Rituals and Worship

Worship and Devotion in Daily Life

Protestants by and large reject the idea of a priest as an intermediary standing between God and humans, advocating on behalf of the latter. For Protestants, the Holy Spirit brings humans to respond positively to the offer of grace revealed in scripture. Ministers can present this offer in the form of sermons, but everyone stands alone before God. This means that the priestly vocation, or "calling," does not give a person special status. Everyone's job is equally a calling. God needs bakers and shoemakers to serve the body of Christ (the Church) as much as God needs preachers.

Calvin worked this doctrine out with characteristic thoroughness. The German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) argued, in a thesis that is still controversial, that the sense that each job was a calling from God led to a new conception of work; it was now understood to be part of one's religious life, and part of God's plan for humans. Combined with the search for signs of God's favor that might indicate that one was part of the of the elect, the result was what Weber called the "Protestant work ethic" that lies at the foundations of capitalism (which tends to develop earliest in Calvinist regions such as Switzerland, parts of England, and North America).

Many Protestant denominations were influenced by Pietism, a renewal movement that developed in 17th-century Germany. Pietism  focused less on correct doctrine and more on the intense personal quality of the relationship a person had with God. Pietists typically met in small groups to share their religious experiences, and to encourage each other to make advances in living a Christian life. Founded by Philip Jakob Spener, and led by August Hermann Francke, Pietists required that their followers participate fully in the Lutheran Church. They did not challenge the Church's authority, or its definitions of correct doctrine, but they attempted to infuse believers with passion and commitment.

Moravians—followers of 14th-century reformer, Jan Hus, who fled Bohemia and settled on the estate of Count von Zinzendorf in Moravia, Germany—were one of the most influential Pietist groups. Other Protestant denominations adopted their practices of meeting in small groups, personal Scripture reading, and holding love feasts—services of hymn singing and meals meant to foster community harmony. John Wesley was profoundly influenced by Moravians and modeled many of his Methodist practices explicitly on Moravian models. His focus on a personal experience of salvation, on the encouragement in small groups to make progress in the Christian life, and on regular lay Bible study, are all derived from the Moravians. These have become standard features of many Protestant communities. This Pietist influence has resulted in several common contemporary features of Protestantism, in particular weeknight Bible study groups, the practice of daily scripture reading and devotions, and groups set aside for particular sub-populations to encourage faith, such as youth fellowship groups.

Some Protestant traditions, particularly those labeled "fundamentalist" in the early 20th century, adopted rigorous moral codes to encourage godly living and avoid sin. These were on the forefront of temperance movements and the passing and maintaining of "blue laws" (laws restricting business hours to help maintain the Sabbath; in many parts of the United States, liquor stores are still closed on Sundays). Conservative members of many denominations—particularly Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal denominations—have forbidden "worldly" activities that might tempt members into sin, such as card playing, dancing, drinking alcohol, smoking, and attending movies. These strict moral codes have formed one important aspect of the daily religious lives of some Protestants.

Finally, most Protestants believe that genuine faith should bear fruit, that is, it should be transformative, and thus effect the outer life of behavior, attitudes, and choices. Salvation is both a release from the penalty of sin and a growth into the likeness of Jesus Christ. This is called sanctification, which is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit helping the believer turn away from sin and toward holiness. Regular practices of private prayer, scripture study, meditation, community worship, service, and retreats—all intended to help the believer know and love Jesus–comprise the lives of many Protestants.


Study Questions:
1.     What does it mean when a Protestant talks about “calling”? Why is this not necessarily a rare event?
2.     Who was Max Weber? What did he hypothesize about Protestantism and capitalism?
3.     What is Pietism? How did the Moravians exemplify it?
4.     What behavior or activities demonstrate faith in the daily life of a Protestant ?

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