The first Element that we will look at is the “reading of Holy Scripture” (BCO 47-9). Christianity is a revealed religion; that is to say, we believe the Bible is God’s special revelation. We would not know who God is or what He requires of us (see WSC #3) unless He tells us. Apart from the Bible, all we could do would be to guess about the meaning of life and the way of salvation! Holy Scripture is inerrant (without error) and authoritative because it is inspired by God. The Bible is not a man-made book; it is not a collection of merely human historical documents. Take a moment to read 2 Peter 1:20-21 and 2 Timothy 3:14-17. The Bible itself teaches that it is not an ordinary book and Jesus himself taught that it is God’s Word (see Mt. 4:4). Chapter One of The Westminster Confession of Faith provides us a very helpful summary of what we believe about the Bible. We are a people of the Book (but it is a very different book than Islam’s Qu’ran and it is a Book that includes both Testaments, which distinguishes us from the Jews).
Since God has spoken to us, we must listen! As The Directory for Worship reminds us, through the reading of Holy Scripture in public worship “God speaks most directly to the congregation, even more directly than through the sermon” (BCO 50-1). This is why we begin our worship service by hearing the “Call to Worship” which is a portion of Holy Scripture. God has the first word in our worship service! He also has the last word as the “Benediction” also is the inspired Word of God sending us on our way with His blessing.
We occasionally include a “Responsive Reading” (often a Psalm) in our worship service and while this is a “reading of Holy Scripture” there is a difference to observe. Again the BCO helps us when it observes that in the reading of Scripture by the minister “God addresses His people” and when the congregation joins in to read responsively, “God’s people give expression in the words of Scripture to their contrition, adoration, gratitude and other holy sentiments” (50-1). That is to say, just as we can use the words of the Bible to pray and even sing back to God, so too we can read Holy Scripture in public worship to publicly declare our heart’s response to God.
The reading of God’s Word precedes the preaching of God’s Word. What a joy and privilege it is to be able to hold open our Bibles and follow along as God’s Word is read. Please don’t take that for granted! And please teach the children to treasure this time in the service, what a blessing to see young ones paying close attention to the reading of Holy Scripture! May we all do likewise.
Let me conclude with Question 157 of The Westminster Larger Catechism which gives us good direction regarding this element (although the answer is not limited to our public worship).
Q. 157. How is the Word of God to be read?
A. The Holy Scriptures are to be read with a high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm conviction that they are the very Word of God, and that only He can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey, the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer.
Soli Deo Gloria!