November 24, 2017

The Evangelical Liturgy 8: The Public Reading of Scripture

Scripture reading cropFor beginners, read the Introduction to this series, then visit the categories menu and hit “Evangelical Liturgy” for all previous entries. In a sentence, I’m walking through all the parts of the traditional Protestant worship service and discussing the value of recovering our own liturgical tradition.

In March 07, I wrote “The Strange Case of the Missing Scripture Lessons.” It is a good companion to this topic.

In most liturgical worship services, somewhere between 10-15 minutes of the worship service is taken up in the public reading of scripture. In the most common traditions, the lectionary texts for the day are read or sung responsively and/or by readers. This may include a Psalm of the day, an Old Testament lesson, a New Testament lesson and a reading from the Gospels, which is often the basis of the sermon. Scripture sentences may punctuate other portions of worship and it isn’t unknown for the sermon to occasionally make use of a different text than any of the lessons.

In many evangelical churches, particularly those of a more contemporary flavor, public reading of the Bible is avoided. Scripture will be scattered across a few song lyrics and inserted as point prompts or proof texts in the sermon. There will be no scripture lessons, no reading of scripture outside of the use of scripture in some function of the service and no sense that extended scripture reading is a high and worthy use of time in worship.

Ironically, it will be the liturgical church and its scripture saturated service that will be called “liberal” by the Bible-waving, but not Bible reading evangelical church. Declarations of confidence in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God will dwell in puzzling juxtaposition with worship services where the most scripture encountered is in popcorned bits projected between film clips and other visuals.

All this against the backdrop of multiple commands and examples in both Testaments leading any reasonably bright fifth grader to the conclusion that the public reading of scripture is an essential component of worship. As Paul says in I Timothy 4:13 Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.

It’s here that the logic of the church growth/seeker sensitive approach to worship runs into a wall. Reading scripture publicly is boring, it takes work and it takes time. It requires explanation and if your mantra has been “we aren’t like your old boring church,” you could get sued.

Churches that undertake the reading of scripture lessons as a discipline give this a high and prominent place in worship. Readers should be trained. Attention should be paid to diction and the proper rubrics. Names, places and other obstacles should be anticipated.

This is not private scripture reading- a valuable discipline that should never be demoted- but the public reading of the Word of God in the church. The reading of scripture lessons is the reading and hearing of the Word of God- his covenant book- in the presence of his people. It is full of warnings, blessing, promises, curses and examples. It is the primary Gospel story and Gospel announcement. There can be no talk of submission and confidence in a Word that we are reluctant to read to one another.

Some small churches I know simply read a full chapter at every service. Yes, Ezekiel and Leviticus, too. Others use the lectionary and three lessons. Many liturgical churches have a copy of the Gospels and they carry it into the congregation for the reading, with the people singing Alleluias all around. It is a beautiful thing.

Readers can be of many ages, both genders and every station of life.

The Word can be read plainly, responsively, dramatically and creatively. Varying translations may be acceptable unless leadership is seeking to unify around one.

The reading of the Word can be followed by responses or silence.

Lectionaries can be printed for the congregation so that everyone will know what scriptures are being used in Lord’s Day worship. When devotional life, reading, worship and preaching revolve around the lectionary, there’s real unity in the community.

If your church does not read scripture publicly, start modestly. Don’t turn them into Anglicans or Lutherans in a week. Train readers. Explain why you are using more scripture reading. Use the phrase we used in soli deo: “The sermon is the servant of the scripture.”

Encourage people to hear the Word and to follow along. There is no compelling reason to say worship requires one or the other.

Pray for a reformation of the public reading of scripture among evangelicals. What a shame that among those who claim so much love for the Bible, one hears so little of the Bible.

Until that reformation comes, read Eugene Peterson’s excellent take on the role of scripture in worship. Any of his books will address this.

Comments

  1. The reading of Torah is the most important point of the Sabbath service. Once a year, at Simchat Torah (loosely translated as Rejoicing in the Torah), the community celebrates that the Torah has completed an annual cycle, the scrolls will be taken out of the ark and the community will dance with joy. And then the whole cycle starts over again.

