Southern Baptist Liturgy

I was amused by Nancy Tatom Ammerman’s description of the uniformity of Southern Baptist worship through much of the twentieth century. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

“The worship styles of SBC churches were in fact so routine that only the hymn numbers might change from Sunday to Sunday or place to place. Services varied mostly in the degree of polish and formality given to them in churches of varying sizes and resources. An organ (Hammonds and Wurlitzers were popular) played famliar hymn tunes as the congregation gathered and again later as they dispersed. A period of congregational prayers and singing opened the service, followed by an offering (usually taken up by deacons). There was a special number from the choir or soloist, a sermon of about thirty minutes, and an invitation hymn – often “Just as I am” or “Softly and Tenderly” – when sinners were exhorted to be saved and new members were encouraged to join. Both sermon and invitation focused the attention of listeners on the importance of making a personal decision to accept Christ. The service closed with a spontaneous prayer from someone in the congregation. Then everyone would file past the preacher at the door, heading home for a special meal, or perhaps to the local cafeteria (just in time to beat the Methodists whose liturgy often took a but longer). Although Souther Baptists vigorously claimed to be a “nonliturgical” denomination, there was a liturgy as predictable as in any church with a prayer book. Like the Latin Mass, it provided a universalizing experience for those who participated in it.”

Nancy Tatom Ammerman, Baptist Battles (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990), 59-60.


About Eric Smith

Sinner saved by the grace of Jesus, husband of Candace, father of Coleman and Crockett, West Tennessean, pastor of Sharon Baptist Church, student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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