“And Moses commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing.” Deuteronomy 31:10-11 (ESV)
“So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.” Nehemiah 8:2-3 (ESV)
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.” Luke 4:16 (ESV)
“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” 1 Timothy 4:13 (ESV)
As we continue our walk through the foundations of Christian liturgy, we come to the first of the elements of liturgy – the public reading of Scripture. The Scripture passages above show both command and example for the public reading of the Scriptures in the Old and New Testaments. It is therefore of great importance. When we consider that the Word is essential as our guide to faith and practice, it is no surprise that it should be of paramount importance in our worship services. Also, it worth noting that this reading of Scripture is separate from the preaching of Scripture which we will observe in a later post.
Why Should We Read Scripture Together?
Apart from the obvious answer that we are commanded to do so, there are many very good reasons to read Scripture in corporate worship. For example, the Scriptures are the means by which we learn God’s truth regarding Himself, ourselves, and how we should worship Him. In our forgetful nature, it is logical that we should be reminded how we are to worship God. Reading the Scriptures together does this.
Another reason to read the Scriptures together is that reminds us of our individual duty to read the Scriptures. If we hear the Scriptures together every week in worship, it should spur us onward to read them in our private worship and discipleship. This emphasis can also lead to cultivating family times of worship in which Scripture is read in the home.
Yet another reason for public reading of Scripture is that it serves as an anchor for the worship service. Prayers can be outlined in light of this passage of Scripture. Songs for worship should be based upon it. In fact, in planning worship this should be the first selection that is made. If the Word is of first priority, the rest follows naturally.
What Passages Should We Read?
2 Timothy 3:16-17 makes clear that the all Scripture is inspired and useful for the Christian life. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that Scripture readings should be taken from the whole counsel of Scripture. This is not a time for reading works of man. The historical creeds, confessions, and catechisms together with the writings of the Church Fathers and great theologians have their place, but this is not it. The reading of Scripture alone should occupy this place.
Many churches have developed reading plans that traverse the Canon of Scripture in a year or over several years. Some denominations have common lectionaries that they use to promote unity among their churches in reading through a liturgical year together. Other churches have no pattern or plan. Whatever the means that you use, be sure to include both Testaments. In fact, it would be my encouragement to include readings from every book of the Bible. Yes, even the awkward or difficult ones like Song of Songs and Revelation.
Also, while reading every word of every book of the Bible in public worship is practically difficult, don’t shy away from passages that make you uncomfortable. Avoidance of the discussion of things like God’s wrath, man’s depravity, and the work of the cross has become commonplace. This is because churches have “censored” the parts of the Bible that they don’t like. The visible church does not sit in judgment over the Scriptures. The Scriptures sit in judgment over the visible church.
Who Should Read Scripture?
Some churches put restrictions on who should read Scripture in public worship. Others open it to all sorts of people. I find this decision to be one rooted in the liberty of the local church. If your church practices plural eldership, having the elders read these passages each week is a useful practice. Another practice that is quite edifying is for people of different age groups to read Scripture in different weeks. The one key element that makes this work best, however, is having the person selected in advance of the worship service. Allowing the person some time to meditate upon the text and pray over it can help to make this time more meaningful.
When and How Should the Scripture Be Read?
While Scripture can be read throughout the service, there are two times that really should be dedicated to Scripture reading. One is a public reading that is for the good of the church. The other is the reading of the text for the sermon. The second case will be approached in a later post. For the reading that is for the good of the church, it is probably best to read this passage in the first part of the service before the sermon. This could happen at the beginning of the service or perhaps after the offering. The exact placement is a matter of liberty.
The reference for the passage should be given so that the church may know the source of the reading. The passage should be read with clarity and in the hearing of the whole church. Some churches have the congregation stand for the reading of the Word out of reverence. Others have responsive readings that draw the church’s attention to the importance of the Word. In any case, it should be in the regular practice of the church to affirm the importance of the reading of Scripture in the worship service.
From this foundation of public Scripture reading, we will begin to explore the other elements of worship. As this post has shown, the elements of Scripture reading and preaching are closely intertwined. As we continue, we also see the roles that praying, singing, affirmations of faith, the Lord’s Supper, and baptism serve in our worship together.