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.