Why Do We Read So Much Scripture During Our Worship Gatherings?
Written by Danny Castiglione
If you have been at Waypoint for our Sunday morning worship gathering more than a few times, you have probably heard long passages of Scripture read at various points during the worship service. We want everyone to know that this is intentional. We believe that communal reading is a vital part of worship and that it has always been part of community worship.
I came across this article on how the early Christians worshiped and learned the Bible from the Institute for Biblical Reading’s website. After demonstrating that regular gatherings to hear the Scriptures read out loud was a vital aspect of the early Church, the article asks the question, “Should We Recover Communal Reading Today?”
Of course, most of the first Christians didn’t have any opportunity to own a personal copy of the Scriptures, and the preponderance of evidence remains that most people could not even read or write. But they were experienced, focused listeners, and this served them well. Christian formation in the early church was centered on immersion in the story of God, Israel, and the world as found in the sacred writings, both old and new. This tangible, practical focus on the Scriptures also helped ensure the integrity of the message over time.
But what about us?
In the modern era we’ve largely turned away from the early Christian practice of communal immersion in the Scriptures. Reading and study of the Bible is largely done individually, surrounded by all manner of reference-type helps, commentary, and devotional aids. The research evidence is clear that this is not working as an overall strategy for Bible engagement. People report that reading alone in this way is complicated and overwhelming. In short, it’s hard. And as a result, folks admit they’re not doing it much.
What new kinds of communal encounters can we imagine? What new forms of public reading and dialogue around the text can we envision?
The consequences have been serious for both private and public expressions of the faith. Unfamiliarity with the Big Story has produced Christians who don’t really have a good chance of living into the story in our contemporary setting because they don’t know who they are or where they came from.
There is no shortcut to this biblical knowledge. It comes only from sustained attention to our founding narratives, letters, songs, and wisdom. It comes from reading big and reading whole, not piecemeal sampling.
Communal reading was vital to the early Church, and it is vital for us today. This is why we often read the Scripture passage in its entirety before the sermon, even if we do not preach on the entire text.
We also believe that the best way to teach how to apply the Bible is with the Bible, so this leads us to a posture of filling our sermons and other aspects of worship with continual Scripture reading. We want each worship service to be saturated with the Word of God, so that through the power of the Holy Spirit, it can penetrate your heart, your mind, and your soul. So, when you come to worship this Sunday and you hear the Scriptures read, come with a posture to listen, and receive the Word of the Living God.