Peel away the superficial alterations that make each church service distinct and you will find the same prescribed liturgy. See how many of the following elements you recall from the last weekend service you attended:
The Greeting. As you enter the building, you are greeted by an usher or an appointed greeter—who should be smiling! You are then handed a bulletin or announcement page. (Note: If you are part of some newer denominations, you may drink coffee and eat doughnuts before you are seated.)
Prayer or Scripture Reading. Usually given by the pastor or song leader.
There are three exceptions to this point. The Plymouth Brethren (both Open and Closed) have an encased liturgy where there is some open sharing among the congregants at the beginning of the service. Nevertheless, the order of service is the same every week. Old-school Quakers have an open meeting where the congregants are silent until someone is "enlightened," after which they share. The third exception are "high church" Protestant churches, which retain the "smells and bells" of an elaborate Catholic Mass-including a prescribed order of service.
The word liturgy is derived from the Greek word leitourgia, which referred to the performance of a public task expected of citizens of ancient Athens; in other words, it was the fulfilling of civil obligations. Christians picked it up to refer to the public ministry to God. A liturgy, therefore, is simply a worship service or a prescribed order of worship. White, Protestant Worship and Church Architecture, 22; Ferguson, Early Christians Speak 83. See also J. D. Davies, The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986), 314.
The Song Service. Led by a professional song leader, choir, or worship team. In charismatic-styled churches, this part of the service typically lasts thirty to forty-five consecutive minutes. In other churches, it is shorter and may be divided into several segments.
The Announcements. News about upcoming events. Usually given by the pastor or some other church leader.
The Offering. Sometimes called "the offertory," it is usually accompanied by special music by the choir, worship team, or a soloist.
The Sermon. Typically, the pastor delivers an oration lasting twenty to forty-five minutes.' The current average is thirty-two minutes.
Your service may also have included one or more of the following post-sermon activities:
An after-the-sermon pastoral prayer, An altar call,
More singing led by the choir or worship team,
The Lord's Supper,
Prayer for the sick or afflicted.
The Benediction. This may be in the form of a blessing from the pastor or a song to end the service.
With some minor rearrangements, this is the unbroken liturgy that 345 million Protestants across the globe observe religiously week after week.' And for the last five hundred years, few people have questioned it.
Look again at the order of worship. Notice that it includes a
See chapter 4 tor a complete discussion on the roots of the sermon.
There are an estimated 345.855,000 Protestants in the world, 70,164.000 are in North America, and 77,497,000 are in Europe. The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2003 (New York: World Almanac Education Group, 2003), 638.
threefold structure: (1) singing, (2) the sermon, and (3) closing prayer or song. This order of worship is viewed as sacrosanct in the eyes of many present-day Christians. But why? Again, it is due simply to the titanic power of tradition. And that tradition has set the Sunday morning order of worship in concrete for five centuries . . . never to be moved.'
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