Are we devoted to the public reading of Scripture? Part 1: A mirror held up before our eyes

In 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul instructs Timothy as follows: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching”.

In a series of posts, I’d like to explore what this verse might mean and look like in our lives. Similar to my post on whether we believe in the clarity of Scripture, I’d like to take a look at the difference between what we may think we believe, and what our practice actually testifies to. Like previous posts, I can only speak of my experience of church life: that of Sydney Anglicanism. I trust, however, that this will be of benefit to others.

Typical to many Sydney churches, perhaps, is what we may call a ‘relaxed liturgy’. The idea that we have no liturgy is, of course, nonsense, since we all have habits and cultures of doing church, even if it isn’t ‘codified’ in text like a prayer book. As a result of this trend, or so-called ‘freedom’, my observation is that in a 90 minute service, the congregation will hear two Bible readings of about 10-15 verses. If they’re lucky. My observation is that churches are increasingly adopting the habit of only having one Bible reading—and this Bible reading is effectively set within the context of ‘preparation for the sermon’ rather than standing in its own right (again, see the article on the clarity of Scripture).

Further, unless the service leader is particularly capable, the unwritten habitually-learnt phrases associated with the ‘relaxed liturgy’ usually result in a service being led with little reading of verses from Scripture. Now to be fair, occasionally we may sing a song that adapts Scripture, but it isn’t drawn to our attention as such. Nevertheless, my point is this: that in a service that runs for around 90 minutes, the Bible being read for public benefit usually takes about 3-4 minutes tops.

Let me take it further. On a given Sunday—particularly if the sermon is repeated across services (and since the readings are paired entirely with the sermons), the public reading of Scripture consists of about 15 verses in a week. In a given year we will get through, then, publicly, about 780 verses, or (for the mathematicians amongst us) 2.5% of the Bible.

There is much to explore here, and I’m sure you can probably argue successfully that to some extent I’m over-stating the case. But please bear with me and feel the weight of the observation I’m making, especially as I now hold up a comparison to our church practice, and see how we fare. Namely, how did the Reformers, whom we love and claim to be in the heritage of, work this verse out in practice? To do that, I’ll use the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which is largely the same as Cranmer’s 1552 prayer book service.

  • Various verses from Scripture commence church
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • Psalm 95
  • 5 Psalms
  • OT Reading (about 30 verses)
  • NT Reading (about 30 verses)
  • Luke 1:68-79 or Psalm 100
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • The verses accompanying the collect
  • The Grace (2 Cor 13:14)

The service for evening prayer follows a similar structure. Further, with the assumption that public services would be held morning and evening every day of the week, the OT and NT readings would be such that (and excluding the extra bits of Scripture that permeate church), over the course of the year, publicly, the whole OT would be read once, the NT twice, and the Psalms twelve times. This is a little more than 2.5%!

We can debate all kinds of things about the usefulness of what they did, etc. And over the next little while I want to tease out some implications of what it might look like to be devoted to the public reading of Scripture.

For the moment however, I want us to be honest with ourselves as people who claim to love the Bible as God’s word, knowing that we don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. As we compare ourselves to our heritage, is it really possible for us to say that we are, in our churches, devoted to the public reading of Scripture? Would any Reformer, whom we cherish so dearly, even recognize what we do compared to them? But the only question that matters of course is this: does God think we are devoted to the public reading of Scripture?

34 thoughts on “Are we devoted to the public reading of Scripture? Part 1: A mirror held up before our eyes

  1. If I’m leading church I read parts of Psalms (and other Scriptures) at certain points, especially at the beginning and end, and in the bits relating to prayer. Also, if I have input into the Bible reading roster I try to have two readings. No-one ever complains about this, but I also notice that almost no-one follows this practice.

    Usually the leading takes the form of observations relating to the meeting, the weather, the announcements, the song just sung or the sermon. Some of the observations are good, some are not. This observation-driven paradigm doesn’t appear to be dictated either by Scripture or by reference to any prayer book, which is a loss in my view.

