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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Evangelicals Unfaithful To The Word About The Word?

The other day I was in the kitchen doing dishes and I overheard my wife was reading a passage from the Bible to my kids. And as she read this verse, my ears perked up.

1 Timothy 4:11 "Command and teach these things. 12 Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching." (NIV)

As some of you know, I am prone to rant on this blog about the failure of many churches to read the Bible in their worship services.

Let's focus on v.13 for a moment. Are these three commands separate things or are they all part of the same thing? For example, when a pastor gives an expository sermon, meaning: s/he reads a few verses, expounds on them and then works his/her way through a passage, does that constitute what Paul had in mind when he instructed Timothy to "devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching." Is it one action?

Or, were they meant to be three separate acts? The public reading of scripture is very different than preaching and teaching. The latter two are a little more difficult to distinguish. Were all three meant to happen each time they gathered? Were people to experience three separate things: they heard a reading of Scripture, they heard a sermon and then they heard a teaching? The NASB and ESV use the word "exhortation" instead of the NIV's use of "preaching"

Regardless, considered the phrase, "devote yourself". They are meant to be a high priority.

It's clear Paul is giving a command not a suggestion. I wonder if that was a cultural command, meaning it was something that was commanded for that time and place, or is it to be that pastors and church leaders are to be for time and eternity devoted to those 3 things?

Some would want to argue that in our current cultural milieu, an extended oral recitation of the Bible (or any other book for that matter) is an ineffective means of communication. We are no longer a word driven culture but a icon/image driven people. We've been trained by Hollywood and Madison Ave. to listen in sound bytes and have a preference for the digital experience. Reading just isn't effective any more. That leads to an interesting theology of the scripture, inferring that the content or interpretation of the Bible is important but it's presentation as words on a page are less so. I'll have to give that some further thought.

Legalism never serves us well. To mandate that Scripture must be publicly read each time the church gathers will not ensure faithfulness to God. I find it one of the greatest ironies of all time, The Episcopal Church, which is now considered apostate by many, follows the BCP liturgy and reads the lectionary texts each week. Most still read 3-4 texts at every pubic worship service let alone the plethora of scriptural allusions and quotations in the liturgy. Yet so many evangelical churches, who are proclaiming the historic faith as it has been handed down from the apostles, have given up the public reading of Scripture in exchange for the expository sermon. Their liturgy has become 20-30 minutes of singing, 30-45 minute sermon, announcements and a closing song -- add in the occasional baptism, special music, video clip and communion.

I admit I'm not the sharpest theologian/philosopher out there and there are certain holes in my theology of scripture. But somehow I believe that reading the Bible is different than reading a sermon or other piece of literature. There is a mystical experience there. Essentially God is able to speak to people differently when we read the Bible as opposed to other containers of words on pages.

I believe that reading the Bible unexposited, without comment, is important. God doesn't need us to explain. His Spirit is quite capable of peircing people's hearts and speaking words of conviction and compassion without our contribution. It is good for the people of God to listen to the public reading of scripture even if it is not our culture's preferred mode of communication.

And finally, there is something mystical that happens when God's people sing songs of praise, hear the Scriptures read, pray together and hear a sermon. God speaks to people through that collective experience during worship differently than if we were just doing one of them.

I exhort you read the Scriptures publicly in your church.

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