Zebras at a Waterhole in Okaukejo, Etosha Pan, Namibia . PHOTO : J . Rieck

Monday, September 5, 2016

Who Makes People Into Saints ?

On  this previous Sunday  (4th September 2016)  Pope Francis  declared  Mother  Teresa to be  a saint.  This  is one of the peculiar  Roman Catholic church traditions  which  simply do not  match  the Scriptures.  

As a defender  of  the authority of Scripture  alone (SOLA SCRIPTURA) I would like to help you to think  with me on this matter.  It is no small thing to substitute  the authority of the Bible for man made traditions. Jesus had  His  strongest words  reserved for those who   did this. 

According   to a Catholic website the  definitions  of a saint may embrace the following : [1]
  •         An example of holiness that we can follow with confidence.
  •         The person who kept on trying when everybody else gave up.
  •     'Spiritual force-fields', exerting a powerful attractive influence on followers but also touching the inner lives of others in ways that transform them for the better.
  •       A person who has been formally canonized (officially recognized) by the Catholic Church,    and is therefore considered to be in Heaven.
  •        A saint is always someone through whose life we learn what God is like - and of what we are    called to be. Only God 'makes' saints. The church merely identifies from time to time a few of these for imitation.
  •   Anyone who is in Heaven, whether recognized here on earth, or not (Eastern Orthodox definition)

Although  there is some truth  in  these statements, they do not  nearly match the  definition of the Bible.

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE PLAINLY TEACH ?

The word "saint" is derived from a Greek verb  “hagiazo”.  The basic meaning is "to set apart" or to "make holy". The New Testament uses the word ‘ saint’  or ‘saints’  sixty seven  times. In every instance, the reference is to all believers, and not simply to  a special group of believers who serve God better than others. Scripture is clear that all  true  Christians are saints. A true Christian is one  who has  been enabled by God to  embrace Jesus Christ as  their Saviour. This is seen by  the   spiritual fruit  which are  borne in such a person's life.  The  Bible says  that  a  true Christian is a saint NOW.  Our understanding of the word 'saint'  must be based on what  the Bible says. 

In  the  Old Testament  the idea of separateness or holiness was inherent in the character  of God. The Old Testament temple , and in particular the  room called  the  “Holy of holies”  was the dwelling place of God on earth, and could only be entered by  set apart (holy) priests .
The people or the worshippers  of the true God  were  likewise recognized as a holy people, who were to be distinguished    from the  other  nations surrounding them.  
This idea of the separateness of God and his people is  continued in the New Testament.  Christians   are  frequently  called saints  in the Bible  e.g.  Acts 9:13; 26:10; Rom 1:7 ; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Php. 1:1; Col 1:4. 

The important  thing  to recognize here is that  saints in the New Testament  are  living beings. Saints, in the New Testament, are never deceased individuals who have been canonized  and given sainthood by the church!  They are living individuals who have dedicated themselves to the worship and service of the one true God as revealed through his Son, Jesus Christ.

And so, the Gospel coalition (Joe Carter)  has  written a helpful article  entitled  “9 Things you should know about Mother Teresa”,   concerning  the so called  canonization of  Mother Teresa  of  Calcutta.   

You can click on this link,   https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/9-things-you-should-know-about-mother-teresa,  but for  your convenience I will  also   paste the article below:

Joe Carter  says:  
"There are two main reasons why I think evangelicals should know something about Mother Teresa: First, she remains a popular historical figure. During her life, she was named 18 times in the yearly Gallup's most admired man and woman poll as one of the 10 women around the world who Americans admired most, finishing first several times in the 1980s and 1990s. Also, in 1999, a poll of Americans ranked her first in Gallup's List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century. Second, for many people Mother Teresa’s name has become synonymous with Christian charity. For these reasons we should know something about this nun from Calcutta. While we ought to recognize Mother Teresa as a laudable champion against abortion who had a fervent concern for the poor, we should also be aware of her many foibles and failings so that we can correct the perception of her as an uncriticizable Christian leader.”

