Liturgical Protestant and Non-Liturgical
Protestants may be divided into two general categories: liturgical Protestant, and non-liturgical Christian. Over time the precise meaning and significance of this distinction underwent something of an evolution. Protestant Christianity existed for some five centuries in two forms, distinguished by differences in discipline and worship. On one side were those who retained from the long past the rule of bishops and the use of a book of prayer. On the other side were those who for various reasons had discontinued these ancient customs.
At the dawn of the Reformation, as in all Roman worship to this day, the central element in the public service was the mass. Its ancient ritual began with a brief invocation, followed by a confession of sin by the priest, the announcement of absolution to the penitent, to which succeeded the "introit," or introduction to the mass proper, consisting of a brief hymn, closing with the Kyrie eleison and the Gloria. To it succeeded the brief prayers known as "collects," the reading of the appropriate passages from the Epistles and the Gospels, the Nicene Creed, the consecration of the elements, the ascription "Holy, holy, holy "; the Lord's Prayer, the Agnus Dei; participation in the elements, a brief hymn of praise (the Benedicamus), and the concluding benediction.
The reformers modified this ancient liturgy. They insisted that worship be in the language of the people instead of in Latin; they provided for much more extensive reading of the Scriptures; they made, save in England, a chief place for the sermon; and, in the non-Lutheran and non-Anglican churches, they divorced the communion from its historic and central place in all public worship.
That the Baptists are among the oldest of the non-liturgical and nonprelatical branches of Christ's Church, and more than likely are in reality the oldest, is generally conceded and grows more certain with the progress of scholarly investigation. It is, however, to be admitted that their origin is obscure. The beginnings of some of the post-Reformation denominations are easily determined and are marked by national upheavals and crises; but this is not the case with the Baptists, and seems to indicate that they belong to the pre-Reformation period.
The conservative character of the Lutheran Reformation was to retain everything that was not contrary to the Scriptures, and that could be spiritually helpful to the believer. Luther had no intention of organizing a new church body. It may be noted that in the Lutheran worship there is a fixed order of progression. By this we distinguish between a liturgical and a non-liturgical church. Luther approached the necessity of liturgical reforms with the reverence and conservatism that characterized him. Some things were wrong and needed to be removed or changed. Among them were the worship of the saints and the Virgin and other idolatry, and the abuse of the Mass, the Lord's Supper being regarded as a sacrifice offered to God by the priest in behalf of the people. Some things, on the other hand, were right, and they should be retained. This would include as much as possible of the historic orders of worship, furnishings, music, vestments, lights, as well as the use of such ceremonies as were not contrary to the Word of God.
The aim and effect of the liturgical system is to make the mass of worshippers as independent as possible of the individual minister. At lowest, the non-liturgical method secures that the worship of the church shall be a true reflection of her life, and therefore, however beggarly, at least sincere. The aim, if not the effect, of the non-liturgical method is that men who preach their own sermons and pray their own prayers may be more likely to preach and pray as they believe and live, than those who merely read compositions provided to their hand. No stringency of articles and confessions effectually checked the disintegration and transformation of dogma in a non-liturgical society, which had only its preachers to maintain its standards.
Around the year 1900 the many forms of Christian worship might be divided into two great classes, liturgical and non-liturgical. To the former class belong the Greek and Roman Catholic churches, and the Episcopal, Lutheran and Moravian Protestant churches. To the latter class belong those Protestant bodies which do not make use of established formulas for prayer and devotion. A service which included only such set forms as a doxology or the Lord's Prayer cannot in any strict sense of the word be called liturgical. Nor can the term be applied to a service merely because its different parts follow one another in some customary order. A non-liturgical worship was one that did not employ a liturgy in the well-known and established sense of that term. Such worship was that in common use among the Baptists, Congregationalists, Disciples, Methodists, Presbyterians, and numerous other smaller denominations.
No higher Christian scholarship, no higher ideals of personal and church life, no more consistent enthusiasm are found anywhere than among the Episcopalians. No body of Christians has been more consecrated to the work of missions than the Moravians, whose forms of worship are largely liturgical. There were multitudes, however, who chafed under the restraint of fixed forms. They loved freedom and spontaneity in public worship. They admitted that while such extempore utterances fall far short of the beautiful and stately periods that have been hallowed by long use in the world's great liturgies, nevertheless their very freshness and individuality give them-an acceptance like that which an earthly father would accord to his child's unstudied petitions rather than to the most polished requests read from a book. It is needless to say that under this free worship there had been examples of genuine spiritual power as great as have been witnessed anywhere in the Christian church. Such were John Knox, John Wesley, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Henry Ward Beecher, Dwight L. Moody - to mention only a few out of a multitude.
In the late 19th Century there were in the United States at least twenty-seven different Methodisms. Among these there were differences in Church polity. There were Episcopal Methodists, and there were non-Episcopal Methodists; there were ordained Bishops, and there were unordained - not ordained for special work as Bishops are - presidents and ex-presidents; and there were presiding elders of districts, and there were superintendents of the same. There were liturgical Methodists and there were non-liturgical Methodists; those who used a liturgy and there were those who worship without, or according to the simplest, forms.
A century later the term "liturgical Protestant" referred to those Christian Protestant denominations whose services included a set liturgy or order of worship. This primarily included those Protestant traditions or denominations that began during the Protestant Reformation and who retained an established liturgy in their worship services such as Lutheran, Reformed and Episcopal denominations, and the denominations which later evolved from them, e.g., Presbyterian and Methodist." While every church has some "order" to its worship, these Protestant denominations do not have a worship service without the prescribed liturgy. Another common feature of these liturgical denominations is that they all practice infant baptism. Also known as "high church" or "main line churches," the term "liturgical Protestant" is used to refer to the Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, Methodist Episcopal, United Church of Christ, Congregational, Reformed and Presbyterian denominations, and the Orthodox tradition.
In contrast, "non-liturgical" denoted Christian denominations or faith groups that do not have a formal liturgy or order in their worship service. These groups baptize only adults or children who have reached "the age of reason" and their clergy do not usually wear vestments or special religious dress during services. Referred to by some as "low church," the non-liturgical Christian categories include Baptist, Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Charismatic faith groups. These faith groups are called "non-liturgical Protestant." Even non-liturgical churches do have some form of liturgical service. Indeed, this whole question of liturgy is largely a question of degree rather than of nature, ranging all the way from the simplicity of the Quaker meeting to the elaborateness of the Anglican high church ritual. The comparative bareness of the service in our non-liturgical churches is not so much a denial of the principle of a liturgy as it is a recoil against the excessive liturgy of ritualism.
Many people who have not given the matter much thought and have not been used to its practical meaning confound "liturgy" with "rite" or "canon." This confounds the subject. By "liturgy" is meant an established order of services in public worship, including prayers, hymns, scripture readings. Among the nonliturgical people they are rather loosely called, "order of services" or "preliminaries." For the non-liturgical, they are very solidly established - not by ecclesiastical authority, but by custom of long standing, widely followed. There is an "Order of Service" chiefly because congregations do not like surprises. They dislike to sing where they are expecting to listen.
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