I’m assuming your church includes Scripture reading in its public Lord’s Day worship. How do your pastors plan out those readings? How have reformed churches approached that historically?
We read through books of the Bible, typically one chapter per week. Right now we’re doing a few minor prophets in a row. Then we’ll probably do a NT book.
Historically I believe the reformers had several readings, including a reading from one of the gospels every week. They also had times every week (every day?) where the Scripture was read publicly. This was at a time when the people not only didn’t have Bibles, but couldn’t read.
My Anglican context will have somewhat different emphases than modern contexts that style themselves “reformed.” But, inasmuch as orthodox Anglican Christianity has legitimate reformed credentials, and as these adhere today amongst Anglican bodies that retain a loyalty to those reformed standards, here’s how we do it:
We follow a lectionary - a series of readings from both Testaments, which are coordinated with one another in such a way as to provide the priest with a “map” for his pulpit ministry. There is a one-year lectionary included in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (the standard for all subsequent more local versions of the Prayer Book). Many contemporary Anglican bodies follow the Revised Common Lectionary which is a three-year lectionary.
The lectionary - when it prescribes Scripture readings for a Sunday or other non-Sunday feast day - contains a Psalm, a reading from the OT, another from the NT epistles, and one from one of the canonical Gospels. The rubrics of the Prayer Book entitle the priest to change any of these in order to address his own local situation, though it is not common for him to do this. The aim for following a lectionary like this is to have as wide a distribution of the Anglican faithful hearing the Scripture and the preaching arising from it.
It’s useful to note that the lectionary - either one-year or three year - follows the Church calendar, which endeavors to take the Christian on an annual basis through the course of our Lord’s ministry each year.
And, so, the church year begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (Advent) with the Scripture readings typically from prophecies of Messiah’s coming and NT lessons from the epistles and gospels that do the same.
Following Advent is Christmas and 12 successive days ending with Epiphany on January 6. The lectionary lessons are drawn from events after our Lord’s birth (his circumcision, the wise men, the slaughter of the innocents, the journey to Egypt, etc.)
The feast of the Epiphany commences a number of Sundays devoted to events in our Lord’s ministry where his Messianic identity is shown by what He says or does (i.e. epiphanies of the Messiah).
Ash Wednesday commences the season of Lent, an annual season of self-reflection, confession of sin, and spiritual discipline (fasting being merely one and the simplest of many possibilities). Think of an annual spiritual training camp, analogous to football which has a similar training camp season before the football season proper commences. Lent is spiritual training camp, every year, devoted to training/practice/development of spiritual disciples of all sorts.
Eastertide commences with Easter Sunday. It continues for 50 days to the Feast of Pentecost, the birth of the Church. Easter tide lessons focus on our Lord’s resurrection and events following before his Ascension.
After Eastertide begins a long season called either the season of Pentecost or Trinitytide, since the Feast of the Holy Trinity is the Sunday following Pentecost Sunday. This season runs through the end of the Church year, concluding with the Feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday of Trinitytide.
Finally, it should be noted that Anglican Sunday worship is, typically, NOT devoted primarily to Christian education. For this reason, pulpit ministry ordinarily does not preach t hrough books. That ministry is carried on in other meetings during the week - what I’d expect you Presbyterians to call weekly Bible studies. The pulpit ministry, on the other hand, is aimed at an annual thematic preaching of our Lord’s Messianic ministry, following the design of the church calendar as summarized above.
In the Anglican lectionary, are all verses read eventually?
No, not possible! There are only 52 Sudays in a year, and even if you add all the feast days, there’s no room for that.
Obviously, in a three-year lectionary, you get a wider exposure, which is the chief reason I asked my bishop for permission to use the Revised Common Lectionary.
As I said, the readings - Psalm, OT, NT, Gospel - in these lectionaries focuses on the Messianic identity and ministry of Jesus. Reading all the Scriptures is more of a Lenten discipline, begun during Lent and carried on (as any Lenten disciple might be) throughout succeeding years.
