A short time ago I compared certain evangelical churches to a meatless, cheeseless, crustless pizza. Just like removing too many elements of a pizza will call into doubt whether something still qualifies as pizza at all, removing too many elements of worship should call into doubt whether something still qualifies as a worship service. A service devoid of prayer, congregational singing, sacraments, and the public reading of Scripture may be a service in name only. The main point of that article was to call churches to emphasize (or re-emphasize) Scripture reading, and I offered two reasons we ought to do this: Because God commands it and because the Bible has the power to save, teach, reprove, correct, train, and mature.
Today I want to offer a few more reasons that churches should have tons of Bible in their worship services, and especially to have a skilled reader read a substantial portion as an element that stands on its own. These reasons are not as directly and obviously drawn from the Bible, but are drawn from my experience and the experience of other pastors.
First, it is all the Bible many people will get. If we don’t read the Bible in our worship services, many people will never hear the Bible. Of course I expect that many or most of the people in your church have developed habits of devotion and are regularly engaging in private and/or family devotions. But realistically, many are not. Some Christians take a long time to develop the habit; some, though truly saved, never really develop the habit. I believe it’s safe to assume that when I read the Bible to the church on a Sunday morning, many people have not heard a word of the Bible since the previous Sunday morning. If that’s true even of the believers, how much more of the unbelievers? And if I won’t read the Bible to them, who will? (This is also an argument for reading a substantial portion of Scripture—if people are eating only once per week, it’s better to give them a meal than a snack!)
Second, it may help whet people’s appetite for the Bible. A church that never reads the Bible is tacitly communicating that the Bible is not all that important. A church that preaches a lot but reads little is subtly communicating that understanding the Bible requires the interpretive expertise of the pastor. But as people hear the Bible, and as they hear it read well, it will show them that the Bible is accessible, and may well whet their appetite for more. It may give them the desire to pick it up and read it through the week.
Third, it increases the church’s biblical literacy. Most Christians spend the great majority of their devotional times focused on a relatively small number of books—Genesis and Exodus, Psalms and Proverbs, the gospels, the epistles, and perhaps a few others. But not nearly as many Christians spend time in Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, Isaiah and Ezekiel, the minor prophets, and so on. A church that is committed to reading the Bible aloud can ensure people are encountering the riches of these books as well. This will necessarily increase the congregation’s biblical literacy.
Fourth, it shapes the church in a common direction. Though not everyone reads the Bible through the week, many do. Though not every family does family devotions, many do. And when they do, each tends to follow their preferred and personalized program. Well and good. But by reading Scripture together as a church, the the whole congregation is shaped in a common direction. That reading gives everyone access to the same words at the same time; it calls everyone to the same obedience at the same time.
Fifth, it provides a common point of discussion and application. Just as that public reading of Scripture shapes the church in a common direction, it provides a common point of discussion, reflection, and application. Everyone has heard the same words and is now called to respond to them. The Scripture-reading, and not just the sermon, can become the basis of fellowship and application.
Sixth, it serves the illiterate. While churches in upper-middle-class North American suburbia may be able to count on the literacy of their congregations, churches in many other contexts cannot. Reading the Scripture aloud serves those who struggle to read or who simply cannot read. And then, even where there is universal literacy, many people struggle to comprehend what they are capable of reading. A skilled reader can help such people understand the text simply by the way he or she reads it.
Seventh, it provides a common accomplishment. During a recent trip to Zambia I attended a church where the congregants were celebrating the fact that they had just finished reading through the New Testament. They were committed to reading one chapter at each week’s morning service and one at each week’s evening service and bit by bit had read through the whole Bible multiple times. This was a corporate accomplishment they were celebrating together.
I have attended many services that by any measure had too little Bible, or even no Bible at all. I have never attended a church that had too much Bible. It would be very nearly impossible to let God’s voice through God’s Word be too prominent in our gatherings. So let’s let that pure, powerful, holy, effective Book dominate our public worship. Let’s preach it and sing it and pray it and yes, of course, let’s read it!