I can’t imagine that readers of this blog attend churches where the Scriptures are never read during corporate worship. However, we may find that many attend churches where the reading of Scripture is not practicedas an end in itself.
In many churches, the Scriptures are read simply before the sermon, or to preface the sermon, as it were. The Scripture reading becomes merely a bridge between the singing and the preaching. I grew up in a setting where a separate, stand-alone reading of Scripture was never practiced. I’ve come to see the tremendous value of this practice, for several reasons.
First, it’s commanded by precept and example. Paul commanded it in 1 Timothy 4:13 and in Colossians 4:16 and 1 Thessalonians 5:27. It seems John expected the public reading of Scripture too, judging by Revelation 1:3. Early church practice confirms this.
Second, in giving a specific time to the reading of the Word, we testify to our belief in its inspired nature and power to convert. The Word is not merely a tool for our use. The Word itself preaches, when it is read. The Word has intrinsic power. (One member of my church was converted simply by reading the book of Matthew.)
Third, we revere God’s revelation in our midst when the only sound heard is the Word of God being publicly read. When the Scriptures are read, we call attention to the God-centredness of Christian worship. Christian worship is entirely a response to what God has revealed about Himself. In the act of stand-alone Scripture readings, we become slow to speak, and quick to listen, so that our worship is a matter of appropriate response, not creative innovation. I have heard this only anecdotally, but it is said that at a certain point during corporate worship in certain Puritan churches, a large pulpit Bible would be marched through the center of the church building, held aloft, while the members all stood in reverence. This is not bibliolatry; this is revering the fact that God has spoken.
Scripture readings might include the text to be preached on for that day, particularly if it is a longer portion. If not, it is a good practice to include more than one reading, perhaps from both Testaments, that deal with a theme similar to that of the text to be preached.
Of late, some helpful tools have emerged, encouraging a careful and skillful approach to the public reading of Scripture. The person who reads Scripture should ideally be one who is skilled at reading and speaking, and is able to communicate the text with the inflections and emphases appropriate for the genre of literature, and for the subject being addressed. No one is pleased with a flawless, but colourless reading of Scripture. Likewise, we want a fluency and freedom in reading that directs our attention to what is being said, without tripping over how. This might be natural to some; it is a skill that can learned and improved in most.