How the Bible ought to be read in church

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.

Comments

  1. We were talking about this in my first week in Bryntirion!

    We are indeed too flippant!

  2. We were talking about this in my first week in Bryntirion!We are indeed too flippant!

  3. Thank you so much for this posting. In the church I attend, I am occasionally asked to “perform” sections of Scripture. What that means is I memorize the text (usually from the NIV) and study it in depth: I read commentaries, I study it in the original language, I find research papers written about it, and I look for patterns and cross-references. Finally, when I feel I have a grasp of at least the basic meaning, I practice performing it. If the section is narrative, I tell it as a story teller would. If it is from an Epistle, I tell it as if I where the author preaching his letter as a sermon. I consider tone, pacing, and how I can use the stage, props, and even PowerPoint slides to help emphasize repetition, patterns, and themes.
    It is excruciatingly slow work, but the rewards are huge, both for me as the reader and for the listener. For example, I have frequently had people come up to me and tell me they cried the whole way through the reading or that it was as if the Word was being addressed directly to them. But as much as the hearer gains, I believe I gain that tenfold. For example, I am currently preparing to perform the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and although I am only two weeks into my preparation (I will perform it fourteen weeks from now, in August, to introduce a series my pastor will be preaching), I am being sorely convicted of the condition of my heart and thoroughly challenge to see the sermon as a cohesive message and not as “Random Thoughts by Jesus.”
    I am three classes away from completing a Mast of Arts in Theology through Fuller Theological Seminary. Perhaps, when I have graduated, the Lord will allow me to do more in this ministry of the Word. To perform Scripture more and to teach other to do the same would be simply wonderful! As you said, “Too much Bible-reading in our churches is dull, and makes the Word of God seem lifeless. This is the Word of God!”

  4. Thanks for the comments. I checked out your video on your blog and enjoyed listening to your readings from Ephesians. A few years ago I heard an American perform the whole of Luke (and later Acts). I remember thinking at the time that the Word of God was gripping, and convicted that the Bible didn’t seem that real when I read it for myself. I happily sat through the whole 90 minute performance drinking it in, and never for a moment bored. There is obviously a fine line between such a perfomance and something that adds to Scripture by adding emphasis where there should be none, so it was a real encouragement to read how much preparation goes into a perfomance. I pray that God would really use your ministry to His glory!

  5. I am not so good with words but i must say Wow!! at what i found here! i have never heard, until today, of the scriptures being performed, except the birth of our Lord during Christmas. I have decided to register as a reader during our Sunday mass next year – so really i was looking for help with reading in church!Paster John has really inspired me…
    I dont know if this is a coicidence or not but last saturady i attended a wedding mass and Fr Kelly did not read from the Bible but had memorised the Gospel reading from the Gospel according to John..
    I will do my best and i believe the Lord will guide me as i prepare for next year.

  6. Keith Sharples says:

    Well done, Mark.

    I wonder if you would allow me to insert your comments as part of a small booklet I am writing on the subject “How to…” as a helpful guide to those who are, or may be participating in local church services?
    I will give acknowledgement of you authorship and where the article is to be found.

    Rev. Keith Sharples

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