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Worship and Service

Scripture Reading

A Daily Habit, Now Neglected in Worship

Nothing is so rare today in the evangelical community as the reading of the Scripture during worship. In one sense this is good: the preacher assumes you have a Bible and that you read it. In another it is bad, for it deprives the Bible of the respect it deserves within our formal worship. We need to examine this in closer detail.

Reading the Scripture in Worship

History

From the earliest days of the Old Testament, the word of the Lord was read aloud - indeed, quite ceremonially. It was done on many occasions, but the ones most commonly recorded in the Old Testament have to do with beginnings - or new beginnings.

·         When Moses brought the people into the Promised Land, they were commanded to pronounce the blessing and cursings of the Law at Mount Ebal and Mount Gerazim.[1]

·         A king of Israel, on ascension to the throne, was instructed to personally copy out the Law for a copy for his own use.[2]

·         When Josiah cleansed the Temple, he commanded that the Law be read.[3]

·         When Ezra led the exiles back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, he began by reading the Law - for hours.[4]

We also know that Paul's letters were read aloud in the early church.[5] So the Jews and the early church made it a regular practice to read the Scripture aloud - a practice we have now abandoned. We also have the impression (those under 40, particularly) that this is something that happened long ago - about the time of the invention of the printing press. It is not so. Those over 50 can well remember the time when the Bible was read with great formality in worship. Indeed, our time is the exception. Those churches with a formal liturgy still include the reading of the Scripture; honor to whom honor is due.

History through the time of the printing press

That the early church read the Scripture aloud is no secret. It is a myth of the evangelical church that the Roman Catholic church locked up the Bible in Latin and thus kept the ordinary man from reading it, to force dependency on the priest. The truth is quite different.

In the earliest days of the church, most Christians spoke Greek, at least as a second language. It was the language of trade throughout the Roman Empire. As Latin become more and more predominant, the church commissioned Jerome to translate the Scriptures into what is now referred to as the Vulgate. Vulgate comes from the Latin word which gives us "vulgar" - in the old sense of being common, or not of the nobility. This was the Bible of the western branch of Christianity until the time of the Protestant Reformation. It was not, as charged, locked up under the priests. An educated man would certainly have known Latin in those times - to read the great learning of antiquity. He would certainly have had a copy of the Vulgate.

This had, however, an unfortunate effect in England. Recall that the British (as opposed to the Norman/French nobility) were essentially a subject race from the time of the Norman conquest. The rich and middle class conquerors had no difficulty with Latin as the language of the Bible - but the poor did. When the Protestant Reformation arose, it is easy to see how the common Briton would think that the Scriptures had been locked up. The use of Latin would have been yet another tool of oppression. This is one reason that Wycliffe's early supporters, the Lollards, were actually a political party. It's also one reason why the English speaking peoples have a wealth of different translations. It's important to them. We need to take a look at the history of the English Bible, therefore:

Taken from the Thompson Chain Reference Study Bible NIV with permission of B.B. Kirkbride Bible Company

History

As you can see, there are two key features which can be seen in this diagram:

·         Before the King James Version, there were a lot of translations. Afterwards, it is the dominant Protestant version of the Bible in English, until the 20th century.

·         The King James Version did not have the benefit of the discovery of many of the ancient manuscripts, both of the Bible itself and others which taught us much more about ancient Greek.

What is not obvious is that the King James is an eloquent version, translated when the English language was at the height of its glory. It exercised a profound influence on the English language for almost 300 years. So when the language had changed sufficiently to call for new translations, the eloquence was lost too. And the appeal of reading the Bible in formal worship lessened.

Respect in Worship Today

Churches built over a hundred years ago almost always have two pulpits, or lecterns as they were then. This was so that the reading of the Bible could be done in two sections (Old and New Testament, or Gospel and Letters). Respect for the Bible was taught symbolically by the very architecture of the building. This is still so in some liturgical churches today. In the evangelical community, the Bible is respected with lip service, but ignored as far as formal reading is concerned.

But this may be changing. It has gotten to the point now that we frequently hear the Bible quoted not in translation but in paraphrase. This is because we pander to the tastes of our audiences, rather than teaching them the truth. The effect of this will not be long in coming. For many, Bible reading of any kind will be a thing of the past. We will then be forced to put the reading of the Scripture back into the worship - for they will hear it no other way.