Do you know, something as simple as reading the passage from which the minister is preaching is valuable? This avoids the problems of preaching from a verse or verses without an eye to the wider context (saw/heard this too often in my Pentecostal days).
One other thing I have seen done with this, which I think has merit: getting a younger person or teenager to do the Bible reading, as a way of integrating them into the service.
Thanks for this most excellent explanation!
May I also insert here a frequent “rant” when training new members with no Anglican background into our worship. What I impress on them should also obtain in your own worship service, to wit:
If someone is going to stand before the congregation and read Scripture to them, that congregation should listen to the Scripture that is read. They should NOT follow along in their own Bibles or on a bulletin insert with the Scripture lesson written down on it.
“Why?”, you say with one eyebrow crawling up your forehead.
Because reading and listening are different activities, and if you do them at the same time, your reading inevitably puts you into the posture of a Judge on the one who is reading out loud. All sorts of feature in the reader’s speech come under scrutiny, critical scrutiny - his pronunciation of this word or that word, his accent, his pacing, his intonation, the complete gestalt of the man as he reads.
Is this the posture you want to have, the attitude you should have with respect to Scripture? Seriously!
We have often noted in this forum how mixed-sex wrestling as a sport is a horrid thing to do to either participant. Do we wish to train each sex to physically overwhelm and defeat the other one?? Is that how you wish to train your son to view women? Your daughter to view men?
It’s the same thing when someone reads Scripture out loud before a congregation in a worship service. The very context of the activity - reading Scripture out loud to a group - is weighted with the gravity of the occasion. It’s like adding a huge weight on top of whatever is being impressed on your soul during that occasion.
Try this for a month - when Scripture is read, look on the person doing it and listen to him. After you’ve done this for a few weeks, try follow along and notice the difference.
I think this is good for informal occasions, but in the main Lord’s Day service, I think Scripture reading and prayers are best done by pastors and elders because it better conveys authority.
To be fair, I judge most of those things regardless of whether I’m reading along or not.
Though I’m sympathetic to your argument.
I understand and agree that this is normal. An unpracticed reader may still present “challenges” to the listener.
In a previous parish where I worshiped before I was ordained a priest, it was the custom for women to be in the rotation for reading Scripture lessons. One of these women had two blaring flaws. First, she had a kind of southern accent that even native Texans thought hugely comical. But worse than this, she invariably delivered howling malapropisms during her reading.
One Sunday, the word Hitite appeared in the OT lesson. She delivered that word “High Teet.” We were still suppressing smiles when some minutes later she delivered 1 Cor. 10:8 as " Nor let us commit sexual immortality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell dead."
Carrying the Word of God to the faithful by reading Scripture is to stand on ground originally occupied by a prophet or Apostle. Preparation, practice, and solemnity is needed by any one who does this.
We recently increased our Scripture reading in services. Sometime last year we moved from one reading to an OT reading and a NT reading. Then, more recently, we changed to an OT, Gospel, and Epistle reading, all read back-to-back. I’m willing to do chunks shorter than a chapter for each of those. This Sunday it’ll be Psalm 8, Luke 24:1-12, and Romans 8. We’re taking our cues from 1 Tim. 4:13 and urging members to pay close attention.
Amen to this.
I’ll never forget hearing the Presbyterian Jay Adams tell a congregation, ‘Put your Bibles away and listen to the word! It was intended to be read to you! Be Bereans; check what I say at home. But right now listen to the word.’
It certainly came as a shock! But it’s stuck with me.
We recently began going through books, one chapter at a time, in our Sunday evening services.
Pretty sure the book selection is at the whim of the pastor, which is his prerogative. All Scripture is God-breathed and useful.
Wanted to comment under this question saying I used a lectionary for the first year or two of ministry and stopped, not starting again. Why?