    But then Judaism is a religion in which the Scriptures are the primary way in which we can “see” the Almighty.

    • Yes, the Christian liturgical tradition of scripture reading around a church year is a pretty direct borrowing from Jewish synaogue practice. In fact, the synoptic gospels seem to have been COMPOSED around several ancient church calendars–the number of sections, and themes for each section, were designed to match the Torah readings for that day. (See John Spong’s “Reclaiming the Gospels,” though this wasn’t originally his idea.)

    • In our relatively new, hebraic-flavored fellowship, we’d been struggling with how to handle the scripture readings. Many of us had come from Messianic circles where the Torah reading was treated as the only thing that mattered and that led to sermons where NT perspectives were lacking and Jesus was often little more than a guest star. What we seem to have landed on is using a reading from the weekly Torah portion (each portion is several chapters, so we usually just choose a few verses), the Gospel reading from the three-year Christian lectionary, and a third variable reading that’s at the discretion of the preacher. It could be the prophets reading tied to the Torah portion, either of the other readings tied to the Gospel lesson, or a reading that applies more to the sermon than the other two readings.

  2. “Declarations of confidence in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God will dwell in puzzling juxtaposition with worship services where the most scripture encountered is in popcorned bits projected between film clips and other visuals.”

    (sigh) Evangelicalism is a riddle, wrapped in an enigma, covered in stupidity.

    It’s easier to defend the bible than to live by it. It’s also easier to claim to be pro-life than to treat all people with dignity. Many on that day will say “Lord! Lord!…”.

    • To the guy I just deleted: That tone of response is going nowhere.

      • iMonk,

        ???

        “(sigh) Evangelicalism is a riddle, wrapped in an enigma, covered in stupidity.”

        And my comment get’s deleted???

        Ok…

    • Christiane says:

      Dear Ox: you wrote “It’s easier to defend the bible than to live by it. It’s also easier to claim to be pro-life than to treat all people with dignity. Many on that day will say “Lord! Lord!…”. ”

      I was involved in a fierce debate over public health care, and I quoted from Matthew 25 (Many on that day wil say ‘Lord, Lord’ . . . ) etc.
      I had so many evangelicals tell me that Christ never meant that for all people to take The Last Judgement as described in St. Matthew to heart. They said He only meant it for His restricted audience at that time alone. I am still reeling with shock over this.

      Reply

      • Sorry. didn’t mean to get off-topic. I meant to point out that evangelicalism is ripe with examples where it claims to defend a cause but doesn’t live the ideals behind the cause. I have long been frustrated with evangelicals who defend the bible but don’t read it or relegate it to a narrow part of the worship service.

        I guess another part of this is the shift from a priest or pastor giving a homily – which was one of many ways scripture was weaved into worship – versus a preacher delivering an hour-plus bible lecture. The bible reading eventually became simply part of the sermon and eventually disappeared from the rest of the service. Then, seeker-sensitive preaching removed scripture from the sermon itself, resulting in the scriptureless church service.

        Again, my apologies. I need to keep my rants to myself.

  3. A hearty Amen.

    Let me share my experience. I took the innitiatve about three years ago to start including another scripture reading. the looks i got when i set off to read a text that was not going to be “preached” in the middle of the servcie were hillarioius. Folks at first didnt’ get it, but they could not object. How can you object to reading the bible?

    So now I have continued the extra reading, begged folks to help out so we could develop a lay reader ministry, and I’m working towards adding a second reading.

    Here are my troubles.

    Placing them in a tradition that has no written order is tough. It has to be done in the times I have “control”. So I do the first one right after announcments and greetings and right before my pastoral prayer. the second I think i’m going to add right before I preach by a lay reader if i can get one to volunteer

    I’ve opened it up to all folks that is code for “women” and so far no one has objected

    we have done a few responsive readings in the hymnal and this week we stood and read the lectionary psalms responsively

    another problem of mine is that i have a very uneducated flock and the only readers that are probably comofortable are younger folks, which i’m glad to use, but it limits the pool

    • Austin,

      Would having some practice sessions help your potential readers? I know that some parishes do have practices for our lectors (and some should.) It could also give confidence to the ones that you have as well.

