This is post number 20 in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry. These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance. I welcome discussion on any of them.
Reflection #20: The public reading of significant chunks of Scripture is extremely rare. Proof-texting is common; reading Scripture that allows for context is not.
Does anyone bring a Bible to church anymore? Opening this post with that sentence risks courting readers’ prejudgments, and I certainly am not interested in a “Back in my day . . .” rant about Biblical illiteracy in the Church, regardless of the accuracy of the content of such a screed.
One reason I don’t regularly (OK, often; OK, ever) bring a hard-copy Bible to church anymore is because whatever Scripture is utilized in worship shows up on the screens via the ubiquity of projection technology in all but the most impoverished of churches. Moreover, like half the world, I have the YouVersion app on my smartphone, and I’m able to pull up a zillion renditions of the passage at hand with a few taps of my finger.
Those reasons noted, surely another reason so few of us have our Bibles in hand when we come to church these days is because so little Scripture is actually read in the services. (Few people who attend evangelical contemporary American church services need to be convinced of this truth, but to put the issue in sobering perspective, I commend this piece written a number of years ago by one of my grad-school profs, Rev. Dr. Constance Cherry: “My House Shall Be Called a House of . . . Announcements.”)
Very few churches outside of those that use a lectionary set aside a particular time in the service for Scripture reading; usually, it’s enveloped into the pastor’s sermon. While this is not necessarily a bad thing (and, certainly, better than nothing), it is, I would argue, a diminution of Scripture’s import, a relegation of the Word to a level on par with the pastor’s sermon illustrations. If the word of God really is “sharper than a two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12), you’d think we’d give it a place of greater prominence and use it a bit more freely in worship. (Yes, I realize I’m guilty of doing the same kind of proof-texting I call into question above, but this is a 900-word blog, not a 45-minute sermon. Different venues and purposes.)
There are no quick and easy solutions here, I know, but I like the approach of a mainline church we occasionally visit here in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. They don’t use a lectionary in their contemporary service, but they have the ushers hand out Bibles to folks as they enter the sanctuary, and the pastor gives page-number references when he quotes Scripture, even though the passages are projected on the screens behind him. This past summer they also embarked on a congregation-wide Scripture memory project, whereby they memorized a simple verse or two of Scripture each week, reciting it together in worship the following Sunday. Too VBS for need-to-be-relevant contemporary churches? Too bad. Though such simple action-steps aren’t going to turn every parishioner there into a Bible scholar, they are placing God’s words on the lips of His people with greater frequency than in just about any church we’ve attended in the past two years, and that’s a very good thing.
Worship leaders, you probably can’t make radical changes to what goes on in the weekly flow of your worship services (if you have that kind of authority, by all means, use it), but you can control the introductions, transitional comments, and conclusions of your worship sets. I encourage you to bring Scripture into your worship-leading efforts with increasing frequency in 2019! (One more proof text.) God’s word shall not return to Him empty but will accomplish His purposes (Is. 55:11). How cool, and what a privilege, to be the conduit!
The Lord be with you!
Coming next week (Lord willing): The dearth of concise sermons in contemporary worship.