The primary place of worship for Protestants is a church. The structure, style and function of churches varies depending on the region, the time period it was built, and the denomination of Protestantism. Some are ornate and may contain various symbols, while others are simple. Regardless, nearly all churches act as a religious centre for the local community. Churches act as the meeting place for congregational prayer, weekly worship services and a place of religious education. In many parts of the world, the church and the building itself play an important role in community activities and non-religious use.
One of the major distinguishing features of Protestant denominations from Catholic or churches is the use of icons or religious imagery. Most Protestant churches hold the view that such imagery is distracting and potentially contradictory to the preaching and teaching of the Bible. As a result, Protestant religious buildings are generally characterised by a simple and more plain aesthetic than the spaces of Catholic and churches. Moreover, some denominations of Protestantism like Pentecostal may rent a non-religious building (such as a school hall or store fronts) as a relatively inexpensive and accessible place to hold their weekly ceremony. Some churches may also start as small gatherings in private homes.
Non-Protestants are permitted to visit a church and attend regular or special services. Visitors are expected to be respectful through modest dress and considerate speech. There are a number of common forms of etiquette one should follow. For example, most denominations allow visitors to participate in services, but some churches limit participation in communion to church members or professed Christians.
Handling Religious Texts
There is a general belief among Protestants that the important aspect of the Bible is the scriptures and teachings. As such, while one is expected to respect the physical Bible, Protestants are quite relaxed when it comes to handling religious texts. For instance, it is usually permissible for people to write notes on or highlight their personal copies of their Bible, usually for the purpose of improving one’s understanding of the Scriptures. Some people also use digital forms of the Bible (such as on their smartphone). It is also acceptable to throw an old copy of the Bible away, but it should be done respectfully (e.g. placed in a bin or recycled rather than actively destroying the book).
The most common symbol in Protestant churches is the cross, which symbolises the centrality of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Most Protestant crosses are not crucifixes (i.e. do not have the body of Jesus portrayed on the cross). Rather, the cross is left empty, which is usually to emphasise the resurrection of Jesus.
Music plays a prominent role in worship practices of some Protestant denominations. There is a large variety of music styles and lyrics among the Protestant churches that use music (Anglican, Calvinist, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist and Pentecostal). For instance, Lutheran and Methodist churches are usually characterised by the singing of hymns. Meanwhile, Reformed churches may only sing Psalms (songs found specifically in the Bible). Pentecostal and some Baptist churches use gospel music, which incorporates genres such as jazz, blues and rock.
The instruments used vary among churches. Some opt for more traditional instruments like an organ and choir, while others may avoid the use of instruments. Those churches that incorporate contemporary music use a variety of instruments such as electric and acoustic guitars, drums and a lead singer. Congregations usually participate in musical expression, though this varies depending on the music style. Pentecostal churches usually have the majority of the congregation participating in clapping, dancing and other physical movements.
There is no formal dress code for lay persons in Protestant traditions. However, there are general people follow when entering a church. Individuals are commonly expected to dress modestly by covering the shoulders, chest and knees. Some churches have a more formal dress code, while other churches allow for their congregation to dress casually. When in doubt, it is best to err on the side of formality. Some Protestant churches (e.g. Anglican and Lutheran) have ministers who wear specific clothing while others may dress in regular formal or casual clothing.
A common article of clothing worn by some lay Christians is a necklace of the cross. The cross is a symbolic representation of Christian faith and those who wear a cross usually do so as a sign of their commitment to Christianity.
There are no strict rules or around diet in Protestant traditions. However, historically there have been several prescribed times of fasting. For example, the forty days of Lent were traditionally a time of abstinence. This has gradually been relaxed over time. However, the holy days of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are now kept as Lenten fast days. Some Protestants also follow the tradition of observing a meatless fast on Fridays during Lent.
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