      • That’s a good suggestion, we will have to do that.

        Thanks,
        Austin

        • Our church secretary makes sure to send out the scripture readings to the people who will be reading on any given week. We are encouraged to read them over out loud several times before Sunday–that helps.

  4. Recently our pastors have opened our evangelical services with a short reading, usually from the Psalms as a “call to worship.” And occasionally we will do responsive readings either with the opening Psalm or with the verses to be preached that Sunday, but it’s not a regular thing.

    I started attending the Anglican Church for precisely the reason you outlined here: the reading of the Scriptures. Someone asked me if the Anglican Church was a “Bible-believing church,” and they were shocked when I told them that we read at least 4 times as much Scripture in each Anglican service than we do at our evangelical church. And that’s not counting all the Scripture that’s part of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer liturgy.

    Our evangelical church is starting slowly, but at least they’re starting to bring back the reading of Scripture as part of the order of service. And am I ever glad that they are!

  5. Steve Newell says:

    In the Lutheran tradition, we can either sing, chant or read the Psalms. For the Old Testament and the New Testament (non-Gospel) reading, each reading will end with the reader saying “This is the Word of the Lord” and the congregation replying “Thanks be to God”. For the Gospel, we always stand when the Gospel is read. The Reader will say “The Holy Gospel according to _____, the XX Chapter” and we will reply “Glory to you, Oh Lord”. Upon completion of reading of the Gospel, the reader will say “This is the Gospel or of our Lord” and we respond “Praise to you, oh Christ”.

    A good thing about a lectionary is that I know that I will hear the Word of God even if the pastor never references a single bible reference in his sermon. Also, the lectionary will provide readings that tie in with the Church year.

  6. Responsive scripture reading is a very common part of the worship at my church. The leader reads the odds, we read the evens, and we join together for the last verse. I thought that was how everyone did it until I was asked to lead a responsive reading at a Catholic friend’s wedding and discovered the congregation responded with a single line repeatedly. Are there yet other styles of responsive reading?

  7. Churches that undertake the reading of scripture lessons as a discipline give this a high and prominent place in worship. Readers should be trained. Attention should be paid to diction and the proper rubrics. Names, places and other obstacles should be anticipated.

    Michael,

    When I first came to Grace last year, one of the first things I learned was the importance and prominence of the public reading of Scripture. I have grown up in conservative, Bible-believing churches all my life that were not Bible-*reading* churches. We read more announcements than we did the Bible publicly.

    After our Sat. morning study through Edwards’ Religious Affections, I would sit down with Tom and work through the Scripture I was going to read publicly the following Lord’s Day. I would read it, then Tom would read it. I would read it again, and Tom would interject to help with inflection and emphasis so as to read with understanding and clarity. We would do this sometimes for an hour.

    Each Monday morning, the elders meet to review the Sunday services, including the call to worship, scripture reading, pastoral prayer, worship through psalms/songs, and the sermon. I admit that giving such care and diligence in these matters is intimidating, but it is a constant reminder of the gravitas and weight of God’s glory as we anticipate being in His presence as a gathered body of believers.

    Those times of training and intentional presenting of God’s Word before God’s people has made a huge impression on me. It’s not just an add-on to the service to be more biblical or spiritual; it is a means of grace where we recognize the the main speaker to the congregation is God Himself. As I mentioned on Twitter, this was not taught (or even mentioned) in seminary. Perhaps it is assumed that churches in the 21st century have given up on it. But then again, it could be a good example of the disconnect between seminaries and the local church. I’m glad to received this education in the trenches of pastoral ministry under a seasoned pastor who has a high view of God’s Word in doctrine and practice.

    • That’s exactly the kind of regulation and attention to the joyful work of worship that the church is starving for. We contract everything out, or just slog through it with little thought, all the while assuming that a “great sermon” and “great music” will cause God to show up. It’s practically pagan. The entire evangelical/Protestant liturgy ought to be a dynamic drama of Gospel announcement and living pastoral attention from the Trinitarian God to his people. Not a show, but a gathering with purpose.

