist than Catholics are and aim to be accessible to non-Christians who come to visit. I sometimes enjoy the substance and symbolism behind ancient rituals, but they make the average man-off-the-street feel uncomfortable and out of place. Rituals are impressive, but they can make God seem unapproachable and distant rather than immediately and intimately close. God is powerful and awesome, but he is not aloof; the whole point of Jesus coming to earth was to bring mankind into an intimate relationship with God.

Over the past 5 years, my church has really tried to eliminate any ritual or formality that might prevent a visitor from being able to listen to God's message. Our goal is have a church such that if a visitor feels uncomfortable it's because of the message, not because of the religious trappings.

In response to Courtney's post, Zach points out that there are rather significant doctrinal differences between Catholics and protestants. The Catholic church has done a lot of good through the centuries, but as with most organizations with tightly centralized power structures, they've also done a lot of evil. Aside from huge spiritual questions such as transubstantiation and praying to saints, this organizational issue alone sets off warning lights in my libertarian-ish brain.

God knows that mankind is flawed and falls short of his perfection, and in the Bible he instituted a power structure for the church that would serve to dilute the selfish motivations that take over from time to time, even the best of us. Individual churches should govern themselves independently as God leads them, rather than receive central direction from an earthly authority. Ultimate leadership within each church should not rest with any one man, but should be divided among several elders. Read 1 Timothy and Titus for details.



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