“Religion that is merely ritual and ceremonial can never satisfy. Neither can we be satisfied by a religion that is merely humanitarian or serviceable to mankind. Man’s craving is for the spiritual” (Samuel M. Shoemaker).
One of the most conspicuous traits of human beings is our tendency toward imbalanced thinking. Not a single one of us can claim to be innocent — we all struggle to keep the main thing the main thing. In every endeavor, we tend to forget what the principle purpose of the activity is. Before we realize it, we’ve taken what was meant to be a part of the work and started making it the whole show.
You don’t have to be a sociologist to see that in our day people are tending in two very different directions with regard to Christianity, and I want to suggest that both are imbalanced approaches.
The ritual approach. This approach sees public worship as the main thing we need to be concerned about: are we doing everything God said to do in exactly the way He said to do it? But as important as this is, God is looking for more than correct worship from us. We have become imbalanced if the worship service is our only connection to God.
The humanitarian approach. Often as a reaction against the ritual approach, many would say the gospel is about alleviating suffering and promoting social justice. But again, if there is nothing to our relationship with God except the improvement of external social conditions, we have lost our balance. The gospel was meant to go much deeper.
As C. S. Lewis liked to point out, there is no idol more dangerous than some good thing that someone divorces from the total “way” of Christ and treats it as if it were the only thing. And so it is with the two imbalances above. Correct worship is an important part of the “way,” and so is helping those who are in need. But these things become demons when they are cut off from the other parts of the gospel that were meant to balance them and keep them in check. And in both cases, they reach their most dangerous level when they begin to be seen as the “definitive” aspect of true Christianity. As important as they both are, neither is the main point of the gospel.
As Samuel M. Shoemaker said, neither of these approaches is satisfactory because neither addresses our deepest need: our spiritual need for God. Churches built on these imbalanced priorities will eventually dry up and blow away, once the fad has passed that got them started. Granted, we cannot remain in fellowship with God and neglect either His will for how He is to be worshiped or His command that we show mercy to others. But neither of these will get us to heaven if we forget the heart of the matter: repentance from our sins and reconciliation to God.