 9 Things you should know about Mother Teresa

On Sunday ( 04/09/2016)  at a Roman Catholic canonization service in Vatican City, Pope Francis will declare Mother Teresa a saint. Here are nine things you should know about the Nobel-prize winning nun who became renowned for serving the poor and dying:

1. Mother Teresa was born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in 1910 in what is now part of modern Macedonia. At the age of 18 she left home to join the Sisters of Loreto, a group of nuns in Ireland. It was there she took the name Sister Mary Teresa after Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. A year later, in 1929, Mother Teresa moved to India and taught at a Catholic school for girls.

2. In 1946 Mother Teresa received what she would later describe as a “call within a call.” She said Jesus spoke to her and told her to abandon teaching to work in the slums of Calcutta aiding the city's poorest and sickest people. In 1950 she received Vatican approval for Missionaries of Charity, a group of religious sisters who took vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.” By the late 1970s, the Missionaries of the Charity had offshoots in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the United States.

3. Mother Teresa and her religious order gained international attention in 1967 when the famed journalist Malcolm Muggeridge interviewed her for a BBC TV program. Because of the popularity of the interview, Muggeridge travelled to Calcutta a year later to make a documentary, Something Beautiful for God, about Theresa's “House of the Dying” (Muggeridge would also write a book by the same name in 1971).

4. During her life Mother Teresa received more 120 prestigious awards and honors. In 1971, Paul VI conferred the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize on Mother Teresa, and in 1979 she won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee writes in their motivation: “In making the award the Norwegian Nobel Committee has expressed its recognition of Mother Teresa's work in bringing help to suffering humanity. This year the world has turned its attention to the plight of children and refugees, and these are precisely the categories for whom Mother Teresa has for many years worked so selflessly.” She also received the highest U.S. civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1985.

5. During her 1979 Nobel Prize Lecture, Mother Teresa called abortion the “greatest destroyer of peace”:
We are talking of peace. These are things that break peace, but I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing - direct murder by the mother herself. And we read in the Scripture, for God says very clearly: Even if a mother could forget her child - I will not forget you - I have carved you in the palm of my hand. We are carved in the palm of His hand, so close to Him that unborn child has been carved in the hand of God. And that is what strikes me most, the beginning of that sentence, that even if a mother could forget something impossible - but even if she could forget - I will not forget you. And today the greatest means - the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion. And we who are standing here - our parents wanted us. We would not be here if our parents would do that to us. Our children, we want them, we love them, but what of the millions. Many people are very, very concerned with the children in India, with the children in Africa where quite a number die, maybe of malnutrition, of hunger and so on, but millions are dying deliberately by the will of the mother. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today. Because if a mother can kill her own child - what is left for me to kill you and you kill me - there is nothing between.

6.  Mother Teresa was frequently denounced by secularists because of her opposition to contraception and abortion. But she was also widely criticized for her allowing her charity to provide inadequate care for the poor and for potential mismanagement of charitable funds. Although she leveraged her fame to raise tens of millions of dollars for her charity, the orphanages and care centers run by her religious order were often substandard. After visiting Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying in 1994, Robin Fox wrote about the experience in the British medical journal, The Lancet. Fox reported that doctors only occasionally visited the patients (the care was mostly provided by untrained volunteers) and that pain relief provided for the dying was inadequate, leading them to suffer unnecessarily. In 2008, another observer reported, “I was shocked to see the negligence. Needles were washed in cold water and reused and expired medicines were given to the inmates. There were people who had chance to live if given proper care.”

7. Mother Teresa has also been criticized by Christians for downplaying evangelism and espousing universalist views of salvation. For example in her book, Life in the Spirit: Reflections, Meditations and Prayers, she says:
Our purpose is to take God and His love to the poorest of the poor, irrespective of their ethnic origin or the faith they profess. Our discernment of aid is not the belief but the necessity. We never try to convert those whom we receive to Christianity but in our work we bear witness to the love of God’s presence and if Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, or agnostics become for this better men — simply better — we will be satisfied. It matters to the individual what church he belongs to. If that individual thinks and believes that this is the only way to God for her or him, this is the way God comes into their life — his life. If he does not know any other way and if he has no doubt so that he does not need to search then this is his way to salvation.
When a Catholic priest asked if she attempted to convert people, she reportedly answered, “Yes, I convert. I convert you to be a better Hindu, or a better Muslim, or a better Protestant, or a better Catholic, or a better Parsee, or a better Sikh, or a better Buddhist. And after you have found God, it is for you to do what God wants you to do.’ ”

