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Religious practices are varied and common to all religions. You’d be surprised about their origins.
Religious practices conjure up pictures of Pilgrimages, fasting, abstinences, vows, prayers, sacrifices, offerings… like the image above. Practical Bible wisdom both promotes and prohibits certain practices. Today, we’ll delve into some of the many religious practices.
First, we need to step back and consider the big picture of what religious practices are and especially why they had and retain their importance. In order to understand them in the Old Testament, we must grasp the overview of the commandments in God’s plan.
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
1st Question: What is “all the law” and the “prophets?”
2nd Question: Why does Christ immediately follow with this question?
42 Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David.
43 He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying,
44 The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool?
45 If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?
46 And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.
This is an example and quote from Psalm 110. In these eight verses Christ cites the entire Old Testament through it’s three parts: Law, Prophets (verse 40) and Writings (Psalms). He is showing the religious leaders He is the Lord of the Bible. Here’s the relationship to religious practices: The two great commandments sum up ALL the law, in the three parts of the Bible.
IF you do the two, they incorporate ALL the others. Example: the 10 Commandments, first four are love of God. Last 6 are love of neighbor. ALL the practices and law in the Bible fall into one of the two great commandments. That means the laws in Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and all the ethics found in the book of Proverbs are twigs and branches of the trunk of the tree represented by the two commandments.
Now, another important difference between religious practices in the Old and New Testaments. Under the Old Covenant, laws were spelled out. You shall… You shall not… There are more shall not than shall. Why? Because God is talking to ‘babes, children’. In the New, there are only two Commandments and they are you shall. You don’t have to spend your time telling a mature spiritual person NOT to do this and NOT to do that. Furthermore, you do not have to spell out all the details to a wise person. They need the principles and they know how to apply them to the details.
Here’s a specific religious practice in the Old Testament regarding meat offered to idols.
12 Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you go, lest it be for a snare in the midst of you:
13 But you shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:
14 For you shall worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:
15 Lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice to their gods, and one call you, and you eat of his sacrifice;
The above context indicates a number of religious practices we are to avoid. Practices to do with pagan altars, images and forests or edifices built to resemble groves. God says don’t get caught up (snared) where your stuck and can’t get out. In verse 15 there’s a precise religious practice to avoid, eat of his sacrifice. Numbers 25:1-2 corroborate this principle when God condemns Israel for eating sacrifices made to the gods of Moab.
Now look at and meditate the principle Paul gave the Corinthian Church. This is an excellent example of mature New Covenant Christianity compared to an immature outlook on Old Testament religious practices.
1 Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but charity edifies.
4 As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.
5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
8 But meat commends us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.
9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
10 For if any man see you which has knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;
11 And through your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
12 But when you sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world stands, lest I make my brother to offend.
Question: Is Paul telling members of the Church of God they can disobey the Old Testament religious practice of not eating meat offered to idols? No, he is doing no such thing. He is explaining how to love God and love their neighbor according to the spirit of the law. A mature Christian can evaluate a religious practice simply by asking; is what I’m doing pleasing to God and showing spiritual respect for my neighbor? It takes the Holy Spirit to guide us to the correct answers. Paul gave them and us the tools, so to speak, to evaluate our religious practices in the 21st century.
Religious Practices abound worldwide
This series of blogs has a theme, practical Bible wisdom. I’m writing this to help people see this 2000-year-old book is relevant for us today. The principles, if followed in the 21st century, would procure peace and prosperity. I’m not saying spiritual salvation because that is New Testament theology to which God calls His people.
There are books, TV programs and websites about types of religious practice. From sitting atop a pillar, to walking on burning coals (), to rolling around on the ground, to living your life without clothes.
I already intended including this topic of religious practices in this theme when I received an email regarding the intriguing title of a book. Divination in the Bible, A Practical Guide to Talking to God. Find it if you like, but the word divination made me curious. We know what the Bible says about that, so what does this author mean? You decide, but people are coming up with supposedly new practices all the time. Beware, some can be dangerous.
As Wikipedia points out, religious practices come in many areas and forms:
They may include rituals, sermons, commemoration or veneration (of deities and/or saints), sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trances, initiations, funerary services, matrimonial services, meditation, prayer, music, art, dance, public service, or other aspects of human culture.
In preparation of writing this blog, I studied the 613 mitzvot in the Torah, which really are direct dos and don’ts taken from the five first books of the Bible, the Law. Religious Jewish people try to apply these precepts in their daily lives. These are the details of the two great commandments as mentioned above. It must be kept in mind that certain conditions present 3000 years ago are not so today. We don’t have a country, twelve tribes, the Kohenim (the Priests, direct descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses), the Levites who occupied positions of leadership in Temple affairs (no Temple either) and administrative positions like educators and judges.
With all those points and others in mind, the principles of those books are still practical Bible wisdom. Consider the Temple as the Church of God and the leader then as the religious leaders of God’s Church today. As you study these precepts, ask yourself the question, how can I apply this in the 21st century?