      A friend and I were talking about our experiences with liturgy at St. Patrick’s in Lexington and we both noted that when you understand all the component parts, there is an energy and movement that you often miss. The activity of the word or the great invitations or the declaration of the Lord’s Table fellowship….if done well it is very dramatic and exciting. What a shame that so little time is invested in these things.

    • “Each Monday morning, the elders meet to review the Sunday services, …”

      Doesn’t this restrict the elders to Pastors, unemployed, retired, and/or self employed?

      Just asking. I like what you say about scripture reading.

      • Ross,

        Right now, we do not have lay elders, so it is just the pastors. When lay elders come on board, they will join us in the oversight of church gathered ministries. But other than that, the Monday meetings are limited to the elders as part of the weekly administration/oversight that takes place on Mondays. In other words, this is a part of the larger responsibilities we share together in leading our church, so it fits within that framework. I hope that makes sense.

  8. Most people who are against liturgy do not realize how much Scripture is quoted during the liturgy.

    In the United States I can understand that because of the problems with some of the liturgical churches, it is easy to assume that the worship itself is also wrong. But, it is important to remember that the Reformers were not against liturgical worship but against what they perceived as bad theology. They tried to correct the theology and to correct those parts of the worship that they perceived as having drifted away from true belief. It is important to remember that.

    The Radical Reformers threw the baby out with the bathwater, but this series by iMonk shows that we need not do the same nowadays.

  9. Scott Miller says:

    Excellent.
    I was surprised when I went to a church that publicly read scripture. And the congregation stood up to honor the reading of scripture! Not something I was used to.

  10. You made a list of most popular Christian blogs so I cruised over here to check it out. This entry on the public reading of Scripture is fairly disappointing. I grew up in the US Episcopal Church with a tremendous amount of Scripture read to me and not the slightest attention ever paid to its content. Later I joined the Roman church (3 years in lay ministry) and found that while there was a formal adherence to the authority of Scripture, I was still getting Reader’s Digest homilies (broken up with occasional upbraidings for not going to church on holy days).

    As an Evangelical (PCA) pastor, I shepherd a congregation with an extremely contemporary worship service. We read long passages from the Psalms as a call to worship (1928 BCP) and very substantial passages for the sermon (we’ve read more than 30 verses at a time for the sermon itself). Our denomination has responsive Psalm readings in our hymnal and we sing long passages of Scripture.

    I attend an Episcopal post-graduate program and am used to these kind of stereotypes of Evangelicals. An Episcopal divinity professor said, “the first principle of ethical discourse is that your opponent should recognize himself in your characterizations of him.”

    • Travis, I’ve been frequently attending a PCA church in recent months and have appreciated the blending of contemporary worship with solid liturgical elements including confessions and several readings of scripture. I’ve probably attended 25 other conservative evangelical churches that reflect Imonks observations.
      I don’t believe the intention is to critique evangelical churches with more “high church” or liturgical traditions in general but to assert the need for evangelicals as a whole to recover the importance of the reading of scripture as part of our worship service (which happens to still exist in most of the liturgical traditions). Yes, scripture can be read like “blah, blah, blah” but it is the written Word of God being spoken to hearers and I believe there is power in this that is at least equal to someone taking and hour to explain or preach it to me. We need both. Irony is no better explemplified

      • (sorry, cut off). Irony is no better exemplefied than in “Bible believing churches” that seem to avoid reading and reflecting on it as a community like the plague.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Like BE-LEEEEVING (TM) makes up for reading and reflecting.

          That sounds like a recipe for drifting into a flake cult.

    • As an adjunct to Travis’s contribution: I never cease to be confused when I read much of the criticism of evangelical churches. In my own denomination (Church of Scotland), whilst formal liturgy is largely downplayed by evangelical churches, the reading of scripture is pretty high up on the agenda. As is Bible-focused preaching.
      Where I do see a parallel is with some of the independent churches which would be considered evangelical. But then these tend to be modelled on some of the larger US churches. So what I’m saying, I guess, is that there is a cultural distinction to be made when referring to evangelicals and that ‘labels’ must always be read in a cultural context.
      Good series, Michael. Thought-provoking as always.

