At the time I was none too pleased with the Prayer Book service that was used. I was unaccustomed to reading prayers and responses, regularly got lost, and was typically confused. But one part of the service made a powerful impression. At the appropriate time a reader stood to read the Old Testament lesson, and later another to read the New Testament lesson. The readers read slowly, deliberately, and beautifully. The Old Testament text was from Isaiah. I recall being surprisingly moved by the power of the word skillfully read. I also recall thinking that the experience of hearing an extended reading of Scripture was new. I couldn't recall in 22 years of church-going at evangelical churches (whether Brethren, Baptist, Congregational, Independent Bible, or Presbyterian) of ever hearing a text of Scripture being read other than the few verses before the sermon. Obviously it made an impression. I can still speak of it over a quarter of a century later. Isn't it “funny,” I thought, that these liturgical Anglicans read the Bible, and my “gospel-preaching” churches don't. With all their high-church regalia, with all the various postures and gestures of the priests, which my low-church self referred to as “bobbing and weaving” (thank you, Cassius Clay), they packed more Bible into their services than we did.
The medieval practice, with which the Reformers were interacting, was to follow a program of selected Bible readings according to a pattern codified by Gregory the Great (c. 540–604) in the sixth century. The program, called a lectionary, was selective (determined mainly by the themes of the church calendar), not continuous, lectio selecta not lectio continua.3
“For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” (Acts 15:21; cf Acts 17:2-4, 11; 18:4; 18:19; 19:8)
A generation later Cotton Mather, writing in his Ratio Disciplinae provided a typical order of worship in his day (1726).
Reading of Scripture & Sermon (lectio selecta)
Benediction (typically the Apostolic)74
Mather then discussed the matter of lectio continua Scripture reading, admitting a diversity of practice in New England. He acknowledged the position of John Cotton, who argued in 1645 (in his book Singing of Psalms) that the reading of Scripture was an “ordinance” of public worship distinct from preaching. Mather also notes that this is the position of the Westminster Directory. The New England churches, however, followed three different patterns:
1. Some read Scripture lectio continua without commentary.
2. Some read Scripture lectio continua with commentary.
3. Some only read the passage of Scripture to be preached.
Respecting the churches that only read the Scripture to be preached, he listed the following reasons:
They could see no precept or pattern in Scripture for reading without exposition.
Proper sermons typically include the reading of multiple passages of Scripture with the advantage that their use is in the context of their “place and use in divinity.”75
While exposition by gifted men is to be preferred to bare reading, some ministers’ gifts require a different manner of handling the word of God than sequential exposition.
Some chapters of the Bible are not appropriate for public reading.
Public reading of Scripture may lead to the neglect of Scripture reading in families.
Horton Davies maintains that Cotton Mather objects to “lections without commentary.”76 No such objections, however, can be found by the present writer. Mather merely lists the various pros and cons, without committing himself to one side or the other. Indeed he claims that to refer to readings without commentary as “dumb readings” is “esteemed improper and indecent.”77 He concludes his review of the various approaches to Scripture reading saying,
“If there be not a perfect harmony in the churches about the manner of performing this duty, however there is perfect charity; It breeds no difference. Yea, that the Scriptures be publicly read, in some sense, it may be said, they are all agreed.”78
Yet those wishing to limit the public reading to the preaching text ultimately carried the day, the arguments #1-5 above, apparently gaining universal approval. The preference for lengthy, highly analytical sermons among the Puritans and their descendents would seem to be the primary reason, the reason driving all other reasons, for the disappearance of lectio continua Scripture reading in English-speaking Reformed churches.
Alexander, James W. Thoughts on Preaching: Being Contributions to Homiletics. 1864, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975.
Broadus, John A. On the Preparation & Delivery of Sermons. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1870, 1944.
Bridges, Charles. The Christian Ministry; With an Inquiry into the Causes of Its Inefficiency; With an Especial Reference to the Ministry of the Establishment. London: Seeley, 1849.
Brooks, Phillips. Lectures on Preaching Delivered before the Divinity School of Yale College In January and February. 1877, New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1907.
Brown, John. The Christian Pastor’s Manual. Ligonier, 1826, Pennsylvania: Soli Deo Gloria, 1991.
