Anglicans read four passages of Scripture during Sunday worship. Out loud.
So do some other traditions, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutherans and others. We’re not competing with our fellow believers in other traditions, but we do read a lot more Scripture in our worship than most Bible churches do (intentional friendly barb).
Why do we do this? How do we select the readings? How can other churches start doing this?
Why Read Scripture Out Loud
Here is a great reason: Paul literally told us to read Scripture publicly, out loud. He wrote to Timothy, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” And to the Thessalonians, “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.”
Jesus stood up in the Synagogue and read Scripture. The Jews read Scripture out loud together because Deuteronomy says to do so, “Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’”
Reading Scripture publicly should really not be seen as optional. Its not the same as reading alone by yourself. And its not the same as just hearing one passage read before a sermon. Reading Scripture aloud is its own thing – and it is an ancient, biblical, and helpful practice.
We read from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Gospels, and the Epistles.
Reading from the Old Testament is important. It is the book that prepares the way for Jesus Christ. It connects us with the People of God all the way back to the creation of humankind.
Reciting a Psalm together is the biblical way to praise and pray as a response to the rest of the readings.
Reading from the Epistles fulfill’s Paul’s directive to read the Letters aloud, and pass them along. These letters also teach us the meaning and effect of the Gospel.
Reading from the Gospels is the capstone moment. This is where we hear the words and deeds of our Lord. As the Head of the Church, he speaks to us.
We don’t select the passages to be ready locally (with exceptions from time to time). We share a common lectionary (lists of passages assigned to each week).
This is an ancient tradition that goes back even to the Jewish practices before the time of Jesus. By sharing the same readings, we are worshipping together with Christians all over the world.
And the Lectionary also has the effect of keeping the personality of the priest from overly dominating the themes and focus of worship. The priest may not mean to do so, but if one person selects all the readings personally, all year long, they will inevitably follow a narrow pattern of personal interest.
How to Read Scripture in Worship
First, preach a shorter sermon. You don’t need to preach for 35 minutes when more Scripture is being read. Let the Bible speak, and then preach on one aspect, particularly with the Gospel lesson as the main focus.
Second, train people to read. We print out the lessons and often email them to people before worship. Most Anglican churches have a schedule of trained readers. Encourage people to use a normal reading voice (rather than a religious sounding voice). Its also a great way to get young people involved in worship. And encourage everyone to bring a Bible and read along.
Fourth, provide introductions and responses. Anglicans traditionally say “A reading from… [book], [chapter] and beginning at verse [number]” before the OT and Epistle lessons. After, the reader says, “The Word of the Lord” and the People respond, “Thanks be to God.”
For the Psalm, it is traditional to read responsively (reader says one part and the people the next). After the Psalm it is customary to say the Gloria Patri.
The Gospels are announced: “The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to [Gospel Writer]” and the People respond, “Glory to You, Lord Christ.” After reading, the deacon or reader says, “The Gospel of the Lord.” and the People respond, “Praise to You, Lord Christ.” It is customary to make the little sign of the cross before the reading.
Finally, no matter what, don’t stop reading Scripture. This is a non-negotiable for any Christian church. And it will bear Gospel fruit.