Because I found the lectionary kept cutting the text off at the points where we went from God’s yes to God’s no. Maybe it was the lectionary itself that was defective, but it became a distraction. Lectionaries always involve cutting things off at some place and I would prefer to make that decision myself since I’m the shepherd.
Another thing: reading large passages of Scripture in worship almost always involve cutting off time for other parts of worship. Time given to this or that element of worship is a zero sum exercise, as has been true from the Reformation on. Churches that have weekly communion and emphasize liturgy almost always deemphasize preaching, if not prayer (mostly the pastoral prayer). Fr. Bill and I have gone around on this before, but a wise man in former generations of reformed theologians spoke of liturgy and preaching being a see-saw that lightens time and emphasis on preaching in proportion to giving greater weight to liturgy and the Lord’s Supper.
Calvin had to contend with city fathers pressuring Geneva’s worship to be shorter, and so he gave in on weekly communion, allowing it to be as the people and their leaders wanted, which was monthly or quarterly communion.
Now this is not to argue for weekly or monthly communion over deeper and lengthier preaching, although that’s the choice I’d make and argue for. It’s to argue instead that limited time in corporate and formal Lord’s Day worship is always a tradeoff, and to deny this is to refuse to see what was clear in Geneva and is still clear today, including in our own congregations. We must face this reality and decide where to put our priorities, time-wise, doing so by faith.
One way to compensate for this reality is to have all-church Bible reading programs as our congregation does. Another way is to cut off any serious Lord’s Supper liturgy which almost every Reformed church today does, leaving to the side the Biblical fencing of the table. Read “Church Reformed” for more on this. Read Calvin and Knox’s Lord’s Table liturgy, comparing it to the Lord’s Table liturgies of men like Jeff Meyers and Doug Wilson using Jeff’s liturgies where there is no significant fencing of the table beyond “come,” “come,” and COME!" Then think carefully about why men claiming Calvin and the magisterial reformers as their heritage avoid the actual words of the Lord’s Table liturgy Calvin and Knox employed. It’s very telling.
I have no beef with Fr. Bill’s liturgy knowing Fr. Bill’s heart and faith, and trusting him entirely. But every one of us needs to think carefully about our priorities for our limited time given to worship.
This is the reason Reformed men across the centuries employed a “reader’s service” for an hour before corporate worship. The pastor or an elder would read consecutively through the Word of God during these services. For almost an hour so that in a limited period of time the people who came would hear all of Scripture read out loud. It’s an idea that some might consider. Love,
Does your Anglican church perform the Daily Office? I believe the complete morning and evening prayer readings is usually 85%+ of the bible.
Our parish was never large enough to “field” a dependably minimal congregation for the daily office. In our jurisdiction (and most others I’ve ever heard of), clergy are expected to read Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer every day.
In larger parishes, it’s common for Evening Prayer (Vespers) to be read once a week. In our parish, this was always a meeting for men only, as the male heads of households functioned pretty much as does the session of a Presbyterian congregation. Men could bring news and raise questions or issues in a meeting, after which Evening Prayer was sung (we would sing acapella the Psalm and canticles to Anglican chant). In addition to the set prayers, the men would bring their own prayers to offer (in collect form too!) at the appropriate place in the midst of the set prayers.
The figure I’ve always heard (though never verified for myself) is that 85 percent of the entire Prayer Book is either quotation, paraphrase, or allusion to the Bible. Usually this is a reference to the 1662 English Prayer Book, the “gold standard” for all other national Prayer Books as the British Colonies became independent.
Lutherans would not call themselves Reformed, but we also read a lectionary (either a one-year or a three-year, with roughly the same tradeoffs Fr. Mouser mentioned.) The lectionary typically contains an Old Testament reading, an epistle reading and a gospel reading. A Psalm is also sung. Adult Sunday school is the place for sequential expository reading and teaching and is well attended at a healthy church.