Carson, D. A. (ed.). Worship: Adoration and Action. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993.
Chapell, Bryan. Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994.
Conn, Harvey M. (ed.). Practical Theology and the Ministry of the Church, 1952-1984: Essays in Honor of Edmund P. Clowney. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1990.
Dabney, Robert L. Sacred Rhetoric or A Course of Lectures on Preaching. 1870, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1979.
Dale, R.W. Nine Lectures on Preaching. London: Hodder and Stoughton (nd).
Davies, J. G. (ed.). The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1986.
Dawn, Marva J. Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.
Fairburn, Patrick. Pastoral Theology: A Treatise on the Office & Duties of the Christian Pastor. 1875, Audubon, NJ: Old Paths Publications, 1992.
Forrester, D.B. “Worship,” in Nigel M. de Cameron (ed) Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology. Downers Grove, Ill: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993.
Frame, John. Worship in Spirit & Truth. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1996.
Fuller, R. H. “Lectionary” in J. G. Davies (ed.). The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1986.
Hageman, H. G. Pulpit & Table: Some Chapters in the History of Worship in the Reformed Churches. Richmond, Virginia: John Knox Press, 1962.
Hambrick-Stowe, Charles E. The Practice of Piety: Puritan Devotional Disciplines in Seventeenth-Century New England. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982.
MacArthur, John et. al. Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1995.
Murphy, Thomas. Pastoral Theology: The Pastor in the Various Duties of His Office. 1877, Audubon, New Jersey: Old Paths Publications, 1996.
Old, Hughes O. “Henry, Matthew (1662-1714)”, in D. K. McKim (ed.) Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters. Downers Grove: Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998.
Old, Hughes O. The Reading & Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church Vol. 1: The Biblical Period. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.
Old, Hughes O. Worship That Is Reformed According to Scriptures (Guides to the Reformed Tradition). Atlanta, John Knox Press, 1984.
Packer, J. I. Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J. C. Ryle. Wheaton Illinois: Crossway Books, 2002.
Porter, Ebenezer. Lectures on Homilectics and Preaching, and on Public Prayer; Together with Sermons and Letters. New York: Flagg, Gould and Newman, 1834.
Shedd, William G. T. Homiletics and Pastoral Theology. 1867, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965.
Spurgeon, C. H. The Pastor in Prayer. 1893, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2004.
Spurgeon, C.H. Lectures to My Students. 1881-1894, Fearn, Rosshire: Christian Focus Publications, 2000.
Thompson, Bard. Liturgies of the Western Church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961.
Von Allmen, Jean-Jacques. Worship: Its Theology and Practice. London: Lutterworth Press, 1965.
Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Vol. I (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1970), pp. 253, 257.
James F. White, “Our Apostasy in Worship,” Christian Century, September 28, 1977, p. 842.
R. H. Fuller, “Lectionary,” in J. G. Davies (ed.) The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1986), p. 297-99.
Hughes O. Old, The Reading & Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, Vol. 1: The Biblical Period (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), p. 99ff. See also “Lectionary” by R. H. Fuller: synagogue pericopes were “chosen on the principle of lectio continua for ordinary Sabbaths” (p. 297).
Hughes O. Old, The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag, 1970), pp. 194-95.
R. H. Fuller, “Lectionary,” p. 298.
Bard Thompson, Liturgies of the Western Church (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961), pp. 170-71.
Ibid, p. 291, English modernized
Ibid, p. 291.
Ibid, pp. 295-307.
D.B. Forrester, “Worship,” in Nigel M. de Cameron (ed) Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology (Downers Grove, Ill: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993), p. 896.
Thomas M’Crie, The Story of the Scottish Church (Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 1874, 1988), p. 166, 167; cf. Charles Greig M’Crie, The Public Worship of Presbyterian Scotland (Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons, 1892), pp. 162ff.
“There is no mention of the public reading of Scripture” in the Book of Common Order (1564), concedes Forrester, but he agrees, “this seems to have been included in a preliminary service by a reader,” “Worship,” p. 85.
He mentions William Cowper, Seven-days Conference between a Catholic Christian and a Roman Catholic; Sir William Brereton in Hugh Brown, Early Travelers in Scotland, and Alexander Henderson, The Government of the Church of Scotland.
