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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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An assemblage of several actions, forms, and circumstances, and solemn. Applied to religious services, it signifies the external rites and manner wherein the ministers of religion perform their sacred functions. In 1646, M. Ponce published a history of ancient ceremonies, tracing the rise, growth, and introduction of each rite into the church, and its gradual advancement to superstition. Many of them were borrowed from Judaism, but more from paganism. Dr. Middleton has given a fine discourse on the conformity between the pagan and popish ceremonies, which he exemplifies in the use of incense, holy water, lamps and candles before the shrines of saints, voltive gifts round the shrines of the deceased, &c. In fact, the altars, images, crosses, processions, miracles, and legends, nay, even the very hierarchy, pontificate, religious orders, &c. of the present Romans, he shows, are all copied from their heathen ancestors.

An ample and magnificent representation in figures of the religious ceremonies and customs of all nations in the world, designed by Picart, is added, with historical explanations, and many curious dissertations. It has been a question, whether we ought to use such rites and ceremonies which are merely of human appointment. On one side it has been observed that we ought not. Christ alone is King in his church: he hath instituted such ordinances and forms of worship as he hath judged fit and necessary; and to add to them seems, at least, to carry in it an imputation on his wisdom and authority, and hath this unanswerable objection to it, that it opens the door to a thousand innovations (as the history of the church of Rome hath sufficiently shown, ) which are not only indifferent in themselves, but highly absurd, and extremely detrimental to religion.

That the ceremonies were numerous under the Old Testament dispensation is no argument; for, say they.

1. We respect Jewish ceremonies, because God hath not appointed them.

2. The Jewish ceremonies were established by the universal consent of the nation; human ceremonies are not so.

3. The former were fit and proper for the purposes for which they were appointed; but the latter are often the contrary.

4. The institutor of the Jewish ceremonies provided for the expense of it; but no provision is made by God to support human ceremonies, or what he has not appointed.

These arguments seem very powerful; but on the other side of it has been observed, that the desire of reducing religious worship to the greatest possible simplicity, however rational it may appear in itself, and abstractedly considered, will be considerably moderated in such as bestow a moment's attention upon the imperfection and infirmities of human nature in its present state. Mankind, generally speaking, have too little elevation of mind to be much affected with those forms and methods of worship in which there is nothing striking to the outward senses.

The great difficulty here lies in determining the length which it is prudent to go in the accommodation of religious ceremonies to human infirmity; and the grand point is to fix a medium in which a due regard may be shown to the senses and imagination, without violating the dictates of right reason, or tarnishing the purity of true religion. It has been said, that the Romish church has gone too far in its condescension to the infirmities of mankind; and this is what the ablest defenders of its motley worship have alleged in its behalf. But this observation is not just; the church of Rome has not so much accommodated itself to human weakness, as it has abused that weakness, by taking occasion from it to establish an endless variety of ridiculous ceremonies, destructive of true religion, and only adapted to promote the riches and despotism of the clergy, and to keep the multitude still hood-winked in their ignorance and superstition. How far a just antipathy to the church puppet-shows of the Papists has unjustly driven some Protestant churches into the opposite extreme, is a matter that certainly deserves a serious consideration.

See Dr. Stennett's Ser. on Conformity to the World; Robinson's Sermon on Ceremonies; Booth's Essay on the Kingdom of Christ; Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History; with Mac Laine's Note, vol. 1: p. 203, quarto edit. Jones's Works, vol. 4, p. 267.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Ceremony'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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