As I did this, I categorized them to make them more relevant. Here are the categories in alphabetical order. Your study might reveal other categories. Some overlap.
10 Commandments, agriculture, animals, assembly-church, behavior, body, calendar, city, dead, destroy, diet, false prophets, family, feasts, government, health, idolatry, impure, injury physical, monetary, justice, king, kohen, labor-slavery, levite, money-increase-tithe-restitution, neighbor, offering, peace, poor, prophesying, purification, religion, religion nazarite, sabbath, sacrifice, self-reproach, servant, sex, sin, study-teach, war, washing, woman, word, work, worship.
I would say, the first overriding precept regarding religious practices and anything else, for that matter, is to avoid following what is not practical Bible wisdom. Pagan practices are explicitly forbidden. We are not to mix them with practical Biblical wisdom. It does not enhance proper Bible practices, in fact, it is just the opposite.
Listening to false religion
With globalization of cultures and the implantation of Eastern religious practices almost as a way of life, if not more, warning like those from below, going back over 3000 years, carry little weight. Yet, they are clear and essential.
30 Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.
31 Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hates, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.
32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
It’s our choice what religious practices we want to follow.
Profane His Name
There is a “sacred names” movement as well as many individuals who focus on the pronunciation of God’s name. It must be Yahweh (Hebrew: יַהְוֶה), the proper name of the God. They insist on using the original Hebrew name of Jesus, transliterated as Yeshua, Yahshua or Yehoshua.
Neither shall ye profane my holy name; but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel: I am the LORD which hallow you,
Each of these religious practices is a piece in the puzzle and has its role to play. But overemphasizing one or another is not a balanced way of life. Profaning God’s holy name is not referring to pronunciation. We find various names of God in Greek throughout the New Testament. Practical wisdom tells us this is a reference to HOW to use God’s name. It’s not an exclamation to throw around loosely when something goes wrong. Or an epithet to line our sentences without even thinking what we’re saying. That is profanity and blasphemy.
Certain countries, notably in Africa, have populations that run their lives based on the word of gurus. We have more and more of them in Western countries. Fortunetelling, card-reading, tarot, consulting the dead can be part-time professions for some and lucrative for others. Advertisements in newspapers abound, and we’re even harassed by solicitors on street corners. At certain metro stops in Paris, you can be sure someone will hand you a business card inviting you to a session. Religious practices of this nature have always been rampant. There are direct warnings.
There shall not be found among you any one that makes his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination (H7081), or an observer of times (H6049), or an enchanter (H5172 nachash-hiss), or a witch (H3784),
As crazy as it sounds, child sacrifices still take place in the 21st century in some countries in Africa. Fire continues to be a part of many human religions and cultures. Candles are used in various religious ceremonies; Bonfires, eternal flames are reminders of notable occasions. Halloween is a pagan fire festival on October 31. The Olympic Flame is ceremonially lit and extinguished while burning throughout the games.
Look at the meaning of these Hebrew words, namely nachash (H5172) for enchanter, That’s the same name as the Bible Serpent, otherwise known as the devil. It goes without saying, these religious practices are prohibited.
קֶסֶם qeçem keh’-sem; from H7080 (קָסַם); a lot; also divination (including its fee), oracle: KJV – (reward of) divination, divine sentence, witchcraft.
קָסַם qâçam kaw-sam’; a primitive root; properly, to distribute, i.e. determine by lot or magical scroll; by implication, to divine: KJV – divine(-r, -ation), prudent, soothsayer, use (divination).
עָנַן ʻânan aw-nan’; a primitive root; to cover; used only as a denominative from H6051 (עָנָן), to cloud over; figuratively, to act covertly, i.e. practise magic: KJV – ⨯ bring, enchanter, Meonemin, observe(-r of) times, soothsayer, sorcerer.
נָחַשׁ nâchash new-khash’; a primitive root; properly, to hiss, i.e. whisper a (magic) spell; generally, to prognosticate: KJV – ⨯ certainly, divine, enchanter, (use) ⨯ enchantment, learn by experience, ⨯ indeed, diligently observe.
כָּשַׁף kâshaph kaw-shaf’; a primitive root; properly, to whisper aspell, i.e. to inchant or practise magic: KJV – sorcerer, (use) witch(-craft).
Some religious practices above are rampant in the 21st century. Biblically, this is not a healthy situation. You can do a study of each of the categories of the arbitrary number of 613 precepts in the books of the Law. You can see the religious practices God said to avoid, and to follow.
Why have any rituals and practices at all? The key attributes of humans are their mind and their hands. That’s thought and action. Religious practices are for the mutual strengthening of the spiritual mind and accomplishing Godly works. Religious practices are the expression of all the ways we love God and love our neighbor. The spiritual mind manifesting itself through our physical works.
With practical Bible wisdom in mind and religious practices, we’ll be discussing themes like justice, feasts and the Rest Day over the next few weeks. These practices are ongoing as long as there are humans on Earth serving God. They continue even after Christ returns, as witnessed by festive events in the last chapters of Ezekiel. The religious practices reinforce our spiritual understanding.
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