William D. Maxwell, A History of Worship in the Church of Scotland, (London: Oxford University Press, 1955), p. 95.
Ibid, p. 96.
Thompson, p. 322.
Ibid, p. 358.
Old, Patristic Roots, p. 203.
Ibid, p. 203.
See Thompson, pp. 391,392; Maxwell, Outline, p. 138. Cranmer addressed the weaknesses of a lectio selecta approach through a weekday lectionary which took readers through the Bible in a year (see Old, Reading & Preaching, Vol. 4, pp. 151-155).
Old, Reading and Preaching, Vol. 5, p. 219.
Ottomar Cypris, Basic Principles: Translation and Commentary of Martin Bucer's Grund Und Ursach, 1524 (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilms, 1971), pp 149-150.
Thompson, p. 358.
Old, The Reading & Preaching, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), Vol. 5, p. 29.
Hughes O. Old, “Henry, Matthew (1662-1714)”, in D. K. McKim (ed) Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters (Downers Grove: Illinois: InterVarsity Press (1998), p. 197.
Horton Davies, Worship & Theology in England: From Watts & Wesley to Maurice, 1690-1850 (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1961), pp 101-102.
Ibid, p. 133.
Horton Davis, The Worship of the American Puritans, 1629-1730 (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1990, 1999), p. 8.
Patrick Fairburn, Pastoral Theology: A Treatise on the Office & Duties of the Christian Pastor, 1875 (Audubon, NJ: Old Paths Publications, 1992), p. 239,240. His verb tenses are interesting. Did he mean that the double sermon was still practiced in his day?
Forrester, “Worship,” p. 896.
Old, Reading and Preaching, Vol. 5, p. 448.
Cited in Maxwell, A History of Worship in the Church of the Scotland (London: Oxford University Press, 1955), p. 128.
Old, Reading & Preaching, Vol. 5, p. 539.
Ibid, Vol. 5, p. 629.
Charles Baird, Presbyterian Liturgies, 1855 (Grand Rapids:Baker Book House; 1957).
Ibid, p. 264.
Thompson, p. 263.
W. D. Maxwell, An Outline of Christian Worship (London: Oxford University Press, 1936), p. 132.
John Brown, The Christian Pastor’s Manual (1826, Ligonier, Pennsylvania: Soli Deo Gloria, 1991); Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry; With an Inquiry into the Causes of Its Inefficiency; With an Especial Reference to the Ministry of the Establishment (London: Seeley, 1849); William G. T. Shedd, Homiletics and Pastoral Theology (1867, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965); Patrick Fairbairn, Pastoral Theology: A Treatise on the Office and Duties of the Christian Pastor (1875, Audubon, New Jersey: Old Paths Publications, 1992); Thomas Murphy, Pastoral Theology: The Pastor in the Various Duties of His Office (1877, Audubon, New Jersey: Old Paths Publications, 1996).
Ebenezer Porter, Lectures on Homilectics and Preaching, and on Public Prayer; Together with Sermons and Letters (New York: Flagg, Gould and Newman, 1834); James W. Alexander, Thoughts on Preaching: Being Contributions to Homiletics (1864, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975); Robert L. Dabney, Sacred Rhetoric or A Course of Lectures on Preaching (1870, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1979); Henry Ward Beecher, Yale Lectures on Preaching (New York: Fords, Howard, and Hulbert, 1893); R. W. Dale, Nine Lectures on Preaching (London: Hodder and Stoughton [nd]); Phillips Brooks, Lectures on Preaching Delivered before the Divinity School of Yale College In January and February, 1877 (New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1907); C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (1881-1894, Fearn, Rosshire: Christian Focus Publications, 2000).
J. H. Jowett, The Preacher: His Life & Work (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1912).
Ibid, pp. 159, 161.
John A. Broadus, On the Preparation & Delivery of Sermons (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1870, 1944).
Ibid, p. 359.
Andrew Blackwood, The Fine Art of Worship (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1939) and Leading in Public Prayer (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957).
Thomas C. Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry (San Francisco: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1983).
James D. Berkley, ed., Leadership Handbooks of Practical Theology, Volume One, Word and Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992).
William H. Willimon, Preaching and Leading Worship (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1984).
