Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 31, 1960

Use Of The Bible In Public Worship

George Welsh Tyler, San Diego, California

From many parts of the country come reports that the use of the Bible in the public services of the church is being badly neglected. Even the Scriptures upon which the sermon is based are not read and if quoted during its delivery the places where they are found are rarely given. This is a very serious matter. It demands earnest prayerful consideration and that proper steps be immediately taken to restore God's Word to its rightful place in the public services of the church. Paul, who had "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16) urged Timothy to "attend to thy reading." (1 Tim. 4:13.) He commanded that the epistle he wrote to the Colossian church "be read also in the church of the Laodiceans." (Col. 4:16.) His letter to the Thessalonians was ordered by him to be "read unto all the brethren." (1 Thess. 6:27.) The Lord Jesus read the Scriptures publicly and His apostles read them publicly. The reading of the Scriptures was given a prominent place in the early church.

Oh how sad is the neglect of reading of God's Word in the church by His people! The attack on the Bible by infidel teachers in many schools, colleges and universities has been steady and persistent. Due to this many people have lost interest in the Bible; hence, neglect giving it the proper place in their lives as well as in the public services of the church. The liberals in the pulpits of the churches seldom open the Bible except to mutilate it. They open it at times and follow the example of king Jehoiakim who took his penknife and cut out the parts of the roll that he did not like to hear read by Juhudi. (Jer. 36:21-24.) This is not surprising since they do not believe in the inspiration of many parts of the Word of God. There is no reasonable excuse for believers to neglect God's infallible revelation to man. When believers meet for public worship God's Word should be given a conspicuous place in it. The greatest menace to the church today is the unbelief of the believers.

Churches of Christ should follow the New Testament pattern in all things. This pattern includes everything necessary for the salvation of man and the operation of the church. No reading between the lines by learned men is required to learn how the work of the church is to be done. People cannot be expected to speak where the Bible speaks unless they know its speech. Our people are largely ignorant of the contents of the Bible. God through the prophet Hosea said, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." (Hosea 4:6.) The priests were the teachers of the people of Israel. They had not been faithful spiritual leaders. Profligate priests had led the people off into sin. Ignoring the very high privilege of their priestly office they had reduced themselves to the spiritual level of the ones whom they should have been lifting up. God said of them "They feed on the sin of my people and set their heart on iniquity. And it shall be, like people, like priest; and I will punish them for their ways." (Hosea 4:8,9.) Liberally inclined preachers had better take warning from the apostle Paul who said to the Ephesian elders, "I shrank not from declaring unto you the whole counsel of God." (Acts 20:27.) He wrote to the Corinthian church: "Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ." (1 Cor. 11:1.) The really great congregations among us have great regard for God's Word. Our greatest preachers of the past used the Bible much, and wise preachers still do.

I believe that to improve the use of the Bible in the public worship of the church a few practical suggestions are in order:

1. The Reader Should Be Prepared. This preparation should consist of both intellectual and spiritual features. Good reading is almost a lost art. To transmit God's printed message to the mind and heart of man through the medium of the human voice is not easy. This is the purpose of publicly reading the Scriptures. God's good men prepare for the reading through prayer and meditation and when they stand up to read, people gladly listen, because of the beauty and helpfulness with which God's Word comes to them. Brethren, to a certain degree sermons may be handled as a preacher desires, be butchered by him if he dares; but God':: Word is distinctly His own and reading of it should be on a plane that highly elevates it in the minds of all hearers

2. Handle The Bible Reverently In Public. One might become facetious here; but, seriousness is the order of the day. I have seen some preachers, teachers and even elders of the church jerk the Bible open, snap it shut with such force that the report could be heard outside the buildings, pounding it or using it to pound on the pulpit or the speaker's hand, using it as a pointer when preaching sermons from charts, nervously turning its pages, moistening its pages with a thumb that has touched the salivary organ and tossing it down on the pulpit or over on the communion table. These things have happened and do happen. They are offensive to people who come from cultured homes where beauty, decorum and order are the general rule and highly esteemed. We should be reverent with that which belongs to God. Paul wrote: "Let all things be done decently and in order." (1 Cor. 14:40.)

3. Let Nothing Detract From Reading Of The Bible. Absolute quiet and very close attention should prevail. Many times we have seen ushers seat people while the Scriptures are being read yet they would refuse to seat people while we are talking to God in prayer. Others would be talking to the one sitting next to them or causing some other un-necessary disturbance. Whose talk is the most' important, may I inquire? Any kind of disturbance during worship service is without excuse in most cases. When God speaks, stop and listen; when God speaks have conditions such that people can hear without being annoyed by distracting exterior things such as tinkering with the air conditioning or loud speaker systems.

4. Urge The Audience To Follow The Reading Of The Scriptures. Most churches have Bibles in the racks for the use of the worshippers. If not, they should arrange at once to supply them. Too, urge all members to bring their Bibles with them. Tell the people where the lesson is to be found and then pause long enough for those who are slow in finding the place to find it. If a bulletin is used print the location of the Scripture lesson reference in it. Many people do not use the Bible during the services because they do not know how to use it, having not been properly taught by those responsible for their spiritual training. They do not know how to handle God's Word having never studied in order to be "approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth." (2 Tim2:15.)

5. See That The Scriptures Read Are Understood. This is the task of the preacher or reader. For this reason my Scripture lesson usually has a bearing on the sermon subject. Just to hear words pronounced does no one any good unless they understand them. Though the Scripture is divine if it is not understood it will not be helpful to those hearing it read. The Ethiopian eunuch is an example of this. (Act 8:26-36.) The reading is in vain unless the Scripture is opened up — explained to the hearer.

6. The Lord's Supper And The Bible. Often valuable time is wasted during the communion service. Some serving at the Lord's table seem to think it necessary to say something to prepare the worshippers for the communion between God and man. Man can add nothing that will improve upon the Scriptures dealing with the Lord's Supper. They are brief and the careful use of them will result in much good.

7. The Sermon And The Bible. The apostle John wrote, "Many signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and believing ye may have life eternal." (Jno. 20: 30,31.) "Preach the word: be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, have itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn unto fables." (2 Tim. 4:2,3.) Again, "He that prophesieth speaketh unto men edification, and exhortation, and consolation." (1 Cor. 14:3.) To fail to us.) the Scriptures for any of these purposes enumerated is to woefully fail to declare the whole counsel of God. Impoverished indeed and bereft of good judgment is the preacher who fails to recognize the great possibilities of using God's Word in preaching for He has said, "So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it SHALL ACCOMPLISH that which I please, and it shall PROSPER in the thing whereunto I sent it." (Isa. 55:11.)

8. Prayer And The Use Of The Bible. A study of the prayers in the Bible is very profitable. An impressive fact is that many of the New Testament prayers refer to Old Testament material. We may phrase our prayers to God in Bible language or use any Scripture as the vehicle of our thoughts, provided, of course, the thought of our minds the longing or gratitude of our hearts be properly expressed. The Bible is God's Book given us through men led by His Spirit. Why not give God the right of way in our minds to assist us in interpreting His Word? Let us pray first, and then read it in the spirit of prayer. With God's Book before us and with God's Spirit within us and with God's servant desirous of receiving, the earnest believer is well prepared to be fed the daily manna that will prepare the soul for its future presence in the promised land.

The Bible is God's Word. We are God's people, if we strive to faithfully serve Him. We meet to worship our Heavenly Father. He has given us the Bible which is our guide. This Bible is the record of what He has said. May the public worship of the saints give that place to the Bible which God wants it to have and then we can truly say, "May God add His blessing to the reading of His Word."