  11. “It’s here that the logic of the church growth/seeker sensitive approach to worship runs into a wall. Reading scripture publicly is boring, it takes work and it takes time. It requires explanation and if your mantra has been “we aren’t like your old boring church,” you could get sued.”

    Now see, that’s the bit that boggles me. How else are you going to explain what all this Christianity stuff is to the unchurched/seekers, if you don’t read the Scriptures and expound them? Where are they going to be exposed to the Gospel, otherwise?

    I mean, it’s all very well to shove a Bible into their hands (or not even that, but assume that they’ll rush right out and buy one themselves, and the post on the various translations shows the pitfalls of that approach) and expect them to plunge right in, but like the Ethiopian eunuch and St. Philip:

    “Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. ”

    You don’t need to do the whole three readings and the Gospel approach that, for instance, we do in the Catholic church, or plough your way through a whole chapter, but some reading of Scripture and tying together the Old and New Testament would be useful so as to demonstrate “Okay, this is why we’re all here on this day in this building spinning our socks round our heads” 😉

    For instance, the readings for last Sunday’s Mass were: (1) Reading from the Old Testament: Isaiah 35: 4-7 (2) Responsorial psalm: Ps 146: 7-10 (3) Reading from the New Testament: James 2: 1-5 (4) Gospel: Mark 7: 31-37.

    The Gospel reading was the healling of the deaf man with the speech impediment. The Old Testament reading and the Psalm were tied in with that by the theme of “the ears of the deaf will be cleared… the tongue of the mute will sing” and “The Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord raises up those who were bowed down” and the reading from the Letter of St. James ties in with that through ” Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?”

    It’s that old “the New Testament is foreshadowed in the Old, and the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New” thing again 🙂

  12. Churches that undertake the reading of scripture lessons as a discipline give this a high and prominent place in worship. Readers should be trained. Attention should be paid to diction and the proper rubrics. Names, places and other obstacles should be anticipated.

    In part this is key. I think part of the function of liturgy is to set a form, set a focus and then mainly get out of the way. That consists of educating the congregation in what each part means and then allowing it become part of continuous worship.

    Too many changes, and people get distracted. Sticking the notices in the middle of the liturgy – which I’ve seen churches do, is a terrible mistake.

  13. David Bates says:

    Amen, amen, amen.

    Three things I wanted to add:

    * The Word Of God should be *proclaimed*. I’ve been to far too many churches where it is mumbled or just poorly read. The training of lectors (or whatever you want to call them) is *vitally* important.

    * Stand for the Gospel reading – it says a lot.

    * The liturgical reading of scripture helped me understand how to read the Old and New Testaments in light of each other. Having a lectionary ensures that the main parts of the Bible are read to the congregation over the course of a year.

  14. Father Ernesto,
    With all due respect, the Radical Reformers’ desire to do away with the liturgical aspects of worship probably had more to do with the fact that those using the liturgy were also persecuting the Anabaptists all over Europe during the Reformation. Both R.C. and Protestant persecuted the Radical Reformers.

    We may not have retained the “liturgical” style per se, but Scripture and the reading of God’s Word has remained central to our services. (I can’t speak for the Amish, they still hold their services in High German, and I have never been to an Amish service, although I have many Amish relatives)

    This has been a great series imonk, and I appreciate it. I also appreciate your comments Father Ernesto. I, too believe that we would benefit from public reading of scripture in the services.

    I also do not see the benefit of showing film clips during the services.

    Keep up the good work, Father Ernesto.

    • CEY,

      I think you hit on a good point in two ways. There was probably a lot of resistance to liturgy by the radical reformers b/c of their persecutors, and secondly, just b/c a church may not be liturgical doesn’t mean they have to abandon scripture reading and other things.

      For instance, regardless of what I might like and favor as pastor, I’m convinced that my congregation will never be liturgical in the sense we think of it. it’s just not in their DNA as a church and it is just too foreign. For me to go in as pastor and try to force that change regardless of their past would be very similar to a pastor trying to force contemporary changes.