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1971); Jay E. Adams, Preaching with Purpose (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1982); William Still, The Work of the Pastor (Aberdeen: Didasko Press, 1976); John R. Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982); Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980); Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994).
Jean-Jacques von Allmen, Worship: Its Theology and Practice (London: Lutterworth Press, 1965); William D. Maxwell, An Outline of Christian Worship: Its Developments and Forms (1936; London: Oxford University Press, 1952); Robert Rayburn, O Come Let Us Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980); Donald Macleod, Presbyterian Worship: Its Meaning and Method (Richmond: John Knox, 1967); James Hastings Nichols, Corporate Worship in the Reformed Tradition (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1968); H. G. Hageman, Pulpit & Table: Some Chapters in the History of Worship in the Reformed Churches (Richmond, Virginia: John Knox Press, 1962). Marva J. Dawn, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995). John Frame, Worship in Spirit & Truth (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1996). We can add to the list Methodist James F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980); D. A. Carson (ed.), Worship: Adoration and Action (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993), which includes essay by Edmund P. Clowney on “Presbyterian Worship,” pp. 110-122.
49Harvey M. Conn, ed., Practical Theology and the Ministry of the Church, 1952-1984: Essays in Honor of Edmund P. Clowney (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1990).
51John MacArthur, et. al., Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1995).
John P. Burgess, “Shaping a Congregation Through Lectio Continua” in Reformed Liturgy & Music, Vol. XXX, Number 1, 1996, pp. 3-6. The author confesses that much of his account of the history of lectio continua he “gleaned from personal conversation with Hughes Oliphant Old,” and from Old’s Worship That is Reformed According to Scripture (p. 6, note 8). The other advocate, not surprisingly, is Hughes O. Old, writing in Reformed Worship, No. 8, Summer 1988, pp. 24-25.
Where the reading of Scripture has been discussed in the late 20th century literature, interest has been limited primarily to the “how-to’s” of reading. Blackwood (writing in 1939) affirms that “the reading of the Scriptures is perhaps the most important part of public worship.” He offers comments upon responsive readings, the pulpit Bible, the strengths of the King James Version, the “how-to’s” of public reading, and the virtues of the lectionary.” (p. 128. An interesting aside: writing in 1939, Blackwood says, “A generation ago the minister who wished to be up with the times was either using the responsive reading, or else wondering why he was not.” While in the end he endorses its use, he speaks of the responsive reading as a passing fad, a view with which the present writer has some sympathy. Among the anti-arguments: “The Psalms were written to be sung, not read; that the responsive reading consumes valuable time, with no appreciable effect; and that it quickly becomes formal, almost perfunctory” [pp. 128-129] ). H. G. Hageman (1962) recalls the Reformation era practice of lectio continua, acknowledges “there is more to be said for the custom than most of us are willing to admit,” laments the current practice of a single lesson determined by the sermon, insists it “calls for correction,” and concludes that church committees, lectionaries, or the Christian year may serve as guides in selecting which Scriptures shall be read. Lectio continua is, in most cases, impractical today, he says, because “many of our congregations would weary of it” (123). Von Allmen (1965) devotes 7 pages to the subject, comparing lectio continua and lectio selecta. He notes that the lectio selecta has gradually come to prevail even in the Reformed churches, and says, surprisingly, “and we must rejoice about it,” though he doesn’t want lectio continua to be entirely superseded (134). Donald MacLeod (1967) is concerned about the growing ignorance of the Bible among Protestants. His answer is a calendar-based lectio selecta lectionary that he claims “covers the Bible in two years,” which of course, it doesn’t except highly selectively (114). Rayburn (1980) urges both a Old Testament and New Testament reading, but never mentions lectio continua. Willimon, a Methodist (1984), wants to see more Scripture read and urges three lessons every Sunday, as well as “the orderly reading of Scripture” (19). Preacher & Preaching (1986), a significant effort to promote biblical preaching, does have a promising chapter entitled “Reading the