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One distinctive of Baptists and many other congregational churches is that they have no prescribed method of worship. Unlike, say, an Episcopalian or a Roman Catholic, there is no prayer book and no guidance "from above" (in the earthly, not heavenly sense) as to the elements and order of a church worship service. Each congregation is free to explore and promulgate its own worship order.

That said, in effect, most Baptist services I've ever participated in or led have boiled down to:

  • A Welcome
  • Two or three songs, one of which might be a choir special
  • A single Bible reading
  • An offering
  • The Doxology
  • A prayer
  • A sermon
  • An altar call and a final hymn

Followed by coffee hour in truly progressive churches :) Additionally, communion, to be held quarterly or monthly is inserted between the sermon and the altar call.

While there is no strict order, I'm willing to bet that I've just described about 95% of them, and I've probably even got the order right in at least 80%.

Here's the question—is that a liturgy? I know I'd reject that label, but is it fair to call it a liturgy? If it is, why do Baptists reject the claim. If not, what element is missing to call it such?

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+1 That is funny. From someone going into a Baptist Church :) –  David Laberge Jan 31 '12 at 22:33

4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Yes and No

It is fair to say that Baptist services are liturgical, but I don't think I'd say that they have "a" liturgy (meaning that they generally adhere to a common liturgy).

Many Baptist churches I've been to don't quite follow the formula you described. Most follow it somewhat, but I think that to call it a common liturgy, it needs to be followed more closely than it actually is.

The best formula that I can come up with that describes every Baptist church I have been to is (in varied order):

  • Singing (varied number of songs)
  • Announcements
  • Prayer
  • Sermon

I feel that that is too generic to be called a liturgy, because:

  • The order varies from church to church.
  • These are common elements, but these elements are practiced very differently in different churches (hymns versus rock bands, etc.)
  • Churches often have additional elements.

But that said, most Baptist churches are liturgical within themselves. In other words, they don't necessarily follow the liturgies of other Baptist churches, but the pattern of a given Baptist church service changes very little from week-to-week.

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It's safe to say that everyone has a liturgy.

edit: Liturgy (Greek: Λειτουργία) is the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions. (Wikipedia - don't kill me it's the first I could find in response to the comment).

Even denominations who wish to distance themselves from "The Liturgical Tradition" (which is most colloquially understood to encompass the Orthodox, Catholic, Episcopalian, Anglican, etc) have "traditions" regarding their worship. These "liturgy" of "The Liturgical Tradition" started as a practical means to engage their purpose and even though congregational churches do not have a prescribed liturgy, pushed down from traditions past, they functionally create their own liturgy. That is, of course, unless they do not have any clearly-identifiable pattern to engaging in worship.

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much better, undeleted. Thanks. (next time just flag it) –  wax eagle Feb 2 '12 at 23:22
    
i can't flag it - not "SE cool" enough :) –  swasheck Feb 2 '12 at 23:25
    
Really? should only need 15 rep to flag (and I was thinking you could always flag your own posts)....oh well resloved for now :). Solid alternate strategy :) –  wax eagle Feb 2 '12 at 23:28

I laughed when I read this. Growing up in a Baptist church I can totally relate to what you're asking. I agree with the posting above in that I don't think I'd call it a liturgy, but it's definitely a pretty routine schedule. I think this is also true of any church though. Even the "free, crazy, and spontaneous" ones. They have a set schedule and they usually follow it quite closely.

Although, technically, I think it would be considered liturgy. I suppose liturgy is mostly composed of rituals and I don't think that Baptists would say that they have rituals but rather they'd probably call it "average service activities" or "Service Patterns". It's less than a framework though. They don't have to abide by these patterns and can change up the layout of how the service is presented (although is is rare).

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I suppose it depends on how you define 'liturgy' and then whether you're following a strict or loose interpretation of the word. The Catholic Encyclopedia has the following entry for 'Liturgy' but while I don't think anyone would assert that Catholics don't have a liturgy, the following definition doesn't seem to precisely qualify what is and is not Liturgy:

Liturgy (leitourgia) is a Greek composite word meaning originally a public duty, a service to the state undertaken by a citizen. Its elements are leitos (from leos = laos, people) meaning public, and ergo (obsolete in the present stem, used in future erxo, etc.), to do. From this we have leitourgos, "a man who performs a public duty", "a public servant", often used as equivalent to the Roman lictor; then leitourgeo, "to do such a duty", leitourgema, its performance, and leitourgia, the public duty itself.

So in Christian use liturgy meant the public official service of the Church, that corresponded to the official service of the Temple in the Old Law.

We must now distinguish two senses in which the word was and is still commonly used. These two senses often lead to confusion.

On the one hand, liturgy often means the whole complex of official services, all the rites, ceremonies, prayers, and sacraments of the Church, as opposed to private devotions. In this sense we speak of the arrangement of all these services in certain set forms (including the canonical hours, administration of sacraments, etc.), used officially by any local church, as the liturgy of such a church — the Liturgy of Antioch, the Roman Liturgy, and so on. So liturgy means rite; we speak indifferently of the Byzantine Rite or the Byzantine Liturgy. In the same sense we distinguish the official services from others by calling them liturgical; those services are liturgical which are contained in any of the official books (see LITURGICAL BOOKS) of a rite. In the Roman Church, for instance, Compline is a liturgical service, the Rosary is not.

The other sense of the word liturgy, now the common one in all Eastern Churches, restricts it to the chief official service only — the Sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist, which in our rite we call the Mass. This is now practically the only sense in which leitourgia is used in Greek, or in its derived forms (e.g., Arabic al-liturgiah) by any Eastern Christian. When a Greek speaks of the "Holy Liturgy" he means only the Eucharistic Service. For the sake of clearness it is perhaps better for us too to keep the word to this sense, at any rate in speaking of Eastern ecclesiastical matters; for instance, not to speak of the Byzantine canonical hours as liturgical services. Even in Western Rites the word "official" or "canonical" will do as well as "liturgical" in the general sense, so that we too may use Liturgy only for the Holy Eucharist.

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That's interesting - according to the most liturgical church I know :) a liturgy is not necessarily a rote thing - it is simply the public service in which sacrements are dispensed. The fact that a Baptist is not sacremental may be what prevents it from truly being a liturgy... –  Affable Geek Feb 1 '12 at 19:28
    
But based on the etymological meaning of 'liturgy' as long as what Baptists do is what they consider to be their public duty with regard to God then that fits the definition of liturgy. In fact, the OP even lists the things that Baptists have/do in their services. –  Audio Sancto Feb 1 '12 at 19:48
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Btw, "Liturgy" doesn't imply something Sacramental in the Catholic Church. For example: all religious are required to pray the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) which are the official prayers of the Church. There are no sacraments performed during these prayers but it's more properly a "liturgy" (public duty) than Mass as a priest is REQUIRED to say the Divine Office daily but he's NOT required to say Mass. –  Audio Sancto Feb 1 '12 at 19:51

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