8. After her death, Mother Teresa’s letters revealed that she spent almost 50 years in a crisis of faith, sometimes doubting the existence of God and frequently feeling his absence in her life. The absence began to be felt around 1948, soon after she began serving the poor in Calcutta, and would last until her death in 1997. As David Van Biema wrote in Time magazine:
In more than 40 communications, many of which have never before been published, she bemoans the “dryness,” “darkness,” “loneliness” and “torture” she is undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. “The smile,” she writes, is “a mask” or “a cloak that covers everything.” Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. “I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God–tender, personal love,” she remarks to an adviser. “If you were [there], you would have said, ‘What hypocrisy.'”

9. For Mother Teresa to be recognized as a saint within the Catholic Church, she had to undergo the lengthy process of beatification and canonization. The process usually cannot be started until 5 years after the person has died, but Mother Teresa received a waiver from Pope John Paul II. Before beatification (which recognizes the person’s ability to intercede to God on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name) a person must have a verified miracle attributed to them after their death. After beatification the Church looks for a second miracle before proceeding to canonization. If one is found and they meet the other criteria, the pope can conduct a special mass at which the person is recognized a saint. The first miracle attributed to Mother Teresa involved the healing of an Indian woman, Monica Besra, whose abdominal tumor was so severe that her doctors abandoned hope of saving her. After a Miraculous Medal that had been touched to the body of Mother Teresa was placed on Besra’s stomach, the tumor reportedly disappeared. The second miracle involved a Brazilian man who reportedly was healed of a bacterial infection in the brain after he and his family prayed to Mother Teresa for her help.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What I said at the funeral of my cousin who was murdered

FUNERAL  SERVICE FOR Hans - Jörg Möller 
(b.15th  October  1965  ;  d.   18th JUne  2016) 
Sunday  3rd July   2016
Perspectives and Reflections 

Hans  and I on his catamaran, "Manatee"
My dear family  and friends,
Hans’ untimely  and  brutal  death has shaken our  family  and our  community  and it  has raised many questions in our minds. It  has also  brought  forth deep   grief  and a great sense of loss, for Hans was only 50 years  old  at the time of his untimely death.  

I speak to you as  Hans’s  cousin. He  was in many ways  a brother to me. We were always genuinely happy to see each other.

I also speak to you as a pastor, a shepherd of souls for  many years now, and so I speak  from a  family perspective,   and also   from  God’s perspective. 

A violent death has taken  a  family man  away in the midst of  his years.  Hans was murdered by unscrupulous men.  Why? This is perhaps the most fundamental question in our minds.  And  I suppose,  some related questions  would be,  Where is God in this?  What  shall we say about  this murder, and what about justice? What about the essential forgiveness that the Bible  speaks about? What about  Hans’s widow and  the children and his parents and his sister?

So then, as many people are angry, confused  and bewildered  and as many may be  asking  these ultimate questions at this time,   I come to you with the  perspective of God’s Word. Ultimate questions need ultimate answers, and  for this we need  the Bible,  the Word of God.

The ultimate  question is,  Why? I wish I could tell you why, but I can’t, and that does not mean  that I am now  confused  and that my faith in God is now destroyed. In fact when  asking  “why?” we are in very  good company.  Read the Psalms  of the Bible and  note how many times the Psalmist  asks that question of God, such as this one in Psalm  10:1,   Why oh Lord do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”[1].

The why of suffering is also  the great theme of the book of Job.  

The  cry of Jesus from the cross,  “My God , my God  why  have you forsaken  me?“,   is perhaps one of the ultimate  big why’s of the Bible. Even the Son of God, in His great hour of  anguish  asked, “Why?” [Matt  27:46] Aren’t you glad, that Jesus  never  made that anguished   “why” an excuse  to  escape the cross,   by which He would secure  the  salvation of all that would trust in Him   for this   work?  Aren’t you glad  that Jesus  persevered  through the agony of the “why”    to  finish the work that  God the Father  gave Him to do?   So, it’s not wrong to ask  “why”, provided that you are looking for a genuine answer from God.   