Word of God Aloud” (Samuel T. Logan, Jr., The Preacher & Preaching: Reviving the Art in the Twentieth Century [Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company, 1986]). But, alas, it too turns out to be concerned only with the mechanics of reading. The same is true of Chapell (337ff). The Leadership Handbooks (1992) devotes 1-1/2 pages to “the public reading of Scripture” out of 500 in volume one on “Word & Worship.” It recommends frequent use of “familiar texts and devotional texts” because “they create a spirit of warmth and gratitude” (188). Worship in the Presence of God, a collection of essays written by committed Presbyterian traditionalists, includes a chapter on “The Reading of Scriptures,” by Louis F. DeBoer, in Frank J. Smith & David C. Lanchman (ed.), Worship in the Presence of God [Greenville, South Carolina: Greenville Seminary Press], 1992). He says quite a bit about the importance of reading Scripture. He even urges the reading of two full chapters, one from each testament, in each service. But his criteria of selection is not lectio continua, which goes unmentioned, but thematic connection with the theme of the preacher’s sermon. Another collection of essays written in honor of Calvin Seminary’s Old Testament Professor John H. Stek carries the hopeful title of Reading & Hearing the Word (Arie C. Leder, [Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 1998] ). Yet even in this volume, the subject of lectio continua reading is ignored, indeed, despite the title, the whole subject of the public reading of Scripture is omitted. No advocates of lectio continua Scripture reading are to be found. Even the esteemed Dr. Old limits his advocacy to lectio continua preaching and omits to press the case for reading in his Worship That Is Reformed According to Scriptures (Guides to the Reformed Tradition, Atlanta, John Knox Press, 1984). Only with the publishing of his multi-volumed The Reading & Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church can we find positive advocacy for lectio continua reading of the Scripture (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Vol. 1-7, 1998–).
Clayton J. Schmit, Public Reading of Scripture: A Handbook (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002).
D. A. Carson, ed., Worship by the Book (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002).
R. J. Gore, Jr., Covenantal Worship: Reconsidering the Puritan Regulative Principle (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2002).
D. G. Hart, Recovering Mother Kirk: The Case for Liturgy in the Reformed Tradition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 2003).
D. G. Hart and John R. Muether, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2002).
Michael Horton, A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2002), pp. 89-90.
Jeffrey J. Meyers, The Lord’s Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003), pp. 156-162; 194-200.
Horace T. Allen, Jr., “Calendar & Lectionary in Reformed Perspective & History,” in Lukas Vischer (ed.), Christian Worship in Reformed Churches Past & Present (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003).
J. Ligon Duncan, “Reading & Praying the Bible in Corporate Worship,” in Philip G. Ryken (ed.), Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003), pp. 141-148.
Donald N. Bastian, “The Silenced Word,” in Christianity Today (March 5, 2001, Vol. 45, No. 4, p. 92); Christopher K. Lensch, “The Public Reading of Scripture,” Western Reformed Seminary Journal (February 2000, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 19-22); Dwight A. Randall, “Scripture Reading & Worship,” Life News (Internet Magazine); Arthur Howe, “The Public Reading of the Scriptures,” The Banner of Truth Magazine (Issue 499, April 2005), pp. 17-21.
David Jussley, Lectio Continua: The Best Way to Teach & Preach the Bible,” The Banner of Truth Magazine (Issue 499, April 2005, pp. 12-16); James C. Goodloe, IV, “Righteous Judgment,” The Presbyterian Outlook (February 7, 2004).
Old, Reading and Preaching, Vol. 4, p. 148.
Ibid, cf. Vol. 5, p. 29.
Ibid, p. 326.
Ibid, p. 327.
Old, Reading & Preaching, Vol. 5, p. 172.
Cotton Mather, Ratio Disciplinae Frutrum Nov-Anglorum: A Faithful Account of the Discipline Professed & Practiced in the Churches of New England (1726, New York: Arno Press, 1972), p. 67.
Ibid, p. 64.
Davies, American Puritans, p. 298, note 2.
Mather, Ratio, p. 67.
Ibid, pp. 67-68.
Old, Reading & Preaching, Vol, 4, p. 328.
Old, Reading & Preaching, Vol. 4, pp. 151-155.
Ibid, p. 157.
Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, The Practice of Piety: Puritan Devotional Disciplines in Seventeenth-Century New England (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982), p. 110; Old, Reading & Preaching, Vol. 4, p. 328.
Mather, Ratio, p. 64.