Have you been exercised in your spirit about why we as a church do not participate in more public Bible reading? After I posted my blog on this topic a couple of weeks ago, I received my e-copy of The Briefing, the evangelical magazine published by Matthias Media. The feature article, depicted in bold letters on the cover, was “The Lost Art of Public Reading.” Scott Newling originally posted most of the thoughts covered in the article at the Sola Panel.
Newling contends that if we are to be devoted to the public reading of Scripture, then we should be “maximum application” people rather that “minimum requirement” people. In other words, we should be asking, “How much more?” not “How much?”
I particularly enjoyed his comparisons of what Bible reading looks like in our churches today compared to how it looked for our English forefathers who used the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
There appears to be a trend in some evangelical circles to adopt the habit of having one Bible reading—and this Bible reading is effectively set within the context of ‘preparation for the sermon’ rather than standing in its own right. . . . [My] point is this: in a service that runs for around 90 minutes, the Bible reading usually takes about three or four minutes tops.
Let’s look at the wider church context. What if this church repeats the sermon across all services? And what if they pair their mid-week Bible-study groups with the sermon series? This means that, in any given week, church members will publicly hear 15 verses of Scripture (there are about 31,100 verses in the Bible, for those who are curious). In a given year, then, this church will publicly read about 780 verses, or (for the non-mathematicians amongst us) 2.5% of the Bible.
Newling contrasts our use of Scripture in our 21st century churches with the way it was used according to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. In the morning prayer service, for example, the Lord’s prayer was read twice, along with six Psalms, about 30 verses each from the Old and New Testaments, several other verse selections and a Scripture benediction.
The service for evening prayer follows a similar structure. Further, with the assumption that public services would be held morning and evening every day of the week, the Old Testament and New Testament readings would mean that over the course of the year the whole Old Testament would be read publicly once, the New Testament twice, and thePsalms twelve times. This is a little more than 2.5%!
When I recently strolled through historic St John’s Anglican Cathedral in Parramatta, I marveled at the huge Bible set open on a reading stand separate from the pulpit. Now I know it wasn’t just a Bible for show! If the church followed Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer (which it likely did when the church opened in 1802), that old Bible was getting plenty of use then, as hope it is today.
Newling later goes on to say that based on the 15 verses a week model, it would take 40 years to read through the entire Bible publicly, and only if there were no repetitions and no skipping of sections. To be fair, many of our churches read different portions in our Sunday school, morning and evening services and mid-week studies, but we still fall short by a long way from reading the entire Bible in a year.
I particularly enjoyed the sections on why we don’t read the Bible publicly and why we must read it publicly. Sermons, he argues, are referred to as “hearing from God”, while the Bible reading is glossed over as prelude to the “real thing”. Newling asks:
When we choose to reduce Bible readings for something else, do we then in effect say that our means, our words, are better than God’s to grow people?
He also suggests a reason for our corporate weakness as God’s people:
How anaemic are our churches because we refuse to hear God speak for himself?
Now that I have whet your appetite, read the meat of Newling’s article for yourself.
Just today our church began a series of sermons on the book of Nehemiah. To introduce the series, ten different people read aloud almost the entire book. After a five minute historical and thematic introduction to the book, each reader stood at the front to read while the congregation followed the text as projected on the wall. If we believe that God’s Word will prosper according to His purpose, then let’s begin reading more of it to one another.