N.T. Wright on the importance, purpose, and practice of the public reading of Scripture

[In] public worship where the reading of Scripture is given its proper place, the authority of God places a direct challenge to the authority of the powers, not least those who use the media, in shaping the mind and life of the community. But the primary purpose of the readings is to be itself an act of worship, celebrating God’s story, power and wisdom and, above all, God’s son. That is the kind of worship through which the church is renewed in God’s image, and so transformed and directed in its mission. Scripture is the key means through which the living God directs and strengthens his people in and for that work. That, I have argued through this book, is what the shorthand phrase ‘the authority of scripture’ is really all about.

Indeed, what is done in the classic offices of Morning and Evening Prayer [in the Anglican Church], by means of listening to one reading from each Testament, is to tell the entire story of Old and New Testaments, glimpsing the broad landscape of the scriptural narrative through the two tiny windows of short readings. To truncate this to one lesson, or to a short reading simply as a prelude to the sermon (and perhaps accompanied with half an hour or more of ‘worship songs’), is already to damage or even deconstruct this event, and potentially to reduce the power and meaning of scripture, within this context, simply to the giving of information, instruction or exhortation. Equally, to have a reading that lasts about 90 seconds, flanked by canticles that last five or ten minutes (the practice in some ‘cathedral-style’ worship), conveys the same impression as a magnificent sparkling crystal glass with a tiny drop of wine in it. The glass is important, but the wine is what really matters. The systems whereby readings are chosen (called ‘lectionaries’ in some traditions) must be so arranged that ordinary Christian worshipers are confronted, as far as possible, with the whole of Scripture, especially the whole of the New Testament, on  a regular basis.

There has been a tendency in some quarters, no doubt stemming from a desire to keep services from going on too long, to prune the length of readings–and to use that as an excuse for cutting out parts which might not serve as the kind of aural wallpaper people are used to, but might instead shock them into listening with alarmed attention. Many debates within the church have been seriously hampered because there are parts of the foundation text – a verse here, a chapter there – which have been quietly omitted from the church’s public life. There is simply no excuse for missing out verses, paragraphs or chapters, from the New Testament in particular. We dare not try to tame the Bible. It is our foundation charter; we are not a liberty to play fast and loose with it.

Nicholas Thomas Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God, p. 96-97

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About cteldridge

A beggar trying to tell other beggars were the Bread is.
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