In each of the following articles I am going to be dealing with one area of concern relating to downward trends in contemporary worship services. We will consider topics such as the reading of Scripture, corporate prayer, church music, and pragmatic preaching. I propose to begin with the reading of Scripture.
The public reading of substantial portions of God’s Word is vanishing in many churches, even among those that claim to be evangelical. Leaders who claim to believe in the authority, flawlessness and relevance of the Bible routinely fail to read more than a few verses during worship services. By this omission they distinguish themselves from their predecessors who read aloud significant portions of God’s Word as an act of worship and for the edification of believers.
There are many possible reasons for the decline in the reading of Scripture in contemporary services. I believe one is that some leaders, even though they would be loathe to admit it, now view Scripture as being timeworn, removed, laborious, doctrinaire, and potentially repellent to unbelievers. The Bible not only deals with the love of God, but also with his hatred of sin; not only with the wonder of forgiveness, but also with the prerequisite of repentance; not only with instantaneous justification, but also with life-long sacrificial living; not only with future exultation, but also with certain judgment. It is reasoned by some that the broad sweep of Scripture may be too unpalatable for the unsaved, and so public readings are cut back in the mistaken belief that doing so will advance the cause of Christ.
Another reason behind the decline in Scripture reading is that Christians seem determined to give the Lord less time, even on the Lord’s Day. Many church leaders have not only failed to resist this trend, but have altered their programs in order to accomplish it through reducing, or eliminating altogether, certain elements of the service. And to make matters even worse, at the same time that services have been shortened, the time given to music has increased substantially. Thus, what God has written is replaced by what man has written.
We need to remind ourselves once again that the most direct way to hear God is not through contemporary music (or even through preaching, which is essential and beneficial), but through the reading of the Word. Through it we gain understanding, faith and wisdom. Music can compliment God’s Word, and preaching can illuminate and apply it, but neither can replace it.
“Scripture is quite simply”, as J.I. Packer writes in God’s Words, “God communicating, God talking, God teaching, God preaching; God telling you—yes, you, with me and all other Bible-readers and Bible-hearers everywhere—things about himself which call here and now for faith, worship and obedience; prayer, praise and practice; devoting, denying and disciplining ourselves in order to serve God; in short, our complete conversion and our total commitment.”
Indeed, the Bible should be read as a central act of worship. We should rejoice that God in his love and mercy has spoken to us. We should praise him that he has not left us in total spiritual darkness, but has revealed to us his will in order that we may live godly lives on earth and spend eternity with him.
In most evangelical churches, until a few years ago, a substantial portion of both the Old and New Testaments were routinely read in worship services. In addition, a passage from the Psalms or elsewhere was read at the commencement of each service. Recently, I attended a service in an evangelical church where the main reading—read by a child—consisted of just one verse. While the people in the congregation naturally warmed to the sight of a little girl reading a verse, they apparently failed to appreciate just how little of God’s Word was actually read in the service.
As an act of worship, and for the benefit of believers and unbelievers alike, should not evangelical churches be giving more time to the reading of God’s precious Word?
1. If too little Scripture is being read in your church, suggest that the church should consider reading more Scripture (perhaps a chapter from both Testaments each week).
2. For those who are leading services, introduce Bible readings by saying something positive such as, “We are now going to listen to God speaking to us through his Holy Word,” or “We are so thankful that God has spoken to us in language that we can clearly understand, such was his love for us,” or “As an act of worship, we are going to read God’s Word at this time,” or “The Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures, and He is about to speak to us through them now.”
3. Encourage people to bring their Bible’s to church with them, and to follow along while it is being read.