Modern day Christians (particularly modern day EVANGELICAL Christians) don’t particularly like rituals as a general rule. In fact this distaste for ritual is not new. Most post-Enlightenment era Christian Scholars make no bones about disliking ritual, and it shows up in their backhanded swipes at the Torah commands and their superficial study and investigation into the roles of the Levite priests, especially.
Since most seminaries teach according to the values and conclusions of these same scholars, the aversion to either DOING ritual or even seeing value in the ancient Hebrew ritual practices has carried over to the church in general.
Further as we have discussed before, the Church has essentially discarded any sense of communal responsibility and in its place adopted individualism as the platform for action and expression of our faith.
This disdain for ritual has a comfortable companion in individual-oriented denominational theologies and so the lens through which the Torah is now viewed (and most especially the Christian attitude towards the priestly rituals), is this: personal freedom and spontaneity are good, organized ritual is bad.
Even if you do not see the value in YOUR involvement in Biblical ritual, I can assure you that understanding the Torah rituals is KEY to understanding the Torah as well as God’s plan for mankind.
Anthropologists have for a long time known that if they are going to understand a society (modern or ancient) they must begin with that society’s rituals; for rituals are the foremost statements of any society’s values.
Listen to what M. Wilson, a noted Anthropologist, said, a half-century ago about the importance of rituals in defining a culture:
“Rituals reveal values at their deepest level…men express in ritual what moves them the most, and since the form of expression is conventionalized and obligatory, ritual reveals the values of the group. I see in the study of rituals the key to an understanding of the essential constitution of human societies…”
I don’t think there is a more ignored or disliked (and therefore more terribly misunderstood) subject in the Bible than the rituals associated with SACRIFICING.
Yet there is rarely a Pastor or Bible Teacher who would not regularly point out that Jesus fulfilled the very sacrificial system they both dislike and know nothing about. As Gordon Wenham points out, the sacrificial system is at the very heart of Biblical worship; it is unavoidable.
So while it may not be entirely comfortable for us, we NEED to study and understand the rituals of the Torah because the entire purpose of these rituals revolves around communication between God and man.
These rituals explain the very essence of our relationship with the God of the Bible. These rituals for the ancients were like our going to the movies today: the visual element is a needed and desired thing for understanding and it is so very powerful for men.
The Church today has few rituals left that actively involve the worshipper: mainly Baptism and Communion, but little else. The problem with this is that what we now have for ritual has become one-sided: somebody else performs, we watch. And somehow or another our mere presence counts for worship. That was NOT the essence of Biblical ritual, Old Testament OR New.
Except for sacrifices that were on behalf of the priests or the entire community of Israel as a whole, the worshipper was an active participant and it was HE who killed the sacrificial animal.
The worshipper was required on 3 occasions each year to make a pilgrimage to the Temple. The worshipper was required to set aside his normal work, cease almost all-productive activity, and rest on the Shabbat. The worshipper was required to build and LIVE IN a Sukkah during Sukkoth. Active participation in ritual was the norm.
How easy it is for us to sing Billy Graham’s famous call to the Altar, “just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me”. How much more would those words mean to us if we had to take a half-ton Bull (that we had raised and/or purchased) and dragged it up to the Altar, tied it to one of the 4 Altar horns and then ritually slit it’s neck artery, watching its life drain away in a few seconds.
The point is that these Biblical rituals should not be lost on us. As we revisit them in the book of Numbers they are no longer simply the idealism and theory of Leviticus; so pay close attention to them for their underlying principals are what the unchanging Lord God is trying to teach us.