  2. Hi Scott!

    Just one question: is it, in part, that our situation is different to that of the early church? Would they have had one copy of the Scriptures, and perhaps a letter of Paul; whereas we each own a Bible and can read it in our homes? The case might be similar with the Reformers – with the Bible recently translated and printed, I doubt everyone had a copy of the Bible in their home that they could read. When the only access to the Bible is public, public reading becomes more important.

    I’m not disagreeing with your point – of course we should read the Bible more in public, and I’m blessed when we do – I’m just wondering how this affects it.

    In Christ,


  3. Hi Scott,

    I think you’ve raised some great points, and this is definitely a discussion worth having. A few observations:

    1) I’ve just spent a bit of time researching the Scripture reading habits of first-century Jews. As far as we can tell, communal Bible reading (especially from the law) was the primary activity of the first-century synagogue, and it seems that a large proportion of most Jews’ Saturdays was devoted to Bible reading (along with exposition / preaching).

    2) I’ve recently heard a pretty convincing argument (page 22ff of this pdf) that the public reading of various New Testament gospels and letters was very high on the agenda for early second-century Christians. I.e. it’s the Reformers aren’t alone in this!

    3) I think Jean makes a very important point – our daily relationship to our Bibles is different from that of the Reformers, because most of us possess (multiple) copies at home, and this fact should inform our comparisons with earlier centuries. At the same time, as Jean also implies, it would be a very great pity if our Bible reading became “privatised” and took less of a central role in our public gatherings, simply because we can read the Bible at home.

    4) I’ve been blessed by attending a number of Sydney Anglican churches in which the senior ministers were actively dedicated to increasing the amount of Bible reading in the gatherings. E.g. Sandy Grant at Wollongong.


  4. I wonder if we have got into this mess in part because the art of reading aloud has largely been lost. People don’t seem to think that reading the Bible in church takes preparation and practice.

    This used to happen even at Moore College – the readings were woeful several years ago. But now, Greg Anderson makes everyone rehearse the readings beforehand. The difference in the quality of the readings is really significant. Could rectors/congregation leaders organise for Bible reading practice perhaps?

  5. Michael – yes, and there might be an element of reciprocity here too. If we don’t care about PRS (public reading of Scripture), we won’t devote much practice (or training) to it; if people don’t rehearse, PRS is a bad or neutral experience for everbody and becomes more undervalued.

  6. Could this also mean that we young uns and possibly middle ageuns’ owe a massive apology to the elderly in our churches, who in many places have been sidelined and portrayed as impediments to the gospel, simple anglophiles and generally questionable christians when they mourned the loss of the prayerbook and our funky new ‘bible lite’ services?

  7. Hi everyone,

    Thanks for the comments thus far; and thanks for those who’ve shared stories (here, or on facebook or email) of either your personal strivings or your church’s practice to maintain Bible reading in its own right. Keep such stories coming in!

    The context for several of them, however, suggests that having more Bible reading, or Bible reading that stands independent of the sermon, is a fight – with minister’s and/or congregations not convinced of the need. Hopefully these discussions over the next month will help.

  8. MPJ, Lionel, thanks for raising the issue of the skill of the reader.

    Yes, the often at times woeful skill with which the Bible is read in church is very much a factor, I think. My fourth post returns to this, suggesting that it is a gift which not everyone has, rather than the bucket position on church rosters to put everyone who isn’t doing something else.

    Good reading opens the text’s meaning rather than obscuring it.

  9. Hi Gordon,

    Thanks for your comments about what service leaders do. Coupling this with Lionel’s reciprocity comment, this style of doing church both shapes and is shaped by an underlying view of what church is (thus creating a theological/church-practice trajectory over time – I’ll be talking more about this sort of dynamic in posts 5 & 6).

    People aren’t necessarily conscious of this as it happens, of course. But it is issues like what I’m raising here, or other things like re-introducing creeds or confession into church (I have plans for that next year too … so many plans!), that stir the pot enough for us to realise where we have come / are heading in what we think church is.

