I Put You Under Oath

In Spring '05 (aka junior year of college), I took a New Testament class at FHU that required me to read through the entire New Testament. More specifically, I was to read through an entire book before the next class period, and since the class only met twice a week, that was a tight squeeze. So I would go to the library just before class and read through the assigned book. It was probably the first time in my life I had read through whole books of the Bible in one sitting. I will forever remain grateful for those assignments. Reading books in one sitting gave me a deeper appreciation for context, tone, and the overall flow of the author's thoughts and arguments. I appreciated letters like Romans and Galatians as never before. I determined to somehow integrate this into my ministry.

Here in Bowie, once every three months, we read through a book of the Bible publicly in our worship on a Sunday night in lieu of a sermon. I do so because I take seriously Paul's charge to Timothy to give himself to the public reading of Scripture (1 Tim. 4:13), but also his charge to the Thessalonians: "I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters” (1 Thess 5:27).

I think it's safe to say that most every church has given appropriate space to the preaching of the Word, and also to singing. Some are better than others at valuing weekly observance of Communion. But few churches seemingly value the public reading of the Word as they should. If Scripture reading is a common part of service, it is limited to 2-5 verses before the sermon. We thus miss a terrific opportunity to share with God's people a love for the whole book, and not just a small passage easily lifted from its context.

Obviously, reading lengthy books like Psalms, Isaiah, or one of the gospels is out of the question for most churches. But smaller books lend themselves quite well to this endeavor, especially the epistles such as Ephesians, Philippians, James, etc. I have presented these books as an integrated part of the service (song, chapter, song, chapter, etc.) and as a separate part (read the whole book, make a few comments, extend the invitation). Both approaches have worked well, and the feedback I have received from the brethren has been overwhelmingly positive. In their busy lives, few Christians ever sit down and read these books in one sitting. Doing so in lieu of a sermon is thus a great break from the ordinary.

Finally, I am convicted that this practice brings us closer to the pattern of the New Testament church. Paul's command to read his letters to the assembly surely holds significance for us, or these statements would not have been providentially preserved.

What else can the church do to celebrate the public reading of Scripture?

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