When was the last time you stopped and considered how remarkable and significant is the public reading of Scripture? As evangelicals, we believe that when the Bible is read aloud the audience hears the very word of God. The listeners are given access by the Spirit of God to the mind of Christ.

This is a belief that we do not share with many other Christians. In some churches, the truth of God is believed to be revealed through reasoning and intellect, leading to phrases like, "It seems logical to me that God would want us to act this way…" In other traditions, access to God comes via the emotions, for example, "I feel that God is saying to me that he wants me to act in this way…"

At their core, both of these approaches are in sharp conflict with the heart of evangelicalism, which maintains that God speaks through his word, the gospel (in Greek, the evangel).

All of this makes the public reading of Scripture crucial to our evangelical Christian life. If we are to be true to our evangelical heritage then we, of all people, should savour and delight in the public reading of the word of God, and should receive it with anticipation and expectation.

Yet, sadly, it seems that our Bible readings are often undervalued. What should form the core of our gatherings is often overlooked and under-appreciated.

Through this attitude to the public reading of Scripture, we communicate to both believers and unbelievers alike that we essentially seek an experience of God separate from his word. We show our sisters and brothers, as well as our unchurched friends, that we want to be touched by God through the emotions of the singing, or the reasoning of the rhetoric, not the hearing of the Scriptures. In doing so, we disguise the path to God, and thus we muffle the Holy Spirit.

So, how can we reverse this deterioration in public Bible reading? Here are a few random thoughts to consider.

1. Pray before the Bible reading

Ask the Bible reader or service leader to prepare a short prayer before the reading that demonstrates an expectation that God will speak this very moment to our gathering. Perhaps they could pray something like this:

Our Father, we love to hear you speak to us, and so we are eager to hear your word. Please help us by your Spirit to listen to you as your word is now read, and soften our hearts so that we might know you better, and love you more.  Amen.

2. Treat the Bible reading as a corporate "quiet time'

Before the blessing of the printing press, Anglican believers gathered each day for a corporate quiet time. Since they could neither read nor have access to printed bibles, they came together and listened to the Scriptures read at Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer.

Nowadays, since most of us can read, and many Western Christians have a library of different Bibles, the need to meet daily to hear the word read to us is unnecessary. Yet, the busyness of life and the hardness of our hearts cause many of us to neglect the privilege of daily Bible reading.

So, why not treat one of the two Scripture readings as a corporate quiet time? Choose a book of the Bible that receives less "airtime' (such as an Old Testament prophet) and systematically read a chapter each week, discreet from any sermon series.

In fact, someone could even write a series of one-minute introductions to each reading, and these could be read immediately before the Bible reading, as a sort of mini-devotion.

3. Get training in Bible reading

It seems strange to suggest that people with a high level of literacy and years of experience in reading should be encouraged to learn to read the Bible aloud. Yet, there are many simple ways to dramatically (pun intended!) improve the quality of our reading of the Scriptures.

The late Clifford Warne in his book / CD "How to read the Bible aloud' left a priceless legacy to our churches. Drawing upon his wonderful gifts in storytelling, he showed how a reader can bring to life the word of God through simple techniques in preparation and delivery.

Why not get together the Bible readers at your church and invite the group to read and discuss a portion of Clifford's book? Or, you could gather to listen to him present his material on CD - see the fact-box above for details.

4. Read the Bible after the Sermon

I have reserved my most radical suggestion for last. Why not read the main passage upon which the sermon is based after the talk?

In normal situations, we listen to the Bible read before the preacher explains and expands the text. Wouldn't it be better to hear the Bible expounded, and then hear it read? The text would gain even greater clarity, and the meaning would be amplified by the exposition just presented by the preacher.

The public reading of Scripture is one of the most profound and supernatural components of our Christian gathering. Yet, we often treat it with a contempt that is bred from familiarity. Instead, let us show to the church and the world that we believe that Christ is present amongst us in his Spirit as his word is read, and thus bring glory to our Father in heaven.

Jodie McNeill is Year 13 Director and a Youth Ministry Lecturer at Youthworks College. Visit his blog at jodiemcneill.com

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