    Many people seem to be big on ‘church as community’ at the moment, but I think this is a big mistake. If we’re going to use community language, the church is God’s community: God’s people gathered by God around God for God … and only subsequently for each other (which is actually the best way to love each other anyway).

    No one wishes to deny that of course, but the decline in Bible reading is revealing of something I think, along with service leading – as you observed – that in the end is really quite trite and inconsequential.

  10. Mike

    Thanks for this. I’d really not thought of it. Yes, if corporate repentance is called for (and, as this series progresses, I’ll be suggesting that it is), then we do need to apologise to those sinned against.

    Corporate repentance is difficult, and the elders need to take primary responsibility – they are the shepherds. It’d be such a change in church culture if the elders were willing not just to ‘make some changes for the new year’ but acknowledge some change for what it is: repentance.

    As an encouragement – and this really is just pure anecdotalism now – there is some fairly strong enthusiasm emerging out of freshly-out / recent / current graduates of Moore that I’ve talked to recently, an enthusiasm to regain Bible reading in church as a priority.

    Maybe they’re the few, maybe they’re the many. God knows.

    Whether we can or should return to former liturgical practice is a discussion for another day, though. At the very least, however, we need some gifted people to work hard on our behalf at plumbing the depths of our liturgical heritage, and recovering what was lost for us – like Michael Jensen’s work on the 39 articles, for instance.

  11. Hi Jean & Lionel!

    Thanks for your comments about private Bible reading and how that bears on our public Bible reading. I was hoping someone would raise this early so we could discuss it! smile

    This is the really obvious difference between us and previous centuries, and does need to be thought through.

    [Thanks for the background on Jewish & early church reading practices, Lionel! That’s really helpful. One of the reasons for my using 1662 as well was that, over a century after Cranmer, the expectation was still for what they were doing back in 1552.]

    You’ll need to wait until posts 7 & 8 for this answer! But I can’t help myself smile

    First, I think it’d be good for us to explore what literacy is, and what percentage of the population actually is literate. I’m not talking about technical ability as determined by the state. I’m talking about practical reality. I’ve known and have ministered over the years to many people who’ve successfully finished high school, but have very little ability to read. They own 1 or 2 books tops, never read, and only read when they read their Bible at home. Their reading 1-1 or in a small group is so bad (not perjorative – just a simple reality of not knowing what commas and stops are, let alone discerning tone, emphasis, meaning, etc) that is has to reflect on their ability to read silently.

    These are smart as well as not bright people (again, not a perjorative – sorry, needs to be said in this culture that values a person according to intellectual ability). They are wise or not, perceptive or not, and have skills in other areas.

    What I take for granted (comprehension of the written page), in other words, is not what I should expect of a congregation. Scripture, to use Westminster, may be clear ‘in the due sense of the ordinary means’, but I do wonder how many people have the technical ability for knowing this by reading.

    Even at Moore, when Brian Rosner asked our Greek class (this was the top stream of Greek students in a degree that’s generally a graduate entry degree, for those who are unaware) how many books people had read in the past year for their own pursuits, only a handful could say they’d read more than 12 (one a month). I was the one could say I’d read more than 50 (ie, one a week).

    But people’s ability to understand when something is spoken to them is entirely different. If we have gifted Bible reading publicly (post 4), do we remove a hurdle for some people that they can’t cope with? This is all the more so for intellectually disabled, mentally ill, and technically illiterate (ie, according to the state too) people.

    What do you think?

  12. There are a few other thoughts roaming in my head about private reading smile

    Taking up one of the things I mentioned above is what we think church is. If our earthly expression of church must reflect our present/future churchly reality (in heaven / new creation), then the Word of God is central to that. Church now is only God’s church so far as God’s Word is what/who we’re gathering around. Minimising tendencies rather than maximising tendencies are quite dangerous here, going to the heart of what church is.

    Also, I think I’m willing to say (I’d better be, since I’ll say it in the last post) that public Bible reading is more useful than private Bible reading (reflecting on Hebrews 3), both in terms of my own growth, but also in my God given responsibility to look out for my brother and sister. I’m good at deceiving myself (Jer 17:9, Heb 3), and so is my brother, given the heart of sin is reject God’s word.

