Does your church regularly devote herself to the public reading of Scripture? Many in the “free church” and so-called “non-liturgical” traditions no longer adhere to this well-established practice. In First Timothy 4:13, the apostle urges Timothy: “Till I come, give heed to reading, to exhortation, to teaching.” This threefold action refers to the reading of Scripture and the encouragement and instruction that should flow from it. Admittedly, this command was written in a time where personal and family-owned Bibles did not exist. The only New Testament Scriptures were handwritten manuscripts circulated among God’s people. Nonetheless, it makes sense that the auditory actions of exhortation and teaching would be prefaced by the distinct, auditory declaration of God’s truth in the Scriptures.
The practice of Scripture reading in the corporate worship of God’s people stretches back to her reception of the Old Testament Scriptures themselves.
Both Old Testament and New Testament attest to a continued focus by God’s people on hearing His Word. The primary liturgical function of public Scripture reading is to declare God’s Word to His people. In Exodus 24:7, Moses reads the Book of the Covenant in the presence of all the people. Deuteronomy 31:11 directs Israel to gather for hearing the Scriptures at the Feast of Booths. The reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah emphasize clear public reading of the Law so that the people may understand it (Nehemiah 8:8).
Overall, one essential positive aspect of Scripture reading should be noted. The congregation receives direct exposure to the Bible separate from human explanation. In an age of voluminous commentary on the Bible, public Scripture reading emphasizes the sufficiency of God’s Word in and of itself for the church.
Here are some suggestions for employment of Scripture reading in the public gathering of the church:
1. Scripture reading should be done in a way that demonstrates and encourages an appreciation of the central responsibility that congregation members play in the worship service. During longer passages (i.e. greater than 30 verses or so), responsibility for reading should be divided among two people.
2. Personal responsibility for reading each Bible passage should be assigned in advance to facilitate acquaintance with the content and to address and overcome pronunciation difficulties.
3. Churches could consider holding a workshop to help interested congregants improve in their reading of Scripture in a public setting.
4. The church should use alternate Bible translations in public reading in order to maintain the interest of both adults and children.
5. Narrative literature Scripture readings could present an opportunity to involve multiple congregational members in “role-playing” different characters in the narrative.
Public Scripture reading reflects the necessity of being Bible-based and “Bible-saturated”. So don’t be afraid as a congregation to read longer Bible passages in the meeting. While you want to encourage interest in the Bible on the part of young and old, don’t automatically rule out the use of a passage based on its length. The straightforward systematic reading of Scripture removes the opportunity for the undue intrusion of human personality onto the activity of congregational focusing on God’s Word.
So, where does your church stand on this? Do you read the Scriptures in the corporate meeting on an ongoing basis? Perhaps you have let the practice slide. Regardless of your situation, we are all called by the apostle to “desire the pure spiritual milk” of the Scriptures. What better way to promote the authority, purity and “spiritual nutrition” of God’s Word than to systematically give yourselves as a congregation to the unvarnished verbal declaration of the Bible?