IN ADDITION to the pastoral prayer, an other very important part of the Sabbath worship service usually conducted by the local elder is the public reading of the Scriptures. This assignment is not to be taken lightly nor entered into without much prayer and preparation. It is one of the most sacred and solemn aspects of worship. In prayer we speak to God and He speaks directly to us. Some leaders of worship, because of the solemnity of these moments, ask the congregation to stand while the Word is read.
It is to be expected that the Scripture passage has been selected with great care, as it will either have a direct relationship to the sermon or in some other way help to create the atmosphere of worship and study that is to carry through to the end of the service.
Announcing the Text
The reading of the Scripture should involve the entire congregation. When the Scripture passage is announced invite the worshipers to turn in their Bibles to the text and follow as you read. If they have already been educated to do this, at least pause long enough to allow time for turning to the reference.
During the pause a few introductory words can be helpful. These words may give the setting of the text or point out its importance or appropriateness. They should be few, certainly not a mini-sermon. You might use phrases such as the following: "These words become especially meaningful to us as we remember that they were written by the apostle Paul while he languished in prison"; "These words formed a part of the important prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, truly one of the great prayers of the Bible"; "These words were a part of the prayer of Jesus, offered that Thursday night just be fore His Gethsemane experience"; "The experience recorded here represents one of the high points in the ministry of our Lord while here on earth"; "This is one of the familiar passages of the Bible, and one that it would be well for us to read at least once each week."
These few words of introduction will allow time for the congregation to find the text, as well as help to create a greater interest in the words to be read.
The text itself should be read clearly and distinctly. Speaking particularly of some ministers and of their improper reading of the Scriptures, Mrs. White declares: "They cannot read the Scriptures without hesitating, mispronouncing words, and jumbling them together in such a manner that the word of God is abused." --Gospel Workers., p. 71.
Ministers have the advantage of formal training in these areas. The local elders can also do much to improve their effectiveness. Mrs. White assures us:
By diligent effort all may acquire the power to read intelligently, and to speak in a full, clear, round tone, in a distinct and impressive manner. By doing this we may greatly increase our efficiency as workers for Christ. --Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 335, 336.
This is a most encouraging statement also challenging. Every person called upon to read in public would do well to heed it. It should be given special attention by those who are called upon to read the Holy Scriptures before the congregation.
If one is to read the Scriptures intelligently and distinctly, he must know well in advance what the text is to be and have ample time to read it again and again, until he becomes thoroughly familiar with it. Not only should the passage be read and re read, but if there are problems with any of the words or expressions, the preparatory reading should be done audibly. Words that leave any questions as to proper pronunciation should be checked out.
I was recently made mindful of the importance of the correct reading of the text. The Scripture reading formed the basis for the morning sermon I was to deliver. How ever, a misreading of one of the verses took all the point out of the very words that in the sermon I was to especially emphasize. This would not have happened had the arrangements been made in advance and the elder had had the opportunity to familiarize himself with the passage.
At times the Scripture lesson will be read responsively from the back of the hymnal. Or a passage may be responsively read direct from the Bible, verse by verse. On such occasions it is especially important that the one leading out should speak forth with a clear, distinct voice, thus encouraging the congregation to do the same. They should be further encouraged by the participation of the elders seated on the platform. Need less to say, the one leading out does not participate in the response.
When introducing a Scripture passage to be read responsively, it is especially important that time enough be allowed to permit all to find the passage. As previously stated, during this brief period a few appropriate words may be spoken.
Room for Improvement
Most will agree that this part of the worship service fares rather poorly in too many of our churches. The one to read the Scripture is often given the assignment just be fore entering the rostrum. He has no time to familiarize himself with the reading. There have been times when he has actually started reading the wrong text. With out previous preparation, words are often mispronounced and the emphasis misplaced until the true meaning is all but lost.
Sometimes the Scripture is read while latecomers are still finding their seats in the sanctuary, and shuffling of feet and whispering are still going on. This is far be neath the exalted position that the reading of God's Word should occupy.
We are reminded again of the statement, "We do not obtain a hundredth part of the blessing we should obtain from assembling together to worship God." Testimonies,, vol. 6, p. 362. Perhaps carelessness in regard to this part of the service accounts for a goodly share of this tragic loss.
The reading of the Scriptures should be a joyful as well as solemn occasion. Let us enter into it wholeheartedly, and educate our congregations to do the same. These few moments when God speaks directly to us through His Word can indeed be a high light of the Sabbath worship hour.