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Devote Yourself to the Public Reading: Enhancing the Role of Scripture Reading in Worship

By Jeffrey Arthurs | Professor of Preaching and Communication and Dean of the Chapel at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

The Bible often is read poorly in our church services; but when read well, it can minister as deeply as a Spirit-empowered sermon. Unfortunately, in many churches public reading of the Bible is little more than homiletical throat clearing before the sermon; but as W.E. Sangster asserted: "Bible reading offers the widest scope for the enrichment of public worship, and it is a great pity that the Scriptures are often so badly read…When the Book is well read and made to live for the people, it can do for them what sermons often fail to d It can be the very voice of God to their souls."

Craddock concurs, observing, "For all the noise ministers make about the centrality of the Bible in the church, the public reading of Scripture in many places does not support that conviction."  Public reading is important because of the principle lex ordandi lex credendi (worship practices display the Church's belief, and they also form the beliefs themselves).

Allow me to offer five arguments which can provide grounding to increase the quantity and quality of our public reading.

Argument #1: We are commanded to read the Bible publicly.

I'm referring to 1 Timothy 4:13, "Devote yourself to the public reading." The word devote (Gk. prosecho) means to "hold the mind toward" or "pay attention to, give heed to, or apply oneself."

Paul's command to Timothy needs to be understood in light of first century culture when few people knew how to read and very few manuscripts existed. That was a day of chirography (handwriting), not typography with mechanically produced texts. If a pastor wanted to build up his people in the most holy faith, it was mandatory to read the Bible aloud.

In contrast, today nearly everyone can read, and most people who are churched have multiple copies of the Bible; but our literacy and wealth of Bibles does not mean we're actually reading them. Biblical illiteracy may be higher today than it was in the first century. Summarizing general themes on spirituality in America for the year 2009, Barna states: "Biblical literacy is neither a current reality nor a goal" in the United States. This is a major factor contributing to the fact that Americans, including churched people, do not have a Christian worldview. According to Barna, only 19 percent of born-again people have a Christian worldview. We are ignorant of God's promises and requirements.

Even when church goers are aware of those promises and requirements, they need regular reminders. C.S. Lewis captured this dynamic of the Christian life in The Silver Chair. Aslan commands Jill to "seek the lost Prince until either you have found him and brought him to his father's house, or else died in the attempt."

"'How, please?' says Jill."

"'I will tell you, Child,' says the Lion. ‘These are the Signs by which I will guide you in your quest.'"

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