The Value of Reading Scripture in Worship

After a recent conversation with a brother about the importance of public Scripture readings during gathered worship, I was reminded of a quote from J.C. Ryle, a bishop in the nineteenth century Anglican church:

“There is nothing in the public worship of the Church of England which I admire so much as the large quantity of Scripture which it orders to be read aloud to its members. Every Churchman who goes to church twice on Sunday hears two chapters of the Old Testament and two chapters of the New, beside the Psalms, the Epistle, and the Gospel. I doubt if the members of any other church in Christendom hear anything like the same proportion of God’s Word.”

Worship: It’s Priority, Principles, and Practice (From Knots Untied (1877), reprinted separately by Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), 21.

I am a happily committed Southern Baptist, and have no desire to make any sort of denominational move. But as those who profess to be a “people of the Book,” I believe we can not only affirm, but admire and learn from the devotion to the public reading of Scripture in our worship services that Bishop Ryle describes here within the Church of England. As one friend pointed out, it is particularly convicting when historic, “mainline” denominations (such as the Anglican/Episcopal Church), which often hold to a far lower view of the inspiration and authority of Scripture than do Southern Baptists, still devote so much time in their services to reading Scripture.

It doesn’t have to seem like a fireworks display every time we read Scripture in our services. This is one of those worship practices that tends, by the grace of God, to have a subtle, cumulative effect on a congregation over the long haul. May the ongoing ministry of the public reading and hearing of Scripture week-in and week-out shape the thinking and affections of our churches.


About Eric Smith

Sinner saved by the grace of Jesus, husband of Candace, father of Coleman and Crockett, West Tennessean, pastor of Sharon Baptist Church, student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
This entry was posted in Christian Life, Scripture, Worship and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Value of Reading Scripture in Worship

  1. The Parson says:

    I really like what you wrote here. I have most of Ryle’s works, and they have been so helpful in my pulpit ministry and in shaping my view of evangelical concerns.

    In the Baptist Church where I serve, I have tried to increase the public reading of Scripture in the following ways:

    1) We open the service with a few verses, read responsively (usually from the Psalms)

    2) We have two Bible readings. Usually, one from the Old Testament, and then one from the New Testament (usually the Gospel on Sunday mornings), interspersed by a hymn(s). Most times the Old Testament reading is related to the New Testament reading.

    Sometimes I consult the historic lectionaries for purposes of correlation, but not always.

    3) Sometimes I close the service with a benediction from the 1991 Baptist Hymnal–which has a section of Scripture benedictions at the back. I am always careful when I do this to say that the aim is to “bookend our worship service with the Word of God.”

    So far, I have not received any feedback on this. I will say that it has been a very, very slow and gradual approach. I’ve served my church for 12 years, and this change was introduced in the 10th year.

    My dream is to start singing a metrical Psalm to divide between the other Old Testament reading and the New Testament reading. We are not doing this yet and it is not in the immediate plan. I am still just researching it and it may never happen.

    I’ve tried it in evening services where we have had the Lord’s Supper, but with a soloist, not the congregation. If I could find some good contemporary versions of Psalm paraphrases or metrical translation, I would be happy to try them. The only reason I think the older metrical Psalms might be an option is they can often be used with familiar tunes, such as “New Britain” (Amazing Grace’s tune). That would give us three Bible readings in an hour of worship. I believe that would be great.

    My thoughts boil down to this: if “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” (Romans 10) then why would we not want more Bible in our services?

    Just so these comments can be put in context, our Southern Baptist church is small–we average about 120 on Sunday mornings, and is a county seat church in a rural, farming county in North central Kentucky.

    I agree with you that it is high time the Word itself makes up a more significant part of our worship service. Hopefully, these steps we have taken have helped our church hear and know more of God’s Word.

    Best wishes as you think and pray about how you can continue to give your people a rich diet of God’s Word in public worship.

    The Kentucky Parson

  2. Eric Smith says:

    Hey brother,
    Thanks so much for reading, for your thoughtful reply, and for your faithful ministry in north rural KY. I apologize for not responding earlier!
    I love what you are doing in seeking to saturate your services with the Word of God. My desire is the same here at my Southern Baptist church in rural, northwest TN.
    Keep up the faithful labor in the Lord’s strength, and let me know your progress with the psalm-singing! I love that!
    Yours in Christ,

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