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Why Do We Read So much of the Bible in Worship?

One of the major problems in the Church today is the lack of hearing and reading the Word of God.  If one were to walk into most churches, he or she might hear a short reading from a Bible passage that relates to a Sunday sermon, but that is about the extent of what one hears from Scripture.  This is a major problem in the church today.  The absence of biblical knowledge is why so many people are led astray by false teachers.  There is a serious lack of discernment today.  Ignorance of Scripture is also why so many people have accommodated to the world’s ideas and practices.  Oftentimes, there is little difference between the morality of the world and individuals who profess to be followers of Christ.  The reading and study of Sacred Scripture is vital in preserving the faith throughout the ages.

Most church-going people today have placed feelings over knowing what the Bible says, and it shows in both belief and lifestyle.  The god of today is the human gut or emotions, and the Word of God is no longer heard.  As the late great Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his little book on the Psalms, “The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart” (Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible, p.15).

The Church has always put a high priority on hearing Scripture.  The Jewish Synagogue is the backdrop to Christian worship.  The Synagogue was a place where Scripture was read, and the Psalms chanted, before instruction was given from the Rabbi.  This emphasis on hearing the Word of God continues in the Church.  Christians would attend the synagogue and then go to a house designated as the sanctuary for the participation in the Holy Eucharist.

We continue this practice of hearing the Word of God and then receiving the Word made flesh in the Holy Eucharist.  As matter of fact, this is the template for our liturgy to this very day.  Each week we have a responsive Psalm reading.  We listen to the readings from both the Old Testament and Epistles, before hearing the words and deeds of Jesus in one of the four Gospels.  The Gospel reading is given preeminence in the liturgy because it describes the words and actions from the ministry of our Lord.  The Gospels tell us of the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises in Christ.  The Epistles apply the teachings of Jesus to the life of the Church.

The Holy Gospel is the pinnacle for the readings of Holy Scripture.  Therefore, we have a processional with the book containing the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  The Deacon or Priest reads the Gospel among, or in the midst of the people because the Word of God became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:1, 14).  The Incarnation of Jesus (i.e. God becoming human flesh) is the focal point of all that we do in worship.  Christ is among His people proclaiming His truth and wisdom.

Scholars have noted that the Book of Common Prayer is 80% Scripture.  The other parts of the Prayer Book are made up of ancient prayers with some influences from the Reformation.  The reason for this is that the Bible is not a mere instructional or history book; it transforms our hearts and minds.  Anglicans, however, are catholic in that we believe that the Church provides the interpretation and framework for Holy Scripture.  The Scripture readings are not randomly picked by the clergy, rather they are ordered by the Church from antiquity.  The selection of the readings by the Church revolve around the calendar, and the particular season that is being observed and celebrated throughout the year.

The Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent provides us with a wonderful reminder and prayer,

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

May we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of God, so that we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord (II Peter 3:18), and conform our hearts and minds to Christ, not to the fleeting things of this world (Romans 12:1-2).