Reading the Bible - Outside Worship

It is the theme of this series that worship should reflect service and vice versa. If we read the Bible in our worship (or at least we should) then we should read it elsewhere. How?

Not to be mishandled

One of the reasons poor interpretation and heresy abound is that we mishandle the word. We are specifically commanded not to add to it or take from it. But how often does the Christian read a book which quotes the Bible (and throws in the authors ideas) as opposed to reading the source?

Indeed, one command to us is that the Scripture is to be "set forth plainly." We are to read it and make plain sense of it. We are not to gloss over the hard parts, nor try to construct some elaborate theories on the easy parts.

Jesus himself, in argument with the Sadducees, based himself upon the smallest part of the Scripture. It cannot be divided and parceled out; it must be taken as a whole. But each piece must also be considered with reverence and care.

Regular Reading

If there is one habit I could transplant into the hearts of my students, it would be the regular reading of the Scripture. Indeed, we are commanded not merely to read it, but to search it. More than searching it (the intellectual side) we are to meditate upon it (the emotional side). Thus the Bible is to become the great source of wisdom in our lives.

"Posted"

Have you ever driven through a country landscape and seen a sign like, "Posted - No Hunting?" The ancient Jew was told to post the Scripture on his walls and door posts. Indeed, he was to bind it to his wrists and forehead, a practice the Orthodox Jew continues to this day. So I ask: is the Scripture in plain sight in your house? Do you carry it with you? Or is it tucked away discreetly?

To children

One of the most specific injunctions in the Bible[6] is that we are to read the Bible to our children. We are fortunate that we have children's versions that put this into words suitable for small children. But consider: if they grow up with the knowledge that their parents consider reading the Bible to be a top priority, what effect does this have on them?

But there is more: the Jew was taught to read it to his children at home and on the way, rising up and lying down. Not just on a regular basis, but in all circumstances, the word of the Lord is to be given to your children - and grandchildren.

The Results of Regular Bible Reading

Most new Christians just don't see the sense of it. After all, what do I go to church for? You go to worship to worship; you leave to serve. In this service you will gain much.

Conviction of sin

Even the most experienced Christian will tell you: the habit of reading the Bible will produce the conviction of sin. You will read a passage for the hundredth time and suddenly see God speaking to you. See how this worked for the ancient ones:

·         Daniel read Jeremiah and was convicted of his nation's sins. He pleaded for mercy and release; he was given vision and comfort.[7]

·         Josiah read the Scriptures and tore his robes in repentance. In response, God held up his judgment of Judah until after Josiah's death.[8]

As God put it to Jeremiah:

(Jer 23:29 NIV) "Is not my word like fire," declares the LORD, "and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?

Kept from Sin

The reading of Scripture is not just for the cure of sin: it is for the prevention of sin.

·         When dealing with temptation, do what our Lord did in the Wilderness - answer the devil with Scripture.

·         More than that, the Scripture gives light to your life. Things make sense as you study and meditate on God's word. The puzzles of life seem less troublesome when you shine God's light upon them.

·         This is the way in which God transforms your mind, renewing it in his thought.[9]

·         Most of all, it is by the "meat of the word" that you become mature as a Christian.[10] It is the way we grow up.

Rewarded

More than cleansed and kept from sin, God intends to reward the man who diligently studies the word:

(Mat 7:24-27 NIV) "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. {25} The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. {26} But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. {27} The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."

God will keep you from trouble by his word. But is not just in prevention of trouble; it is equipping you to deal with all of life! We often quote the 16th verse here - but read the whole passage:

(2 Tim 3:16-17 NIV) All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, {17} so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Thoroughly equipped! That's what God wants you to be! Now you know how He wants to equip you!

The warning!

Scripture reading is not magic; it is a key to the kingdom. There is a warning with it, and we must read it:

(James 1:22-25 NIV) Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. {23} Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror {24} and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. {25} But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does.

Read it, meditate upon it, hide in your heart - and then go do it.


[1] Deuteronomy 27: 12-26

[2] Deuteronomy 17:18-19

[3] 2 Kings 23

[4] Nehemiah 8

[5] Colossians 4:16

[6] Deuteronomy 11:19

[7] Daniel 9

[8] 2 Kings 23

[9] Romans 12:2

[10] Hebrews 5:12-14

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