If you’re reading along with the Resting at the River’s Edge reading plans, over the past week you’ve been reading through the building and consecration of the temple and the priests. What strikes me is that God goes to great length to describe where and how the Israelites were to worship, and He goes to great lengths to explain how the priests were to be installed. This caught my attention:

The following verse: “This is what you are to do to consecrate them, so they may serve me as priests:” (Exodus 29:1a) is followed by 42 additional verses that explain how priests are to be consecrated. God then makes this interesting statement:

44“So I will consecrate the Tent of Meeting and the altar and will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests. 45Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. 46They will know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.
Exodus 29:44-46

Did you catch the nuance? The Isarelites were to go through seven days (seven days!) of ceremonially consecrating the priests and then God consecrated them and the Tent of Meeting. It is not the ceremonial acts that consecrated the priests, it was God who consecrated them. What, then, is the purpose for going through the motions? I can think of at least four purposes. I’m sure that in God’s economy there are many more purposes, but these come to mind:

  • God, in His exceeding goodness, accomplishes many (most?) things thru men and women whom He has created in His image. This is a characteristic of God that blows me away every time I think of it. It is such an awesome privilege to partner with the Living God, the Eternal God, the Almighty God, to accomplish His will on this earth. He allows me to have a role in accomplishing His purposes, giving my small life greater purpose than I could ever have any other way. Wow! Consecrating priests, whether that means church leaders or ourselves as part of the holy priesthood of the Living God.
  • It prepares us to be consecrated by God. The process makes us ready, attunes our hearts and spirits, to be consecrated. It reinforces the seriousness and the holiness of the action. In short, the process changes us.
  • The process makes a statement to those around us, both Christian and non-Christian, that the ones being consecrated are set apart for the purposes of God.
  • The process makes a statement to the spiritual realm – this person is being set aside for the purposes of God. This person has yielded their will to the will of the Most High, Almighty, King of the Universe. This person belongs to God and none other.

Wow! If a process of consecration can do these things, why would we not want to take it more seriously? I think we miss opportunities to accomplish these things when we curtail religious ceremony that leads to consecration.

Wrestling with the Issue and My Two Cents
For all of my Christian life I have belonged to evangelical and/or charismatic churches that have not been strong on religious ceremony. Most of those churches eschewed such things as being too “religious” (that being the nature of religious ceremonies, of course) – too much pomp and circumstances or rigmarole or whatever. Sorry, folks, I think we’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water.

Sure, what I’ve quoted above is Old Testament, but in the New Testament we see Jesus both honoring the old traditions and initiating two new ones: baptism and communion. Most Christian churches today honor these New Testament ceremonies, although often in a very relaxed format. I like a relaxed format, but I think we miss the boat at times by not incorporating more solemnity and more pomp and circumstance into our worship, and I think we miss the boat by not practicing more formal (i.e., ceremonial) times of consecration.

In the early church, baptism was preceded by a period of discipleship lasting one to three years. The discipleship process can be seen as the consecration process, ending with the baptism. Part of the preparation (consecration) process was to allow time for the baptizees to demonstrate true repentance and fruits of their new walk. In all the churches I have attended in my thirty-plus years as a Christian, the most that was required of someone wanting to be baptized was a profession of faith and a single class or discussion about the meaning of baptism. I wonder if we are missing the boat a bit. Without becoming legalistic, I wonder if baptisms ought to be preceded by a period of consecration by those involved so that when the baptism is performed God’s consecration completes it.

Of course, in the New Testament there’s the example of the Ethiopian eunich (and others) who were immediately baptized upon proclaiming faith in Christ. So was the early church moving away from New Testament Christianity, or were they establishing the new forms that would ensure the continuity of Christianity into the future?

I was blessed to be ordained this past year. The actual ordination ceremony was both a celebration and a dedication of my life in service to Christ. Obviously, much had built up to the ordination. I completed a Master’s Degree in Christian Ministries and had been in lay ministry for many years. The ordination was a recognition that God has called me to ministry and anointed me to preach the Good News, bind up the broken hearted and proclaim freedom to captives (Isaiah 61:1-3, Luke 4:18-19). Yet I wonder if we’re not missing the boat a little by not preceding the ordination by a period (7 days perhaps?) of preparation, perhaps fasting and prayer, extended times with God, and times of instructional mentoring – that is, a time of consecration so that when the ordination is performed, God’s consecration completes it.

Are We Missing the Boat?
My point is that we in the evangelical and charismatic church are probably a whole lot better at celebrating than we are at solemnly recognizing significant events in God. Yes, we have been set free from the requirements of the Law. And yes, we want to avoid practicing a faith that is based on ceremony more than on personal intimacy. However, I think that the ceremony can lead to personal intimacy when done with a right heart, and I think the ceremony itself has great value. Our part of consecration might be symbolic or ritualistic, but that doesn’t mean we should too easily or quickly abandon it. Remember that it was after the Israelites did their part in consecration that God did His part.

I guess that’s my two cents on the subject. Today. I’m still wrestling with this. Do you have an opinion? What forms of consecration (if any) do you think are appropriate for today? Would incorporating more ceremonial consecration into the Body of Christ today make the church stronger?

One Response to “On Religious Ceremony & Consecration”
  1. Sandy says:

    Exodus 40:33-37
    33Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle and altar and put up the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard. And so Moses finished the work.

    34Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

    36In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; 37but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. 38So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.


    When I finished reading Exodus 40, I had to add the conclusion to this blog. The result of all the preparation, all the consecration time and effort and expense – “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” God will not only fill the building, but our lives when we properly consecrate ourselves to Him. To God be His Glory, great things He will do.

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