After church this morning, I was taking with a friend about reading the Bible in a church service. It is, of course, not just important what we read, but how we read. Too much Bible-reading in our churches is dull, and makes the Word of God seem lifeless. This is the Word of God!
It is not as if this question has never before been addressed. The Westminster Larger Catechism says:
The holy Scriptures are to be read with a high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very word of God, and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer.
This is the crucial point. The one who reads the Scriptures must not only firmly believe all that he reads, he must convince the hearers that he believes it, too! Indeed, although we often consider the preaching of the Bible to be the highlight of the service, the preaching will ‘merely’ explain and apply the Bible’s message. If the Bible is read well, then the preachers job will be significantly easier. By the time the preacher starts his sermon, the congregation could already been under conviction that what they are about to hear will not be mere words, but an exposition of the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God itself. Perhaps this is best illustrated by John’s Blanchard’s recollections of how, as a newly-converted Christian, he so valued the Scriptures – even when he wasn’t preaching, just “reading”:
My wife and I lived in a small flat at the time, but I can vividly remember my Sunday morning routine. Immediately after breakfast I would go into the bedroom, lock the door, and begin to prepare for reading the lesson that morning. After a word of prayer I would look up the lesson in the lectionary and read it carefully in the Authorized Version, which we were using in the church. Then I would read it through in every other version I had in my possession, in order to get thoroughly familiar with the whole drift and sense of the passage. Next I would turn to the commentaries. I did not have many in those days, but those I had I used.
I would pay particular attention to word meanings and doctrinal implications. When I had finished studying the passage in detail, I would go to the mantelpiece, which was roughly the same height as the lectern in the church and prop up the largest copy of the Authorized Version I possessed. Having done that, I would walk slowly up to it from the other side of the room, and begin to speak, aloud: ‘Here beginneth the first verse of the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to St John’ (or whatever the passage was). Then I would begin to read aloud the portion appointed. If I made so much as a slip of the tongue, a single mispronunciation, I would stop, walk back across the room and start again, until I had read the whole passage word perfect, perhaps two or three times… there were times when I emerged from the bedroom with that day’s clean white shirt stained with perspiration drawn from the effort of preparing one lesson to be read in church. Does that sound like carrying things too far? Then let me add this: I was told there were times when after the reading of the lesson people wanted to leave the service there and then and go quietly home to think over the implications of what God had said to them in his Word.
If only we would treat all areas of Christian service as carefully and prayerfully as John did all those years ago, and as carefully as we expect our pastors to treat their sermons. Father, forgive us for our flippancy.