Bible reading, meditation, journaling, meaty theology books – they are crucial and quite individualistic. And while there is a place for your personal, passionate pursuit of God, the Bible was never meant to remain a solely singular endeavor. The Word of God was and has always been a community experience.
These books, letters, stories, poems and prophecies are meant to be read aloud. It is the call upon the people of God to worship Him through His Word recounted and recited in the midst of biblical community.
Dr. Jeff Arthurs presents five reasons why the public reading of Scripture is integral to Christian community worship, not as mere perfunctory recitation but as impassioned and Spirit-empowered speaking of the very words of God:
1. We are commanded to read the Bible publicly. Referring, of course, to 1 Timothy 4:13, “Devote yourself to the public reading.” We are a forgetful people, all too often foggy in our thinking and heart’s desires. We need to be reminded who we are, so God commands us to read Scripture devotedly and publicly.
2. When we read the Bible publicly, we do what the people of God have always done. Based on the prominence public reading of Scripture has had through the millennia, Timothy Ralston concludes, “Public reading and preaching within the worship exposes [God’s] demands, our inadequacy, and his grace. It calls for covenant renewal and lies at the heart of spiritual revival. Therefore, how can we offer acceptable worship, if his Word does not have a prominent place in our liturgy?”
3. God transforms us through the Word. Dallas Willard explains with an analogy: “In the same way that your hand moves in response to your thought and emotion,” just so does God perform his will (creating, ruling, and redeeming) through the unmediated extension of his will expressed in words. “What we call natural laws, then, must be regarded as God’s thoughts and intentions [that is, his words] as to how the world should run.”
4. The Bible was meant to be read aloud. Before it was inscribed on vellum and papyrus, the stories, proverbs, and poetry of the Bible circulated orally, and after the oral literature was written down, it continued to be transmitted orally. Literature in the ancient world was spoken, not read silently, even when reading privately. This is still the case today in much of the worldwide Church, and that is appropriate because the Bible was meant to be received aurally.
5. Hearing the Word is different than reading it silently. Hearing and seeing a reader embody the text is a different experience than silently pondering a script in the privacy of the study. Have you heard the Word read well? Vistas of new understanding and worship open as the people of God receive His words together.
These reasons form a basis for seeing the Scriptures as a community treasure. Reading the Word in community need not be long-faced and doleful. It should come alive with the very personalities behind the words themselves.
Now that we have established the reasons to read together, consider specific ways to do so in your families, small groups and church gatherings.