“Why do we read from the Bible during worship?”

My reflections to a Systematic Theology essay prompt:

One answer to this question is that we read the Bible in worship because it is a tradition from the early Church. Early Christians continued the Jewish practice of reading scripture as an integral part of their worship services and this practice has continued in one form or another throughout the various expressions of Christianity to this day. The Bible specifically (as opposed to other texts) is read because it is held by Christians as they authoritative text of the community that is considered sacred Scripture.

Another answer to this question, though, is what function the liturgical recitation of the Bible plays in the lived experience of Christians. In terms of genre and style, much of the Bible is in the form of narrative: stories with heroes, villains, sequences of events, conflict, resolution, etc. Human beings are particularly responsive to narrative as an effective way to convey and understand information (see “The Literary Darwinists”). Some historians have argued that it is our ability to share and communicate through stories that enables us to exist in communities and coordinate efforts toward goals with people we’ve never met before.

It is therefore perhaps of little surprise that God would often speak to God’s people through stories. “The Bible tells stories about God. These stories ‘render’ or disclose the nature and character of God” (McGrath pg 113). As people listen to and try to live into these God-stories from the Bible, they learn about God and God’s presence in the world. “Christians have confirmed, both in individual testimony and in communal statements of faith, that the Spirit has ministered to them as they have engaged the biblical text, helping them to perceive their own identity in relationship to God” (Rigby 47). “What we call [the Bible’s] ‘inspiration’ is its capacity to be the vehicle of the Holy Spirit, making Jesus vividly present to our minds and hearts, and so making his challenge and invitation immediate for us.” (Williams pg 122)

In sum, then, we read the Bible in worship because it is a tradition from the early Church that is particularly effective at conveying knowledge about God to us as human beings as well as to reinforce and strengthen our common identity as a community of Christian believers.

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