      But, just b/c they may never be “litrugical” doesn’t mean we can’t move away from revivalism, which is the greater threat. it doesn’t mean we can’t have more scripture, even some sort of order to it loosely following a lectionary and church year, and things like the Lord’s Prayer.

  15. Of course, this is not a uniquely American phenomenon: my attempts to introduce regular public reading of Scripture in an Austrian church I attended a few years ago were blocked off with the argument, “We are all reading enough Scripture in our quiet times”. Now, not wanting to judge those who advanced this argument, because I just don’t know, but for myself and many others I know the “daily quiet time” with extensive reading of Scripture is one of the first things to fall by the wayside when schedules get too busy, so I don’t buy this argument.

    Also, the public reading of Scripture does not serve personal devotional purposes; it is a public proclamation, but that seems to be an unknown concept in most of the churches I know.

    • Steve Newell says:

      In Acts 2:42, one of the characteristics of the early Church is that they were devoted to “apostles’ teaching” as part of their worship. Can we do any less?

  16. imonk, thank you for including in your article the concept that there are other ways to do Scripture reading besides the lectionary. though i am enjoying the lectionary readings in our lutheran church, i do find an agenda after listening to them for a year now. no matter what system one uses, imho it is important that we hear the whole Word of God.

  17. Dolan McKnight says:

    Proclaiming the Scripture need not be “boring.” There are hundreds of anthems and solos that are word for word from the Bible (usually KJV) that allow music to enhance the message. Scriptures can also be read dramatically instead of just in a flat voice. Elijah’s confrontation with God at Mount Horeb, for example, allows for showing the whining of Elijah and the emphatic sounds of the wind, fire, earthquake and silence. Finally, for the seeker church crowd, much Scripture can be presented in dramatic vignettes, like Jesus and Nicodemus or Jesus and the women-at-the wheel or the dialogue between Dives and Lazarus. By putting a new twist to Scripture, it can come alive!

    • if by “come alive” you mean “become entertainment”, I guess you’re onto something.

      • I can’t speak for Dolan, but the “entertainment” crack seems too dismissive to me. Let me try with an example somewhat different than his (although I think his is just fine).

        Picture on one hand a person who can read the words of Scripture, but who seems not understand what is, in fact, being read. There are a great many churches like this.

        Picture another speaker (presumably one who has read the passage before coming up to the lectern to read it aloud) who makes sure to put inflection on the words that the passage warrants, and how can raise his/her pitch so that a question sounds like a question, and a command sounds like a command. Such a reading is clearly more “alive” than the first example. Is it “entertainment”? Surely, it shouldn’t be dismissed as such, even if it is, perhaps, more interesting. Being more interesting isn’t an entirely bad thing!

    • When I was teaching children, I noticed one thing. A whole lot of Scriptures are already in drama form. All I had to do is some editing and seeing who wanted to read what part. Makes you wonder, if they were dramas when written. I think that John’s Gospel has the majority of them.

      • David Bates says:

        Very good point. Anyone who goes to a church which does “Passion” readings over the Easter period will see this very clearly as the reading is split between: the narrator, Jesus, “other speaking parts” and the crowd.

        I always find it a strange experience calling out “Crucify him! Crucify him!” in church :-/

        I do wonder whether or not whether this style of reading could be used more often in church…

  18. I have been trying to gently encourage my church leaders ( an Independent Bible Church) to start doing this for a long time but to no avail. In contrast, I recently visited a local AMiA church and one of the most refreshing parts of the service was the public reading of the Scriptures. Evangelical churches desperately need to rediscover this beautiful practice.

  19. Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

    Thank you iMonk! The Public reading of scripture is one of my passions. Every time I was called to pray before my very non-liturgical church, I would read a scripture beforehand. I would try to read the scripture with drama, I would try to read it as if these words gave life, as if they really mattered.

    I got to read 1 Cor 13 at my cousin’s wedding, and I read it with some drama, and a lot of people came up to me afterwords impressed by the word. I have no drama training, I probably have some gifting in the area. Anyway, I can tell you this, I’m not that good to get the response I got.