    Anyway, we can discuss these when they come up in a couple of weeks – although if I’m well off the path, let me know smile

  13. My 3 year son just walked in to my study and told me what Emma had just read to him, which is another benefit for public reading: children smile

    [Thanks, also, Gillian for your facebook comment re: reading through a gospel in church and it’s usefulness for the children]

    When Calvin was 2 1/2, Emma read Ezekiel 2-3 in church. Ever since then, Calvin has often talked about God’s word being ‘sweet as honey’ but ‘words of lamentation, mourning and woe’. Just from hearing his mum read it in church, he has soaked it up into his heart and mind, and so we could teach him that even God’s hard words to us are good words to us.

    Calvin has only just begun to read and write in the last 4 months. Yet his understanding, far outstrips his ability. Reading to bypasses the skill impediment.

    We could draw family reading into this discussion as well as private reading, but it does raise one last thought, which I didn’t mention in the future posts: that of example.

    Calvin loves to ‘do church’ at home (complete with comandeering anyone who enters to home), where he welcomes people to church, reads the Bible, preaches, prays, sings (and have some announcements on the ‘big white screen’), and even holds question times to answer anyone’s questions! All because he wants to be like his dad.

    On the modelling principle of ministry – will our churches’ private reading ever be enthusiastic if our role models (our preachers / leaders) aren’t publicly enthuasistic for it?

    Anyway, lots of thoughts. Thanks Jean and Lionel for allowing me to ruminate smile As you say, private and public reading all the more! smile

  14. Scott, you said:

    <i>We could draw family reading into this discussion as well as private reading, but it does raise one last thought, which I didn’t mention in the future posts: that of example.</i>

    Not only ‘could’, surely, but <i>must</i>. If churches are an assembly of people gathered by and around the word of God, then our families are churches and the husband and father has the responsibility of reading the Bible aloud to all of them.

    The place where our public Bible reading habits are shaped is breakfast and dinner. As we eat the supper of the Lord together (Porridge in the morning, lasagna in the evening), our families are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes again.

    If our family meal times are celebrating Word and sacrament properly in this way, it will flow through naturally and inevitably to the wider gathering.

    If our family meal times consist of observations about the weather, what’s about to happen, and making sure family members are sitting when they should and eating with good table manners, that style of church leadership is going to flow through to our Sunday gatherings as well.

  15. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for the reference to the book. I’d never heard of it, but have ordered it to have a read.

    From its description, it’s more on how to read publicly (very useful! And comes with a DVD to help / illustrate). This is really important, and ties in with our main theme – namely, the possible fact/reality of the decline in reading publicly at all.

    I’m looking forward to reading it smile

  16. Hi Gordon (you’re up early!),

    Yes, I could (should!) have said must instead of could wink

    I agree completely: family time around the Bible is as much church as what we do on a Sunday (although it is of differing expression, just like Bible study or youth group. Theologically, it is church, but they are different one from another. I won’t explore the nature of those differences here smile – I preached a series on the doctrine of church earlier in the year, and this was one of the things I ended up exploring. Maybe next year …).

    And you’re right again, the interplay between one thing and another is significant – and works both ways. If I don’t see love for the ‘mere’ reading of the Bible at church, it’ll rub off on me at home. And vice versa.

    At bed-time we use a children’s Bible and children’s study guide with more questions (and stickers – it’s published by the Good Book Company). And we ‘play’ church during the day!

    We have a 3 yr old and a 1 yr old (and a lot of mess and procrastination!) at the dinner table. So we keep it simple: I use the ESV, simply read, although I may ask a ‘what was that about’ question, and pray in light of it (where the prayer ‘exegetes the passage’). It’s fairly simple, but trusts in the power of God’s word and spirit to form my family.

    I think that recovering / promoting this ‘simplicity’ of Bible reading – just delighting in hearing God speak, knowing he’ll work in me as I listen intently to him – is a large part of what lies behind my thoughts for these posts, and it comes out a bit later on in the series, especially as it in turn critiques some of our ministry habits/perceptions.

