24 April 2017

Facebook currently says it’s one year since my Long Service Leave in America. There I was privileged to attend 7 services and 3 Bible study groups at 5 churches. All were friendly and Bible-based, with the gospel of Jesus central.

But, at least to my way of thinking, something was missing: Bible-reading in church!

In my Minister’s Letters through 2017, I’m spending some time unpacking each of the “Values” in St Michael’s “Vision 2020” statement. The third of the ten listed values:

Consecutive reading and explanation of the Bible as our basic method of ministry.

Notice it does not just refer to consecutive explanation of the Bible ­– that is, working systematically through one passage this week, and the next passage next week.

This is often referred to as ‘expository preaching’. And it should be our ‘bread and butter’ method of preaching. It can also help stop the pastor always going to ‘hobby horses’.

Likewise Growth Groups should usually work through books of the Bible, section by section as their default pattern, with topical studies as occasional variety.

Why? Some of you may recall a saying for good interpretation I recently shared:

A text without a context is a proof-text for a pretext…

text – that is, a single verse of Scripture – without a context – that is, without reference to the surrounding verses in their historical setting – is a pretext – that is, a lame excuse – for a proof-text – where you end debate by giving a killer verse to ‘prove’ your point… But it’s not always what the verse means!

So when Philippians 4:13 says I can do “all things” through Christ who gives me strength, it does not mean I can always achieve high distinctions in exams! The context says the “all things” refers to enduring all situations: i.e. hunger or poverty, not just being well off!

But what I missed in America was not expository preaching, but consecutive reading of Scripture. The only time the Bible was read in most services was the sermon passage just before the talk itself. Generally, there was no other Bible reading, except in one or two cases, a brief few verses perhaps to introduce the service.

By contrast, the historic Anglican pattern from the Reformation under Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer was lots of Scripture reading in every service.

And we continue almost always having a second reading, often unrelated to the sermon passage, from the other Testament to that being preached. Sometime we recite a psalm, or a Bible passage that focuses our attention on Jesus (e.g. Col 1:15-20, Phil 2:5-11).

Why? Because we believe that the Holy Spirit, who inspired it, gives Scripture its own power and value in itself – beyond what a sermon can do!

Paul says his young pastor friend should devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, not just to preaching and to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13). And he writes: faith comes through hearing (Romans 10:17).

In fact a recent article suggested, “The only perfect part of the Sunday service is when the Bible is read… After all, the Bible is the perfect Word of God” whereas preachers and pray-ers are not.

And so friends, its regular reading – at various points of the service – should be a never-neglected, always valued highlight!

Warmly in Christ,
Sandy Grant