Rituals and Practices
The two most important and common rituals among the Protestant denominations are baptism and communion (also known as the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist). In some Protestant denominations, these two practices are referred to collectively as ‘sacraments’ or ‘ordinances’. While these practices are considered important, they are usually not viewed as necessary for salvation. This is in contrast to the Catholic tradition, in which seven sacred rites (i.e. the Seven Sacraments) are recognised as a necessary means of receiving grace.
Baptism is considered to be one of the most important rites in Christianity. Baptism refers to the rite of immersing, pouring or sprinkling water onto the head of the person being baptised. Typically, the rite is performed by an ordained minister or authorised . Nearly all denominations of Protestantism practise baptism, although the specifics of the rite vary.
The level of contact with water and the age of baptism depends on the tradition of Protestantism. For example, in more formally structured churches such as Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican and Methodist, baptism occurs when one is an infant. Meanwhile, churches that are part of the Anabaptist and Baptist tradition believe baptism requires one to be a believer who can freely and genuinely profess their faith (typically when they are teenagers or young adults). Baptism usually symbolises purification of the person and admission into Christianity and the respective church.
Communion (also known as the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist) is a major and commonly practised ritual in Protestantism. Typically, a congregation will partake in eating a piece of bread and drinking grape juice or wine, symbolising the body and blood of Jesus Christ, respectively. Specific practices among Protestant churches vary. For instance, some churches practice communion regularly while others do so once a month. During communion, Protestants typically reflect on the symbolic importance of Jesus’ sacrifice and crucifixion on the cross. Participating in communion during Easter is usually considered to hold special significance.
In some Protestant traditions that do not practise infant baptism (such as Baptist and Pentecostal), a common rite at birth is a dedication service. This practice is to mark the birth of the baby. It is also a time for the parents to promise to raise the child in accordance to Christian values and as part of the church community.
Some denominations of the Protestant tradition (such as Anglican and Methodist) practise ‘confirmation’. This event serves to confirm a baptised person in their faith. The ritual can occur as early as seven, but it is commonly received when the person is a young teenager. During a confirmation, a bishop or priest places their hands on the person and offers a prayer and blessing. The act of ‘sealing’ confirms the person is a member of the church and also welcomes the inner presence of the Holy Spirit.
refers to the Christian practice of charity whereby a Christian offers a set proportion of their wealth. The act of is usually voluntary, with some exceptional cases depending on the country and the Christian denomination requiring a set amount of wealth. During a church service, a basket dedicated to collecting is passed around the congregation. It is generally expected that one has their prepared in advance to place in the basket.
Practices of communal worship vary across the Protestant denominations. There is a general distinction between liturgical (‘high church’) and non-liturgical (‘low church’) churches. This differentiation is based on the degree to which the church’s worship is elaborate, standardised and whether it contains formalised rituals.
Typical practices in liturgical churches include special attire for the clergy, religious symbols, recitation of prayers, observance of a yearly liturgical calendar and performing sacraments or ordinances (especially communion). The Anglican, Episcopal and Lutheran churches are considered to be liturgical.
Meanwhile, non-liturgical churches such as Baptist and Pentecostal usually have no standardised form and typically do not hold a formal ceremony around communion. Rather, worship is centred around a loose structure of music, Bible readings, a sermon and prayers. Services may also be spontaneous depending on the occasion. The congregation may be more active by reciting, responding, standing, etc.
Individual or private worship includes prayer, contemplation, singing and reading or studying the Bible. Some denominations of Protestantism emphasise group Bible study in each other’s homes. Some Protestants pray before or after partaking in a meal (sometimes referred to as ‘saying grace’) as a way to show gratitude. Other common times for praying include when one wakes up and before one goes to sleep.
A common gesture during prayer is the pressing of one’s hands together (known as ‘folded hands’). This is usually done when in prayer. A variation of folded hands is interlacing the fingers. Some people may also kneel on the ground with their hands pressed together as they pray. These hand gestures and body poses are often used as a way to express one’s submission and devotion to God. Some people may also link hands with others, or hold their hands open.
Preaching is generally understood as speech by an authorised minister to a believing congregation or community. Typically, preaching includes expositions and interpretations of a section of the Bible. The purpose of preaching is principally, though not exclusively, directed to the church congregation as a means to teach, strengthen and enthuse the community. Nearly all Christian churches regard preaching as an essential part of Christianity, although some Protestant churches place more emphasis on the practice than others. This is usually reflected in the structure of the church building. For example, Anglican and Reformed churches usually position pulpits in prominent places (such as the front of the church), or they may act as the centrepiece of the building.
The weekly ceremony of most Protestant denominations is held on the Sabbath, which Christians generally perceive as Sunday. The structure and contents of a church’s weekly ceremony depends on whether the denomination follows liturgical or non-liturgical worship styles. Nonetheless, the weekly ceremony of most Protestant churches includes reading excerpts of the Bible and congregational prayer. Some church services may have a special section for children (sometimes referred to as ‘Sunday School’ or ‘Children’s Church’), which allows children to be involved in the church and learn the basic tenets of Christianity.
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