- A liturgy is the ordered form of worship used by a church, including prayers, readings, and ceremonial acts such as the administration of the Eucharist/LoRD's Supper. Traditionally, Christian church liturgies were distinguished by the language in which they were spoken (Greek, Latin), the people with whom they are identified (Celtic, Slavic), the author (St. Chrysostom, Basil) and/or the doctrinal position assumed (Roman, Orthodox). With the Reformation, many theological and political issues began to shape church liturgy as well, especially in the new churches.The shape and content of the liturgy became a crucial issue in England, where Catholics and Reformed Church adherents strongly disagreed over particular acts in the liturgy, in particular the Eucharist, as well as over the vestments worn by the officiating clergy. The compromise mandated by Elizabeth I, known as the via media, had the effect of setting the Anglican liturgy as recorded in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England.Liturgy marks one area in which Protestantism is most clearly distinguished from Roman Catholicism and from Eastern Orthodoxy The Roman Catholic Church tries to ensure a common liturgy that gives a certain sameness and familiarity to worship from one congregation to another. The same is true in the various Eastern orthodox communions and the several Roman Catholic Eastern-Rite churches. Not so in Protestantism. Protestantism includes a bewildering variety of liturgies and forms of "nonliturgical" worship. The variations appeared in the 16th century and have grown steadily since.Lutherans considered themselves a liturgical church, that is, a church that regularly proclaimed the Gospel and administered the Lord's Supper within a framework of an orderly pattern of worship. Its constituting documents, beginning with the Augsburg Confession of Faith, treated a variety of liturgical issues, focusing on similarities and differences between Lutheran liturgy and the Latin-language liturgy commonly used in the Roman Catholic Church at the time. For example, the sacramental elements of bread and wine were both to be given to the people during the Lord's Supper, not just the bread. The Lutherans also added the use of German-language hymns, a first step in their eventual abandonment of Latin for Sunday worship.In reforming the liturgy, Martin Luther rejected both the aspects of Catholic worship he considered contrary to the Bible and the extreme iconoclasm of his colleague Bodenstein of Carlstadt (1480-1541). Luther continued to refer to the Sunday service as a "mass," and while translating the service into German, retained some Latin. The existing sermon was made more important, with Sunday worship becoming a service of word and sacrament. Luther introduced his first revised liturgy in 1525. As it was passed to Lutheran churches in other lands, local leaders felt free to make changes and revisions.The Reformed churches were not primarily concerned with liturgy. They continued using Roman Catholic liturgy, correcting it where required by theology and biblical precedent, simplifying it, and upgrading the level of congregational participation, in part through singing psalms. The most noticeable change was the translation into the language of the congregation.over the centuries, the liturgies of the Protestant churches underwent changes according to the demands of the times and the desires of various communities. Attempts to emphasize aesthetics sometimes conflicted with the needs of personal devotion and the intimacy of interpersonal communion. Some identified the ordered liturgy as the "letter" that killed the "spirit," and advocated more spontaneous forms of worship as found in the Free Churches and modern Pentecostalism. The most extreme abandonment of liturgy occurred among the unprogrammed Quakers, for whom worship often meant sitting quietly awaiting a movement of the Spirit within the congregation.The 20th century saw a movement among Protestant churches to revise the commonly used worship formats to make them more contemporary in language and more relevant in approach, without abandoning the essential affirmations of the church. Generally, Protestant churches do not demand that local congregations adopt uniform styles of worship. Many congregations follow suggested forms but adapt them with local changes and variations. Liturgical change in the late 20th century has often reflected the claim that the older liturgies do not resonate with the non-European Protestant majority, women, or various outsider communities.In the Protestant and Free Churches, despite the wide variety of worship formats, some common elements generally appear in Sunday worship. They include the singing of hymns, readings from the Bible, communal prayers, and sermons. Protestant churches vary widely in the frequency of the Lord's Supper, from weekly to annually Most churches, even those that have no set order for Sunday worship, use a liturgy for the Lord's Supper.There has been a noticeable cross-fertilization of liturgical formats in the 20th century as a result of increased ecumenical contact. Among the more liturgically oriented churches, the use of various new forms of worship and prayer has become noticeable. Among the Free Churches, there has been a movement to explore and recover the cen-trality of liturgy that was undeniably present in the greater part of Christian history.Further reading:■ Horton Davies, Christian Worship: Its History and Meaning (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1957)■ Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright, Edward Yarnold, and Paul Bradshaw, eds., The Study of Liturgy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992)■ James F White, A Brief History of Christian Worship (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1993); , Protestant Worship: Traditions in Transition (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1987)■ William H. Willimon, Word, Water, Wine and Bread (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1980).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.