I’ve been going to church since I was eight years old. Almost every church I have attended has been a self-proclaimed Bible-centred church. But what I have observed in churches is a lot of Bible preaching, a lot of Bible studies, Bible stories and Bible songs, but very little actual Bible reading. By simple comparison of the time taken, it is easy to see that Bible activities fill up time that might in earlier generations been taken by Bible reading. When was the last time that you went to a service where the time given to actual Bible reading came close to the time given to explanations, illustrations and applications? How long since you gathered with a group of friends just to read through a New Testament epistle or a few chapters of OT history? Paul told Timothy: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”
My purpose here is not to undervalue all that the church does to teach its members the Bible. But the most obvious element of a Bible-based church is overlooked—reading the Bible and letting it speak for itself. Horace Greeley, nineteenth century social reformer and influential editor of the New York Tribune, remarked, “It is impossible to enslave mentally or socially a Bible-reading people.” How can we incorporate more Bible reading into our group gatherings?
1. Take time in the church service to read longer portions of Scripture. Going to a service that is opened with a Scripture reading redirects my mind and reminds me that God is still speaking to us today.
2. Read publicly from an unfamiliar version from time to time. Sometimes the familiar cadences of our favourite version can lull us into missing the crisp impact of the text.
3. Make group Bible study times centred on reading Bible portions and discussing them together. Frequent use of books other than the Bible for “Bible study” is a trend that concerns me. Do we no longer have the Holy Spirit helping individual believers understand what God is saying to His people in His Word?
4. Actually read the Bible at Sunday school instead of just retelling the story. If the teacher uses a kid-friendly version, the passage can actually be understood by the children without detailed explanation. I like to print the passage from www.biblegateway.com and then we can all read along together. As an added bonus, upper primary students can learn to mark the text for inductive study.
5. Get together with a friend for Bible reading aloud together on a regular basis. Aim to read through a book of the Bible, asking God to show you what it means. You could even try this with an unsaved friend, and just see the power of God’s Word at work.
6. Stuck for what to do for family worship? How about reading the Bible? Recently I rediscovered my very first Bible, a modern version given to me by my parents and inscribed painstakingly in my eight-year-old wobbly cursive. From this dog-eared book I am now reading the well-loved stories to my youngest children, aged eight and nine. I love to watch their faces as they drink in the stories read straight from the text. They even beg for the next installment, and I don’t think that the pleading is entirely because they don’t want to go to bed!
Please add your ideas to mine for incorporating Bible reading into church life. Perhaps together we will rediscover how simple it is to “devote ourselves to the public reading of Scripture.”