Scripture should be central in worship, and Anglican services do precisely that.
So says David Kennedy in his book, “Understanding Anglican Worship.”
In support of this contention, he quoted John Wesley, “I believe there is no liturgy in the world, either in ancient or modern language, which breathes more of solid, Scriptural, rational piety, than the Common Prayer of the Church of England.”
As a staunch Nonconformist of many years standing, my immediate reaction was quite negative – “How dare this man suggest that the Anglicans take Scripture more seriously than other Christians!”
But then came the reality check. The sad fact is that in spite of Paul’s charge to Timothy to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13) – where, of course, the reference is to the law and the prophets of the Old Testament – increasingly many of my Baptist minister colleagues appear to give little time and effort to this task.
Indeed, to my amazement, on Easter Sunday of this year the Baptist church I attended had no Scripture readings.
True, it was a “family service” with many children present – but was reading a Gospel account of the story of the empty tomb really beyond these children?
I then remembered another Baptist church I went to on holiday, where on an August Sunday morning the service was led by members of a Scripture Union beach mission team, but at no point was there a Scripture reading.
I was astounded then – and still remain astounded. It is as if the more “Bible-believing” Christians are, the less likely they are to read the Scriptures in public worship.
By contrast, I attended recently the “Parish Eucharist” at Chelmsford Cathedral, an Anglican congregation in Essex, England.
As is always the case, after the opening “Gathering” when a hymn was sung and prayers were said, we went straight into “The Liturgy of the Word.”
We began with Acts 9:1-6; then sang a version of Psalm 30:1-5, 11-12; this was followed by Revelation 5:11-14; and climaxed with the Gospel reading from John 21:1-19.
The preacher would never have been invited to an evangelical celebration – apart from anything else he doesn’t tell any jokes or funny stories. Instead, we had a solid exposition of John 21.
To be fair, Anglicans are not the only Christians to take Scripture seriously.
My father, for instance, was a great believer in reading the Scriptures in the context of a Sunday service.
In his church in Cambridge, he created quite a stir when over a period of six evening services he read through the whole of the Book of Ezekiel.
I vividly remember my father’s excitement when the New English Bible first came out – with such a “modern” and accessible version. He would often read several chapters from a Gospel before preaching to the congregation.
No doubt it was because of his influence that, as a student for one year at an international seminary sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention, at “morning chapel” instead of preaching, I read all four chapters of Paul’s Letter to the Colossians.
I reminded my congregation that originally this was a letter that Paul would have expected the church at Colossae to listen to at one sitting.
In so doing, I was protesting against the custom of “morning chapel” whereby the preacher read a verse or two of Scripture – and then preached for the next 20 minutes.
The reading of the Scriptures had been downgraded. Alas, this continues to be the case in many Baptist churches, where worshippers are blessed if they hear as many as 12 verses read.
The situation becomes all the more serious in so far as the Bible is no longer read in many Christian homes.
What percentage of church families, I wonder, read the Scriptures together every morning or evening? Indeed, what percentage of Christians read Bibles every day?
According to one 2008 survey, 35 percent of British churchgoers claim to read their Bibles every day. Frankly, I don’t believe that – it certainly does not tally with my experience as a pastor.
I am more inclined to believe a 1997 Bible Society survey of regular churchgoers that found that 16 percent read something from the Bible every day; a further 9 percent read the Bible several times a week; 11 percent read something from the Bible about once a week; and 9 percent read the Bible about once a month.
In other words, in any given month, the majority of churchgoers never read their Bibles. As a result, we have increasingly biblically illiterate congregations. All the more reason, therefore, to bring back the Bible in church.
Yes, let’s take Scripture more seriously, for – to quote Wesley again – “Although there may be chaff in the pulpit, there is always good grain at the lectern.”
Paul Beasley-Murray retired after 21 years of ministry as the senior minister of Central Baptist Church in Chelmsford in the United Kingdom. He is currently serving as the chairman and general editor of Ministry Today U.K. and as the chairman of the College of Baptist Ministers. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including “Living Out the Call,” a four-volume series on pastoral ministry. His writings can be found at PaulBeasleyMurray.com, where readers can register to receive his weekly blog post. A version of this article first appeared on his website and is used with permission.
Paul Beasley-Murray retired after 21 years of ministry as the senior minister of Central Baptist Church in Chelmsford in the United Kingdom. He is currently serving as the chairman and general editor of Ministry Today U.K. and as the chairman of the College of Baptist Ministers. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including “Living Out the Call,” a four-volume series on pastoral ministry.