“Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13).
Why is it that churches that seem to despise the Bible most are also the ones who read it the most in their liturgies and services? On the other hand, why are churches which get blue in the face over the authority of Scripture the ones who rarely read from extensive portions of it? To the first group I ask, “Why bother?” and to the second group I ask, “Why the hypocrisy?” Johnson and Duncan have rightly noted, “One of the striking things about evangelical corporate worship in our times is the evident paucity of Scripture” (Give Praise to God, 140). How many times have we seen the preacher say “open your Bibles to…” only to watch him run away from the text as fast as he can? Thankfully there has been a growing awareness against this putrid trend of Scripture-less services but many go on in the name of Christ every Sunday without a Word from Christ.
One gets the feeling that if Ezra and his crew were to lead services today they would not be asked to come back the following week (cf. Neh. 8:3). If possible, would Jesus even be allotted a spot in today’s typical service so that He could read from the scroll of Isaiah and proclaim its fulfillment (cf. Luke 4:17)? I constantly hear pastors bemoan the fact that their average church member is illiterate when it comes to the Scriptures. However when I ask a simple question, “do you give a dedicated place for the Scripture to be read in your worship service?” you would think I had asked them to give a detailed analysis of the hypostatic union of Christ.
Brothers, read the Scripture to and for your people so that they might hear God’s voice and be changed. The means of evangelism and the continued sanctification of God’s people is the reading and proclamation of His Word. The Church has the distinct privilege to be the pillar and support of what God says and ministers have the unique opportunity to insure that a steady diet of Truth is administered into the ears of the congregation. The only time some will hear the Psalms read (or sung) will be on Sunday mornings. The only time some will ever dive into the dark continent of the “older testament” will be when they hear it read or preached by a Christian minister. The only time many will hear The Gospel (outside of a tract) will be when it is read from one of the four Evangelists.
Do whatever you have to do to make it happen. Cut short the announcements or bump Sister Susie’s solo but heed the words of J. R. Miller who wrote that “The reading of the word of God ought to be an event.” Hear again the words of David Wells,
“This Word of God is the means by which God accomplishes his saving work in his people, and this is a work that no evangelist and no preacher can do. This is why the dearth of serious, sustained biblical preaching in the Church today is a serious matter. When the Church loses the Word of God it loses the very means by which God does his work. In its absence, therefore, a script is being written, however unwittingly, for the Church’s undoing, not in one cataclysmic moment, but in a slow, inexorable slide made up of piece by tiny piece of daily dereliction.” (David Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs , 9).
Update: thanks to Matt and Chris who reminded us of Daniel Block’s stirring quote from a paper he delivered at ETS and subsequently published in Giving the Sense, 435):
“Evangelicals must rediscover that in the reading of the Scriptures worshipers hear the voice of God. Despite our lofty creedal statements and our affirmations of the inerrancy, infallibility, and authority of the Scriptures, the relative absence of the Scriptures is one of the marks of contemporary evangelical worship. At best the Scriptures are read piecemeal and impatiently so that we might get on with the sermon, which suggests to the congregation that our interpretation of Scripture is much more important for them than the sacred word of God itself. At worst we do not open the Scriptures at all. In our efforts to be contemporary and relevant, we dismiss the reading of the Scriptures as a fossil whose vitality and usefulness has died long ago. . . .In the process we displace the voice of God with the foolish babbling of mortals, and the possibility of true worship is foreclosed. And then we wonder why there is such a famine for the word of God in the land (Amos 8:11-14).”