Ritual Without Righteousness Will Not Do
Amos lived in a time in which evil was rampant. It was a time of greed; it was a time of oppression of the poor; it was a time of corruption in the justice system; and it was a time of loose sexual standards, in which a man and his son would sleep with the same woman. Yet, in spite of all that was going on, people were still “going to church.” They were still bringing offerings, as if that was all that was required. They were still singing religious songs and playing music on harps. It did not seem to occur to them that there was a major contradiction between their religious rituals and the events of their daily lives.
God made it clear that he would have none of that. The language he used was quite strong: “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies… Away with the noise of your songs!” God made it clear that he had no interest in empty ritual; what he wanted was for righteousness to roll on like a river, and justice like a never failing stream.
Are the words of Amos relevant to us today? Are his times in any way similar to our times? In this part of the world, where Christianity is pretty much a part of the culture, we are ever in danger of practicing the familiar rituals without being careful to practice righteousness. We are ever in danger of being satisfied with making the right Christian noises and, consequently, not making the required effort to complement our acts of piety in church with acts of righteousness in our daily lives. If our profession of faith in Christ does not impact positively on how we run our businesses, do our jobs, treat our spouses and children, and relate to or fellow men, then we are behaving like the people to whom Amos prophesied.
It is a good time for us to pause and remind ourselves that God strongly disapproves of ritual without righteousness. The person who will stand in God’s holy hill will be a person “whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous.” (Psalm 15: 2) It will be a person like Daniel, who was found to be clean, when examined by his hostile co-workers. It will be a person like Joseph, who stood tall in Potiphar’s house as a man who could be trusted. It will be a person like Paul, who functioned with integrity as a tentmaker in Thessalonica. It will be a person who is not content merely to have the outward form of godliness, as expressed in religious rituals, but who seeks to maintain a walk that is consistent with his/her profession of faith in Christ.
The message Amos preached was not designed to get the people to cease religious activities; it was designed to get the people to examine themselves, and make the necessary adjustments, thereby ensuring that their public worship would not continue to be empty ritual. Similarly, God is not asking us to stop going to church. He is not asking us to stop singing the great hymns of the faith. He is asking us to seek, by his grace, to ensure that our acts of worship in church are supported by acts of righteousness on the outside.
This is what will bring delight to his heart.
Rev. Hayden Marshall (DMin ’09)
St. Vincent and Grenadines
Dissertation Topic: Why do so few young males of St. Vincent embrace Christianity?