Following the Prayers of the People and an anthem from the choir, we often have a moment for the public reading of scripture. We see this tradition in the early church in Paul’s advice to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:13) which is similar to the example of Jesus (Luke 4:16-20) and other rabbis. A portion of scripture is selected and read aloud before it is explained and discussed.
Some church traditions follow a calendar, called a lectionary, that provides a structure to determine their readings. Other churches do not have a specific time for a reading, but rather fold scripture into the sermon, as Pastor Mandye has been doing during our current series. We do not follow a lectionary, but will typically use a text that is the basis for the morning’s sermon. What I appreciate about this approach is that it reinforces a shared opportunity to interpret the documents that shape our faith. Our tradition in the Restoration Movement values the ability of each person to read and interpret the Bible for themselves. So before a preacher has a chance to tell us what it means, we all have the words before us to consider.
Throughout much of history, the ability to read for oneself was extremely limited. People relied on the recitation of scripture to understand the Bible, which concentrated the spiritual authority of a community by one’s access to education and could be heavily influenced by a leader’s biases. (We still have this problem when a difficult-to-understand passage is dispatched with an appeal to an “obvious” translation of the Greek or Hebrew that eludes other scholars.)
The notion that people should be able to read the Bible for themselves, along with the invention of durable printing materials and innovations in printing, helped to spark the Protestant Reformation in Europe and the spread of literacy. This effect continues today as Bible translation has established the recognition and survival of indigenous languages.
When people have access to the Bible in their own language, it becomes a powerful tool for seeing oneself as a full and welcome part of the Christian family. In reading the gospels, Jesus speaks like we do and not like the missionary or colonizer. And the recurring themes of restoration and justice become embedded in the imagination of the faithful. To counteract this effect, the so-called “Slave Bible” that was specifically printed for missionaries to use in British colonies, removed over 80% of the Protestant Bible that might have been supportive of rebellion or social equality.
What we value in our church is for all to participate in the spiritual formation of one another. While individual study of scripture can be significant, when we read together and make room for others whose understanding may be different, we find a fuller picture of what it means to continue God’s story of faith. By reading together, without commentary, we begin our search for understanding on equal ground before going deeper with one who has spent time preparing to lead the community in bringing these diverse voices together.
Experiment: Before looking at the screen or in your Bible, close your eyes and listen to the words being read aloud. Think about how you receive this differently than if you were to be reading along.