Are we really devoted to the public reading of Scripture? (Scott Newling, Cambridge)

flickr: Sun Dazed

As evangelicals, we’ll often claim to believe that God speaks to us through the Bible. But do our public church gatherings actually reflect this conviction? This article by Scott Newling (currently in Cambridge), which appeared last year, is a salutary reminder to put our beliefs into action:

Many evangelical churches are today characterized by what we might call a ‘relaxed liturgy’ (the idea that we have no liturgy is, of course, a nonsense, since we all have habits and cultures of doing church, even if it isn’t ‘codified’ in text like a prayer book). Within this relaxed format, or so-called ‘freedom’, the church will hear one or two Bible readings of about 10-15 verses each. If they’re lucky. There appears to be a trend in some evangelical circles to adopt the habit of having one Bible reading—and this Bible reading is effectively set within the context of ‘preparation for the sermon’ rather than standing in its own right.

Let’s look at the wider church context. What if this church repeats the sermon across all services? And what if they pair their mid-week Bible-study groups with the sermon series? This means that, in any given week, church members will publicly hear 15 verses of Scripture (there are about 31,100 verses in the Bible, for those who are curious). In a given year, then, this church will publicly read about 780 verses, or (for the non-mathematicians amongst us) 2.5% of the Bible.

Scott goes on to compare our present reality with the pattern set out in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (a heritage which many of us claim for our own). In the Prayer Book,

with the assump­tion that public services would be held morning and evening every day of the week, the Old Testament and New Testament readings would mean that over the course of the year the whole Old Testament would be read publicly once, the New Testament twice, and the Psalms twelve times.

Scott not only offers a useful rebuke to our current practices; he suggests ways to change our practices and to learn to publicly delight in feasting on God’s word.