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The Silence of the Scriptures
Scripture is foundational to Evangelical worship, but often Bible reading in public worship is neglected. What are the reasons, and how do we overcome them?


One of the enduring contributions of the Reformation to the practical spiritual life is the doctrine of sola scriptura. The Scriptures alone are the final authority in matters of faith and practice. This belief effectively turned the focus of spirituality away from sacramentalism to personal study of the Bible. Consequently Evangelical worship became centered more on the prophet in the pulpit rather than on the priest at the altar.

Apart from the sermon text or a Scripture chorus the Word of God is strangely silent.

Yet, one of the surprising things about many Evangelical churches is the neglect of the Bible in worship. This is especially true of those in the non-liturgical tradition. Apart from the sermon text or a Scripture chorus the Word of God is strangely silent.

A recent visit to an Anglican congregation highlighted this by contrast. The worship included readings from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Epistles and the Gospels. Not all liturgical churches use four readings but many do. It is amazing that churches shouting the loudest about biblical authority often do not use it regularly in worship. How will we keep our worship biblical if the Word of God is muted?

Why is the Bible silent in many churches? First, the challenge of modern scholarship that the Bible is archaic and irrelevant surreptitiously undermines the confidence of preachers. This causes some to neglect Scriptural exposition in favour of reading bestsellers and popular psychology for sermon material.

We may add that constant appeals to the original languages unwittingly contribute to a distrust of the English text. Such an approach to preaching discourages devotional Bible reading. People assume, If I need to understand Greek and Hebrew before I can understand the Bible, then why read it?

A third reason for the silence of the Scriptures is the pressure to add new things to worship such as short films, musical concerts, dramatic dance, or skits. These reduce the length of the sermon which, for most believers, is their only regular contact with the Bible. The restoration of Bible reading could mean spiritual renewal in many congregations. If the readings are assigned to young people from different families, every member of those families will be present to hear them read!

We must not lay the blame on the preachers alone. The neglect of public Bible reading may be under their control, but its restoration during worship will not substitute for the personal devotional life.

Many Evangelicals do not have a daily devotional time but we have an insatiable thirst for religious entertainment. We spend millions each year on music videos, CDs and Gospel concerts. We prefer milk to meat long after our teeth are grown. We are still nursing ourselves when we ought to be nurturing others. This unhealthy concern to "be fed" drives people from church to church seeking the latest and best Sunday sermon buffet.

Getting the most from our Bibles is a formidable task today for preachers and parishioners. The simple matter of finding time is challenging. There are too many programs competing for the narrow bandwidth of our lives. However, if we do not make this a priority there will be a famine for the Word of God.

Avoid bad Bible reading habits

We must not read it only when we feel like it. If we permit this we will read it only to seek answers for our personal needs. This is a self-centered therapeutic approach. We may feel better but we may not hear from God

There is a danger in reading only to find a text or that warm fuzzy phrase or promise. Be careful. Putting in our thumb to pull out a plum doesn't always work. Even after a 40 day fast, there is no guarantee that the voice we hear will be God's voice. The first voice Jesus heard after His long fast was Satan's! Some of Satan's lies are spoken in Scriptural language. In the wilderness, in times when our souls are barren, we may be fooled by his isolated quotation of Scripture. Thank God Jesus wasn't.

Get a plan for daily Bible reading and make time for God's Word.

We need regular exposure to the Word in both our personal and corporate spiritual lives. It is the daily bread for our souls. It will cause us to grow in faith. The Bible says, "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans 10:17 NKJV).

Develop good Bible reading habits

Get a plan for daily Bible reading and make time for God's Word. Read it aloud sometimes. Sing it. Pray it. Take it to church. Constant reading, meditation and study will uncover the riches. One must mine for diamonds. They rarely lie on the surface. Do not depend on mystical intuition. Who said the Holy Spirit can speak only through ones' dreams or emotions? Has God not already spoken in His Word and does He not still speak through His Word to our minds and hearts?

The Scriptures are essential for Christian living and we need to pray, as The Book of Common Prayer encourages us, to "hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them." Only God's Word will stand forever. The Church was born out of the Word of God and every believer needs to hear it constantly both in public worship and private devotions lest the voices of strangers lead them astray.

Dr. Garry E. Milley teaches on the faculty of Master's College and Seminary in Toronto. He can be reached at gmilley@mcs.edu.

Originally published in ChristianWeek, January 21, 1997.
http://www.christianweek.org/

 

 
 
 
 

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