    I keep thinking of Luther’s comment: ‘Philip and I drank our beer, and God did all the work’. Of course those men worked hard. But in their task of putting Bible in the hands of people (eventually – printing presses and schools take time), it was first and foremost a putting of the Bible in the ears of people, as they provided vernacular translations.

  17. Thanks again everyone for taking the time to comment on this humble offering.

    While we’re discussing public and (relatively) private reading, I’ll explain my hesitance in discussing it which is why I left it to the discussion rather than a post.

    Even if we don’t return to the exact extent of the Reformers (although it is not as difficult as we may think – look out for the second post later this week), I’m worried about introducing ‘minimising tendencies’ through the back door. That is, I’m concerned to make sure we don’t use private reading as an excuse to limit public reading (which all of us who have commented are concerned to avoid too!).

    This is more so the case since an elder *can* structure our public church life to guarantee that all Scripture is heard by God’s people. They can promote/persuade/convince people about private/family reading, but they can never guarrntee it. They can’t stop human sin (laziness, materialism, workaholism, idolatry of other things, etc). Again, they can promote reading of the OT especially at home, but can’t guarrantee it.

    A part of the problem if we go down a path that structures less reading at church is that we structurally marginalise those who don’t enjoy what we enjoy.

    With private Bible reading, if we structure church to have less reading because we should do it daily at home too, then, as with my previous comments, we exclude those who are unable to read by themselves at home.

    With public Bible reading in the family, if we structure church to have less reading because families are doing it at home, then we marginalise those who don’t have that opportunity. (As someone converted out of a non-Christian family, and whose first youth/young adults experience was that most of us were from non-Christian homes – and I guess the same works for those living out of home by themselves or flatting with non-Christians – I guess I don’t want to create a structure that de-privileges them).

    I’ve also ministered with enough YA’s and youth, sadly, whose Christian homes never read the Bible either. That’s tragic, and they hate the fact their parents don’t lead them in that way, but that then returns us to giving them publicly what their families refuse to, and to our reciprocity-modelling: we need to model delight in hearing the Bible in our public meetings, for its own sake as well as to promote it in the home.

    Again, thanks for your thoughts everyone – keep the ideas flowing smile

  18. Hi Scott – thanks for lots of great thoughts! Do you realise that your smileys and winkeys are being transliterated into English (at least in my browser)? It sure makes for fun reading.

  19. Another our-time-is-different-to-theirs comment – we don’t just have more access to private reading, but we also have the phenomenon of the small group study – so if we were going to count daily MP/EP readings in one century, we should at least include these groups in the modern score…so we might get to more than 2.5%.

    More interesting would be to work out if it made any difference at all. How many small groups do actually study the Bible? How many are tied solely to the preaching program, without ever branching out into something else?

  20. Thanks Lionel smile

    Mine is showing as an empty graphic box … maybe I should reign in my impulses … it’s not as though I ever wink at someone when I speak in real life!

  21. Thanks Anthony,

    This is where my second post heads – it plays with numbers, and includes small groups into that, of how we can fairly simply get us reading the Bible in church a lot more than we currently are.

    The easier thing about small groups / youth groups is that we do expect our congregations to attend these alongside the Sunday gathering, so it would be easier to incorporate them in any public Bible reading program we develop.

    But yes, how many of our groups study the Bible is a good question. I’d previously assumed it was a given, but now I’m a bit older and wiser to the realities of church life, the terminology of ‘home groups’ or ‘community groups’ covers a whole multitude of practices. I do know of groups that either simply share needs / problems with the church, or read Christian books (or non-Christian books too for that matter). I’m not saying that we don’t have one-off’s, particularly if there is a severe acute pastoral need. But as a habit or staple … not so keen.

    Again, this might just be my anecdotal experience, but studies that follow the sermons seem to be more common from what I have observed (hence my leaving it out in the 2.5% number … I painted the worst case here really, one reading, short reading, study follows the sermons). Again, not a bad thing to do in itself for a short while, although I think the long term implications of it are problematic.

