Q. Why do Nazarenes use liturgy during the celebration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper?
A. The first of the three core values of the Church of the Nazarene is “We are Christian.” It shows up clearly in how we celebrate the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (also known as Holy Communion or Eucharist).
From the earliest centuries, communities of Christian faith have used liturgy—from the Greek word leitourgia meaning “work of the people”—as the actions and words by which we express our devotion to God. While liturgy can be used at any time during worship, it is prominent during the celebration of the sacraments (meaning “mysteries”).
The New Testament contains examples of liturgy. Ephesians 5:14 commands: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead and Christ’s light will shine on you.” This was likely an early Christian formula given to a person about to be baptized. In the same way, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 reports some of what Jesus said at the Last Supper.
Combining actions and words, Jesus developed a simply liturgy. He took the cup and gave thanks, saying: “This is my body” (v. 24) and “This is my blood” (v. 25), concluding: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus had just completed with His disciples observance of another ancient liturgy, the celebration of the Jewish Passover. By introducing a new liturgy for Christians, He validated liturgy as having enduring value under the New Covenant.
The Church of the Nazarene, a Christian denomination in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, recognizes the sacraments as means of grace, practices that strengthen our faith. Further, our Nazarene Manual provides liturgy (or rituals) for the celebration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
This is an acknowledgment of the enduring worth of sacraments accompanied by liturgy as expressions of our solidarity across space and time with all communities that confess Jesus as Lord. Such solidarity requires us to welcome any follower of Christ, whether Nazarene or belonging to another Christian group, to participate in Holy Communion.
In the words of our ritual (Manual 802), “Let us not forget that we are one, at one table with the Lord.” Nazarenes—as part of the larger family of all believers—joyfully embrace actions and words that enrich our worship in general, and the celebration of the sacraments in particular.
In a world of rapid change, liturgy serves as a powerful reminder that we are united as part of the historic Christian story, a story that began long before we arrived on the scene and that will continue long after we are gone. What a story!
Gregory Crofford serves as Coordinator for Education and Clergy Development on the Africa Region (Church of the Nazarene). Holiness Today March/April 2016