The Public Reading of Scripture – Why?

I’ve been asked recently why we devote a portion of every Lord’s Day worship to the public reading of Scripture. It’s a great question. Some folks (in general, not expressed in our church) think it’s overly formal and ritualistic, devoid of meaning, while others feel that such parts of the liturgy actually root us objectively in God’s Word and protects the people from the occasional offer sermon (meaning that the Word of God is not completely dependent upon the sermon alone) – what gives?

For one, Scripture commands the reading of Scripture:

1 Timothy 4:13 (ESV) — 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.

I find it strange that we live in an age when thousands of books are being written by self-proclaimed gurus on “how to do church”, and wide-eyed pastors read this stuff and often swear by constructing their ministry and worship around the latest ideas, AND YET discard what Scripture itself says about what to do in the corporate gathering. Now let me say that I am not a strict “regulative principle” guy, perhaps more of a soft “RP” guy, but I think that when the Apostle Paul tells Timothy (a young pastor) what he ought to do specifically in the context of the corporate gathering, then we must heed what is said lest we descend into an unhealthy arbitrariness.  The public reading of Scripture is one such thing commanded of Paul to Timothy and to all pastors today. Jesus inaugurated his ministry through the public reading of Scripture in Nazareth from the scroll of Isaiah.

In most services we have two readings of Scripture: one that is responsive between the pastor and congregation (reading alternating verses) and one that is singularly read by the pastor (generally the sermon text). I personally ask the congregation to stand for each reading because it signifies our solemn attention to the voice of God through the proclaimed Word. We stand for the national anthem, for the pledge of allegiance, for vows, among other things, and generally don’t protest such a vain ritual. Standing in attention to God’s Word represents the posture of “Here I am, send me”. Soldiers stand at attention when receiving orders from a commanding officer, and so it ought to be for us when the King of kings and Lord of lords utters his Word to us.

Just some thoughts to a question I receive. Here are some other thoughts from Mark Dever,

“Carving out time in our Sunday morning service to read Scripture aloud, without comment, every week, makes a statement about the value we place on God’s Word. It says we are eager to hear the Word of the Lord—we desire it. It acknowledges that the life and growth of our local churches depend on the power of God’s Word, and that we really believe that “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). It acknowledges our own weakness in that we continually need to be reminded of what God has said. It says we’re willing to listen to God’s Word, to sit under it in order to be instructed, assessed, and evaluated by it. It says we’re willing to agree with its presentation of reality and with is estimation and judgment of us. It says we’re willing to submit to its verdict and commands without qualification. Yet if the regular public reading of Scripture says all this, what are we saying if we neglect it” (The Deliberate Church, pp 81-82).

© 2012, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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