    The other thing I haven’t really factored in is doctrinal/topical studies. They get us reading lots of different parts of the Bible, but make any program to get through the whole Bible in public reading a bit more difficult.

  22. Helpful thoughts in the post and very constructive comments.
    The biblical pattern recognises both corporate and individual contexts for Scripture reading.
    It’s not either/or, but both/and. Yet the corporate reading and hearing contexts are more emphasised.
    The idea that Scripture writers and Reformers were motivated by illiteracy in exhorting public reading is overstated.
    Consider Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 156. Is the Word of God to be read by all?
    A. Although all are not to be permitted to read the Word publicly to the congregation, yet all sorts of people are bound to read it apart by themselves, and with their families: to which end, the holy scriptures are to be translated out of the original into vulgar languages.

  23. To throw something else into the mix…

    On a related subject, I have thought for some time that our reliance on technology in Church doesn’t help our practice of regularly reading the bible.

    If I was a new Christian 20 years ago, when I arrived at Church I would be given a bible (if I didn’t bring my own) and would struggle as I tried to navigate between an OT reading, a NT reading and a Psalm.  As frustrating as this may have been, I was holding a bible in my hand, learning to navigate the books and would learn the flow of scripture.  I may also have been tempted to read beyond the set readings for the day and been inspired to read more when I got home.

    The modern practice of using a data projector, while convenient, loses all of that.  If I am the same new Christian today, I may not even hold a bible in my hand at Church, I don’t gain the confidence of navigating my way around the bible, and as I have less familiarity, I have less incentive to read more as a follow up when I get home.

    While not entirely related to 1 Timothy 4:13, it is food for thought.

  24. Stephen, my church uses a data projector, but we only put page numbers and references on the screen.
    One of my Bible study groups, I recently realised, includes a person who is unused to extracting meaning from a text, which is a degree of illiteracy.  The rest of the group are university-educated and I’m working out practical ways to keep this person from feeling conspicuous.
    Lastly, a data point that may shock you:  adult educators have found that retention *decreases* when people read along with something which is being read aloud… the way we expect people to do it in church!

  25. Hi Scott,

    Just wanted to add my voice to the chorus – great topic, and thanks for taking the time to chew it over at length (8 part series!).  I am very much looking forward to it.

    I had one question mark over what you’ve said. I’m not sure that the BCP practice of lots of Scripture reading was necessarily ubiquitous in continental Reformation churches. Not saying it isn’t, but it might be worth checking that out before claiming that that is a widespread Reformational practice.

    From memory the “Puritan/Anglican” fight included this issue within it.  Many Puritans wanted to be freed from the BCP liturgy – they wanted freedom to construct their own prayers along more Pauline lines, and considered that Cranmer’s prayers were too focused on life in this world.  They also wanted less Bible reading and far, far more Bible teaching.

    If Lionel is right about a similar practice in the early church, then this could be tied to another alleged distinctive about English Protestantism – that it was far more interested in patristics than other strands, and more self-consciously looked back to the first few centuries, than to the Reformers to justify its take on things.

    I’ve never taken the time to chase any of that down, so I have no idea about how on the money any of it is, and it doesn’t affect your basic take on things (in which I can only pray for strength to your arm). But for what it’s worth.

  26. Hi Gary,

    Thanks for the comment and reference to Westminster. I’m not quite sure I understood you, sorry: are you saying that, (il)literacy had no role to play for the post-reformers in determining the amount of Scripture that was to be read? That Westminster, at least, assumed we’d be reading the Bible in all contexts?

    The Westminster quote was intriguing, and picks up on some of the other stuff we’ve been talking about: that public reading is a gift that not everyone should exercise; although this doesn’t remove them from the responsibility for reading to their families at home. Thanks!

  27. Hi Stephen & Ellen,

    I’ve yet to figure out if anyone has figured out if this is a generational thing or not (ie, the gen Y’s and Z’s really don’t mind about book/screen format for reading), but personally I have a lot of affinity for what you say (and am trying to figure out how to write a PhD on a screen when I love the physical page more).

