Christianity as a whole is full of rituals: how to act, how to look, what to say, insistence on certain ways of behaving, hymn-singing, communal prayer, and rigid worship. Weddings, baptisms, funerals, confirmations, confessions and communions, designed as symbols of faith, have succeeded in uniting congregations in close bonds of duty and obligation. They are also great money makers. In first-century Palestine, religion was about ritual and appearance; It mattered a lot what you did and when you did it, what you said and how you said it. So when Jesus broke with tradition, like when he did magic on him on the Sabbath, he raised his eyebrows.
Hebrews 7.11 says,
“If perfection could have been achieved through the Levitical priesthood, and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood, why was it still necessary for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? ?”
What exactly is the order of Melchizedek and how does it change the landscape of worship? This is a huge question for all Christians that is not always fully understood.
To begin our understanding of this verse, a little background is necessary. Before Jesus, only descendants of Aaron, the tribe of Levi, were eligible to become High Priests; Jesus was from the tribe of Judah and therefore ineligible; but the authority of Jesus came from the order of Melchizedek. We hear about Melchizedek, a contemporary of Abraham, long before we hear about Aaron, at the beginning of the Exodus. The interesting thing about the Melchizedek priesthood is that he owes its authority directly to God, bypassing Israelite tradition. We don’t know much about Melchizedek, but we do know from the New Testament that Jesus’ right to the priesthood came from him, not from the Levites. This explains the furor created among the high priests of his day. Bypassing the authority of the Pharisees posed Jesus as a threat to the establishment.
So the vitriol directed at Jesus was not caused because his teachings were unbiblical or irreligious, but rather that he was based on a tradition that foretold Judaism (see Genesis 14:18-20 and Psalm 110:4). Through this simple shift in biblical focus, believers were freed from the legalism of the past, the endless list of pros and cons of Leviticus to which they had been subjugated since the time of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). Through Jesus, they were connected to an even older order that predated the Commandments by some 300 years and gave them a direct line to God. This was a huge step forward in religious terms that is almost impossible for us to imagine today. The closest modern comparison would be a young man storming the Vatican in the name of God and telling the Pope that God says: “Thank you for your time but your services are no longer required.”
After that, God’s grace was available to everyone, not just the Jews, and anyone could be a priest, not just the Levites. While the Old Testament rules were an important part of improving Israel’s faith in a time of terrible hardship and insecurity, they were never intended to last forever. Paul in Romans 3:20-24 says: “No one will be declared righteous before God by the works of the law.” In other words, a new moment has come: it’s not what you do, it’s what you believe that counts.
Everything’s fine. However, within 300 years of Jesus’ death, Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of Rome and established a common creed agreed upon at a council of bishops held at Nicaea. This, with minor adjustments, would be preached in churches across Europe for centuries to come and make the church once again the authority in people’s lives, the only path to salvation. Ritual turned to the idea of worship. This was not necessarily a bad thing, except that over time it opened the door to corruption. By the end of the first millennium, the sacraments had become currency and were exchanged for money. Congregations kept in ignorance of the true meaning of their faith had to hand over cash to secure their salvation. The wealth of the church multiplied. Greedy priests and popes in league with the state proceeded to make the word of Christ a tool for political domination and intolerance. Martyrs abounded in early church history, burned at the stake for heresy that often amounted to nothing more than a disagreement over the meaning of a Bible verse or two. The Inquisition, established to test heretical beliefs, quickly gained a reputation for cruelty. The Reformation, Catholic and Protestant, helped change some of these bad habits, but in general, the model of the church established by Constantine and his bishops remains to this day.
Fast forward to the 21st century. The church and priests have been exposed as unreliable and out of step with the new enlightenment. Numerous scandals have sullied the character of the priesthood. A brief examination of history reveals that religion was behind most of the conflicts of the past, from the massacres enacted by the Crusades to the troubles in Northern Ireland and the conflicts in the Middle East. A new “awakened” generation wants nothing to do with this kind of sectarianism. A faith that tells them that to achieve perfection in their faith they must abandon their rights as individuals or take up arms against each other is not a faith that a peace-loving generation can identify with. However, Christ, the symbol of that faith, if he were to walk the earth today, would certainly support his cause. He preached precisely the opposite of sectarianism. He explained that perfection is in the eyes of the Lord, not in our own eyes, and that, incrediblyGod manages to find perfection in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9) not our supposed strengths. The problems created during the history of the church were not because of the word of Christ, but because of the way that word was misused and abused by greedy and powerful men.
Dissatisfaction with the church has led to a diminished value of Christ in our lives. As the influence of the church in society has diminished, greedy and powerful men have had to seek refuge in other activities. The new liberal capitalism of the 1980s offered the perfect vehicle. Today, instead of being ritualized in the church, we are being ritualized in a secular society that still needs to control its population. The rules for correct behavior – what to say and how to say it, what to do and how to do it – are increasing. There is a sense that our personal freedoms are being eroded and once again sacrificed on the altar of greed and corruption.
We need lessons in faith and tolerance like Christ’s more than ever. Greed and corruption remain and grow daily. The intolerance of those who do not “fit in” has been normalized. Success is increasingly based on self-interest, on our appearance and behavior, on sound bites and jingles, stimulated by the media, rituals established by an all-devouring global market. We have come full circle. But instead of the church trying to steal our identity and take our money, it is now the global market.
Only by returning to the order of Melchizedek, the authority that comes directly from God, the faith written on our hearts, can we escape the pressures imposed on us by large corporations.
Faith resets our values to factory settings. Right and wrong become clear when Jesus’ model is followed, giving power back to the common people. Religious ritual, done well, can play an essential role in the well-being of our communities by providing social justice and protection (both inside and outside the church); despite the mistakes of the past, it must remain in our lives. Community worship, social support, prayers, the singing of hymns, large gatherings in the name of Jesus, these are all positive religious tools that, when ulterior motives are removed, are of enormous benefit to the vulnerable; a good Christian sermon can give hope to those who have almost given up. I have often thought that rock concerts are just a reward for a spiritual longing that we have in our hearts; that drugs fill the voids left by the absent love of God; that sex has taken the place of our desire to be in God’s church; Sex, drugs and rock’n’rollthe mantra of my youth, are all pale reflections of the joy of knowing Christ who is the real thing and much better because he is offered free without conditions, without basement.
But just like a good rock concert, the crowd has to flock to church because they crave the excitement, not because someone tells them they have to.
All of us, of any faith or none, have that need within us for spiritual elevation, but we must find it in the right places and not where society tells us. Today’s society works by denigrating us and persuading us of the need to constantly improve, just as the old church did. This is what sells product. However, godly perfection does not come from looking or behaving perfectly, but from having faith in love for all and an unshakeable trust in God’s plan for each of us, which is perfect without us having to do anything but believe. .