    So my question is, are we just lazy by not preparing well for reading? Shouldn’t we prepare for the reading of scripture like any other part of worship? Shouldn’t we strive for excellence in this area?

    If I were in charge of a church, I would ask the people in the congregation with drama or theater training to read the scriptures. There are probably lots of gifted and skilled people in the church who has the very specific gifts for reading scripture that are not being used. That is sad.

  20. The common assumption is that people now, unlike people in those apostolic times, know how to read for themselves, and thus that public reading of Scripture can now serve a subordinate role, because there are other ways to convey the same information. And then I get frustrated with the view that holy Scripture is mainly a conduit of information and wonder when our culture will slow down and learn, however much work it takes, to listen to God speaking.

    • David Bates says:

      Spot on. I think the idea of the public reading scripture as a way to “convey information” is the source of the problem here. I “know” the parable of the prodigal son pretty much off by heart, but God’s Word needs to be *proclaimed* in the place of worship, digested and then expounded.

  21. It does seem a little on the ironic side to think how, growing up, we would not hear much in the way of the public reading of Scripture, but we were of an evangelical tradition where everybody brings their Bible to church (for the worship service). Looking back, I’m not sure why we ought to have bothered… so we could look up the handful of proof texts that the pastor was using for his sermon? So much can be gained from listening to the Word. Yes, and listening to the pastor’s sermon, too, instead of spending his whole sermon flipping pages as though we utterly distrusted his references and what he was telling us. There’s a place for private study of God’s Word, and I’m not sure that a public worship service is it.

    I was a member of a church in which the pastor found out at one point that I had memorized the book of Philippians. He asked if I would recite it for the congregation from memory one Sunday. This was the closest thing we’d ever done to the extensive public reading of the Scriptures. When I was done, people applauded. I was mortified and vowed to never do it again. What had happened had become another show, a performance. (And quite a novelty at that; all that Scripture!) I seriously doubt that what they were applauding was the content of God’s holy Word. More like the appreciation of a neat and pious memory trick.

  22. Interestingly, the reading of Scripture is one thing also commended in the book of the revelation (1:3). There we learn that the public reading of Scripture blesses both the listener and the reader.

    At my former congregation, we took to reading 3 to 4 of the lessons each week. I involved a variety of the members to participate–men, women, sometimes older children. It was truly a blessing to hear from all parts of God’s word–and is one reason why now I have been attending an Anglican church on Sundays.

    That said, after my former congregation forced me to resign, they reduced the number of readings being done each Sunday from 3-4 to 1–at the beginning, and not necessarily from the Lectionary. Instead, they choose the happy Scriptures that make them feel good about themselves. I suppose at least they are reading one.

    Anyhow, good job. I whole-heartedly support the public reading of Scripture and believe more congregations ought to celebrate God’s word by doing so because in this celebration (reading) is also submission. And Lord knows if we need anything we need submission to the Scripture.

    • Also see Luke chapter 4. The lectionary helps ensure that the pastor doesn’t end up preaching all his sermons on Romans (or whatever scattered Bible classes he took in seminary), or doesn’t simply use the Bible as a chain of prooftexts for whatever theological agenda he’s promoting–or in other words I’ve found that lectionary-based preaching tends to derive theology from the Bible, rather than the other way around. Not foolproof, but better imho.

      And of course there is the sense of worship as continuity with the early church, which I know is important for some people and unimportant for others. I’ve quoted here before from Justin Martyr, 150 AD: “On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members, whether they live in the city or the outlying districts. The recollections of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time….”

  23. Pastor Spencer,

    Once again you nail it on the head! It makes no sense why a Sola Scriptura adhering church would shun/avoid/neglect/forget the public reading of Scripture! Hence your phrase, “the Bible-waving, but not Bible reading evangelical church,” is all the more apropos and shocking. If we really believe that it is God’s Word, that it is life-changing, and that is the ONLY basis for our doctrine(s), why in the world wouldn’t we read it regularly? The Catholics certainly put us to shame here.

    A Bible-neglecting Sola Scripturist…? A true oxymoron, indeed.

    BJ