Sunday, March 22, 2009

Do baptists have a communion liturgy?

“Do baptists have a way of doing communion?” I was asked in passing this morning. A few weeks ago, I spent time with the children in the church, talking with them about communion. It was part of a church wide process, in which we took time to explore communion, it’s why’s and wherefore’s. Hence the question, as to whether baptists have a way of doing communion.

My answer is yes, Baptist’s do have a communion liturgy. Each church is different, but there are some repeated patterns. Here’s my take on the “liturgy.”

explain – an explanation, often more devotional in format, in which the meaning of communion is explained.

pray – often 2 people, one for the bread, and one for the cup, pray.

invite – some indication is given of who can participate.

distribute – the elements are passed around. This tends to be individualistic and passive, with bread on trays and juice in little cups.

eat and drink – time is spent, usually individually, thinking upon the meaning of the cup.

thank – often a prayer of thanks.

A Baptist liturgy is not based on a whole lot of words. But the above is based on a clear theology. The explanation tends to focus on the events of the Last supper. This does make it “thin” (too thin in my opinion, missing Incarnation, resurrection, Spirit and eschatology), but it is a way of telling the story. The two people who pray are rarely clergy, because the priesthood of all believers is encouraged. Equally, going forward is viewed with suspicion, because of the danger of affirming a “priest” as essential in what is an equal table.

My journey has pushed me toward what I would call a bapti-can liturgy. It seeks to honour the richness of being baptist: a theology of community, a unease with ritual and words for the sake of words, an expectation of “communion” with God. But it adds in a greater theological breadth (weaving in themes of Incarnation, resurrection, Spirit and eschatology) in the explanation, ensures the prayer invokes the Spirit to make Jesus real, encourages people to come forward to receive from each other to enhance participation and community contact, distribution which includes the breaking of one loaf and the placing of pieces of that loaf on the trays alongside those small squares, visuals and creativity to provide multiple layers as people eat and drink, a final thanks which often includes the Lords Prayer as a way of expressing our unity with each other and the church world wide.

So yes, Baptists do have a communion liturgy.

Posted by steve at 05:30 PM


  1. That sounds very familiar Steve and is a good summation of my 44 years of Baptist experience.

    I find myself wondering though if the liturgy is a help or a hindrance.

    I doubt I will ever change it significantly for some, but for others a variety of expressions may be helpful. It does feel like one of those aspects of church that is not very open to ‘experimentation’ though and you would do so at your peril!

    Comment by Andrew Hamilton — March 22, 2009 @ 7:51 pm

  2. thanks andrew. we’re making lots of changes here at opawa and it’s proving a pretty rich experience.


    Comment by steve — March 22, 2009 @ 8:42 pm

  3. Steve you’ve nailed Baptist ‘liturgy’ very well. What you’ve nailed though is very much the problem. The ‘explaining’ bit always sucks the life out of what should be an encounter [the explanation is usually poorly done].
    I have found thatin my congregation people respond very well to prepared prayers and words of invitation. They commonly approach me after the service and ask me to e-mail the words to them!
    That caught mt attention. The primary frustration for me in an extempore tradition is that very few people are good with off the cuff talking and the language is therefore consequentially basic at best and at worst – a pastiche of Christian cliches.

    Another difference I’ve introduced is to end the passivity of Baptist communion and get people out of their seats. Some don’t like this, but they are usually the grumpy ones.

    Having said the above, I do like the freedom of not being locked into a prayer book week in week out!

    Comment by Gordon — April 4, 2009 @ 12:31 pm

  4. Thanks Gordon.

    For me the key is what you do with words. Words can narrow or open, close or evoke, bore or inspire. To not explain assumes that everyone knows and that to me is not hospitable to outsiders, or our children. Look through a good anglican liturgy and it explains – tells the story of creation and redemption. So I very carefully work on my explainations. I seek poetry. I open up different atonement images.

    In terms of people coming forward, we do that and I’m still not convinced it is the one-shot solution. Some of our people have noted a loss of reverence and I think they are onto something. When anglicans come forward they kneel. Not sure baptists should do that, given our notions of priesthood,

    IMHO it’s not fair to anglican liturgy to describe them as “locked” in – a NZ anglican prayer book has huge variety and freedom.


    Comment by steve — April 4, 2009 @ 12:58 pm

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