In the Baptist tradition, both worship and devotion in daily life reflect characteristic Baptist emphases, the two most prominent being the fundamental importance of the Bible and the significance of the individual Christian's direct, immediate relationship with God.
With respect to corporate worship, Baptist churches are among those traditions that are often referred to as "non-liturgical." This can be misleading because, strictly speaking, all Christian churches and traditions--however formal or informal, however "scripted" or "free-flowing," however historical and traditional or contemporary and innovative--follow a liturgy or liturgies. That is, they conduct their corporate worship in accord with central and characteristic beliefs and commitments. This is true in the Baptist tradition. Within the tradition, because of the autonomy of each local congregation, there is no standard order of service or liturgy that is prescribed by a higher or overarching ecclesiastical authority. Thus, each Baptist congregation is free to formulate corporate worship as it chooses. There are, nonetheless, elements and characteristics of corporate worship that are fairly common among Baptist churches.
Church architecture and furnishings can be informative embodiments of the beliefs and practices of Christian traditions. In the sanctuary of a Baptist church, the pulpit is usually the most centrally located and readily visible piece of furniture at the front of the room. This is indicative of the importance that the proclamation--that is, the preaching and teaching--of the Bible has in Baptist corporate worship. One may also see a cross, a table, a baptismal tank, and a choir loft.
Baptists are often called "people of the Book," and this is reflected in Baptist corporate worship. Most worship services culminate in a sermon preached by a pastor. The primary exceptions to this are services in which a baptism or the Lord's Supper is celebrated, in which cases the ordinance often follows the sermon. The sermon is not to be merely a brief homily or a time of personal remarks by the pastor, but rather a substantive proclamation and teaching of "the Word of God." The pastor can use his or her discretion in selecting the portions of scripture that will be preached on from week to week.
In addition to the sermon, common elements of the corporate worship service include, in varying sequences, prayers (usually lead by a pastor or a lay-leader), the singing of hymns and choruses by the congregation, singing by a choir and/or a smaller musical group or soloist, a time for congregants to greet one another, and a reading from scripture (which may or may not immediately accompany the sermon). Some Baptist churches also frequently include a time for individuals to give a personal testimony to God's work in their life, or an "altar call" by the pastor, in which he or she calls upon people to come forward to confess their sins and to pray for forgiveness and spiritual renewal. In all of this, guidance from the Bible will be noted and the individual's personal and direct relationship with God will be emphasized.
The same beliefs and values are reflected in Baptist patterns of devotion in daily life. The primary connections between corporate worship and devotion in daily life are the Bible and the individual Christian's living in accord with it. Thus, a common practice among Baptist Christians is to strive for a daily "quiet time" or "devotions," often consisting of prayer and either reflective reading or study of one or more passages of scripture. Also included may be the reading of a selection from a Christian devotional writing. In keeping with the emphasis on the individual's direct relationship with God, there is no prescribed or expected manual that orders these times of private devotion, though many Baptist Christians will choose some kind of devotional book or guide to help structure these times. Some Baptist churches recommend or encourage their members to use various resources to guide and enrich these times of personal devotion.
In part because the Baptist tradition is not sacramental, there are no necessary and explicit connections between corporate worship and devotion in daily life. Members of Baptist churches do not need either the Church or clergy to oversee or mediate their personal devotion to and with God. Baptist practice desires and intends that what takes place in corporate worship will encourage and inform devotion in daily life and that the spiritual nurture that occurs through devotion in daily life will enrich and energize participation in corporate worship.
Another important dimension of devotion in daily life is "outward" in its orientation. In addition to what can be described as "inward" attention to increasing growth in spiritual maturity, or Christlikeness, there is also in the Baptist tradition an outward orientation that motivates and informs devotion in daily life. As Christians grow in spiritual maturity, their daily lives are meant to serve as a witness to the world, to those who are not followers of Christ. Through not only learning what the Bible says but also allowing God, through the Holy Spirit, to shape one's thoughts, speech, and conduct, one becomes a witness to the reality and work of Jesus Christ in the midst of the routines of daily life.
1. Why are Baptist churches labeled “non-liturgical”? Why is this misleading?
2. How is Baptist corporate worship structured?
3. What does the architecture of a Baptist church reveal about the tradition’s emphasis?
4. Describe common elements within Baptist corporate worship.
5. Why are personal devotions of particular importance to the Baptist faith?