    It reminds me of a comment by Giles, the librarian in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (not that I’d ever watch such a show! hem hem smile ). When he finally confesses why he hates computers, it’s because ‘computers don’t smell: they have no memory, no texture’.

    I think that’s pretty much it for me too: I like a book because it has a tangibility to it that creates memory: with the Bible, I may not know the exact chapter and verse, but I do know whereabouts in the book and on the page the verse is. That just doesn’t work for a computer.

    Particularly as the decline in Bible literacy goes up, and the recently converted / non-Christians coming to church with us are increasingly without any Bible knowledge at all, then part of our responsibility would be to make access to Scripture easier for them: showing them where in a Bible a book is, etc etc.

  28. Ellen, that’s an intriguing point about retention while following in a book something read out loud. I wonder if their readers were any good?

    My confession is along these lines: that, unless the reader is gifted, I tend to read a verse or two ahead of the public Bible reader because I find it hard to hear the passage otherwise.

  29. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for your (as ever) wise and perceptive comments. Yes, historical liturgical practices are well beyond my realm of knowledge – perhaps I should have said *English* reformers. Although Cranmer spent time in Europe, and Bucer had a fair bit to do with editing the English prayer book, I should have explored further the extent to which they were paralleling / independent in their own context.

    I wonder as well the extent to which the particular English historical context informed the shape of the prayer book? If Henry VIII saw himself as a ‘Josian king’ (and was encouraged by Cranmer along these lines), and so eventually saw his role as to give the Bible to the people (hence the Great Bible in English), along with an insistence that the people learn it, I wonder how much of that heritage was retained after his death and Cranmer given scope instigate (more) change?

    Thanks for the encouragement to keep going, however. As you allude to, regardless of historical practices, this verse from Scripture needs to be brought to bear on our practices.

  30. Hi everyone,

    Thanks for your kind and supportive comments for this first post. It’s heartening to hear some of the stories I’ve heard this week in light of it, as well as the enthusiasm expressed publicly for ‘all the more’ when it comes to Bible reading in church. I think I may put up a postscript post soon, simply as a forum for people to share the way in which the ‘mere’ reading of Scripture has kept/called people to Christ. It’s always good to tell of his great deeds, especially when it leads to multiplying thanksgiving.

    The next in the series goes up tomorrow. I must say – please don’t expect as much of the rest as this first one!

    I must also say that the tone of the majority of these posts tends to assume (though not always), that my hypothetical reader / interlocutor is either reluctant to add more Bible reading to church and/or has headed down a path of minimal Bible reading. That’s clearly not been the case for the respondents to this post. Although, as my wife has helpfully pointed out, those who are reluctant to have more Bible reading in church would be unlikely to voice that so baldly publicly. I just pray, therefore, that this generates lots of discussion in churches ‘off air’ as well as on.

  31. Hi Ellen,

    Lastly, a data point that may shock you:  adult educators have found that retention *decreases* when people read along with something which is being read aloud… the way we expect people to do it in church!

    That is interesting.  I made a decision a bunch of years back to only ever read along with the Bible being read out if I was following in Greek or Hebrew. 

    It was purely on the basis that the documents must have been written primarily to be heard as someone else read them aloud publicly, and that reading them to oneself is an add-on (a really good one) that has been made possible by our wealth (everyone can take the time to learn to read as they grow up) and technology (cheap books).

    It certainly has changed my experience of public Bible reading, and I think improved it. Interesting that it seems to help retention as well.

  32. If it’s true that, even in our current non-oral society, we learn better from listening than listening+reading, imagine what it would have been like in an oral society where teaching and learning was almost entirely done by the spoken word!

    I too made the decision to not read along to Bible readings with the aim to practice being a better listener. Occasionally I will read along too if I have the same translation, but almost never if I don’t.

  33. If you have been in a work presentation where someone reads their slides, you will remember how painful it is—the speaker who told us about retention was warning us against the evils of slide-reading.
    Scott, it could be people need to be (re)taught how to use a microphone; most of us won’t get it right otherwise.  Secondly, are the acoustics muddy in your church?  Or perhaps your sound equipment needs some help?

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