Why Don’t Churches Read the Bible? - By Douglas Jacoby

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

Reading this passage, I used to assume that Paul encouraged the oral reading of Scripture, teaching, and preaching—three separate activities. In recent years I’ve come to view the passage quite differently. Timothy is first to read the text, then preach or teach from it.

Biblical integrity requires that any message claiming to be biblical actually come from the text—and not be imposed on it by the speaker. A “pep talk, with scriptures added” may be motivational, but I suspect the apostle is asking for a message squarely based on the passage read aloud to the congregation. There are obvious advantages to this approach. Specifying the text keeps the preacher or teacher honest. The congregation may reasonably expect the message to stick to the passage—and not wander. It’s also easier to follow the message and remember what has been taught.

In a recently study of Deuteronomy, I came across an observation by OId Testament scholar Duane L. Christensen. Although he speaks not so much about preaching and teaching per se as about reading the Bible out loud, his insight is relevant all the same:

One of the curious features of modern worship within the evangelical churches today is the absence of public recitation of the Scriptures as an end in itself. Much time is given to singing songs of praise, many of which are simply biblical texts put to music. But very little time is given to “hearing” the Bible recited, other than perhaps the text on which the pastor’s sermon of the morning is based. We need to find ways to expose our people to the whole of the Bible in public worship in the manner that ancient Israel experienced Deuteronomy on Mount Ebal [Deut 27].

The public reading of Scripture is biblical. In the passage Christensen refers to, Moses commands that God’s Word be solemnly proclaimed on two Samaritan mountainsides, Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim.(Actually, we were there just a few days ago!) Another location that comes to mind is Jerusalem’s Water Gate (Neh 8), where the Torah was read and explained to an attentive and patient audience.

The public proclamation of God’s Word has the potential to be powerful, even life-transforming. Of course it’s not the mere reading of the Bible that’s powerful—though no Christian would deny that fact—but the thoroughly biblical message that genuinely flows from the scripture selected. In fact, I’ve been encouraged many times when a brother or sister reads the text aloud, after which I am called to speak from that same passage.

What difference does it make? It comes down to the difference between expounding the Word and preaching an agenda. This is no minor matter. So why don’t more churches follow Paul’s direction? Think about it.

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