There is  however  also  the  angry  and defiant “why?”  that blames  God, turning  it  into a grudge against God and against others  by   allowing  it  to  settle in  your soul  in terms of  a  pathological  anger  and bitterness.  I warn you against  harbouring  such  ugly emotions which tend to make an ugly, bitter  person of you (Hebr. 12:15).

So, where does God  fit  into this? 

It is clear that  wicked men  killed Hans. As such  they  are  fully responsible  for this wicked act, and we will talk a little more about that in a minute.  But the  other fact we need to grapple with  is that God did nothing to prevent this  from happening.  This is true  whether we think of  the  people who recently died  at Brussels  airport or at Istanbul airport  this past week  at the hand of ISIS terrorists, or whether we think of our dear Hans. 

So, what is God up to  here?   In fact, what was God up to  when He  allowed wicked men to kill His Son on a  cruel cross?  I want to give  you a biblical and profound  answer to this question. In Acts  2, on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was sent, people  were confused and they needed clarity concerning  this  event. So the apostle Peter gets up and explains to  thousands of people  the purpose of the work of God on earth, and then in particular, he explains to them   the person of  Jesus  Christ and  the work He came to do on the cross. Listen to what he says in  Acts 2:22-24  :

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

There are two important statements made here :
(i)        Men  are fully responsible  for what they  did to Jesus and as such will suffer the consequences. 
(ii)             …and yet  we also learn that  God is positively  at work in the midst of  such chaos and calamity. Think of it. The cross was the cruellest form of death  that evil  men could think of at the time. It was slow and torturous.    But God  knowing that this would happen,  was able  to use this  terrible event by turning it into something so big and so spectacular  that it leaves us quite breathless. In  His horrible death on the cross God in Christ  did two great things  in securing   the salvation   for  all that would believe in Him.  Firstly, on the cross He  satisfied the just and righteous  wrath of God. Secondly,  he  fully justified sinners by  paying the penalties  accrued by  their sin in  His death on their behalf.  On the cross He fully paid  the penalty that was due to us.

So then,  Hans’ killers  are  fully responsible  for what  they did. They will have to answer to our  Namibian  system of justice for this  wicked deed, and  they must  bear the consequences  to the fullest extent that our courts will allow. But even more so,   they will have to give an account to God  for this deed.  I assure you from the Bible,  that  God’s wrath on defiant  sinners is  infinitely more  terrible than the Namibian justice system. It is much more terrible than our feeble sense of justice and the anger that  we  may  feel in our heart. Jesus  confirms this  for us in Matthew  12:4,5:

“I tell you my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you who to fear: fear him who after he has killed , has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!”  

So with this in mind  then,  I must counsel you further. You must now learn to think in a very different way about this sad  happening. You must learn   to  apply Christian logic and  not conventional logic.  Jesus  is giving you a  job to do right now, knowing   what awaits  these murderers before  God, should they continue in the hardness of their hearts. 

Jesus  wants you to forgive   your enemies, these murderers. He says,  “I say to you, love your enemies and pray  for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…” (Matt. 5:44,45). And just in case you tell me that  this  is easier to say than to do, I remind you  that Jesus  as a man himself forgave His murderers  on the cross, when He said: 

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do…” [Lk. 23:34].    

I tell you as I would  tell myself,… and  as one who is a close member of this family: pray for the murderers, and  do not  bear hatred in your hearts against them, whilst upholding the terms of earthly  justice that must be  done in our courts of law. In Romans 13 we learn that  God has given such  responsibility to the governing authorities.  But as for you,  I must remind you  that your heavenly Father will not forgive you, if you do not forgive your enemies (Matt. 6:14,15).

The apostle Paul  also  reminds us in this regard: 

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, vengeance is mine, I will repay , says the Lord…. Do not overcome  by evil, but overcome evil with good…”  (Rom. 12:19-21). 

Jesus says : “Pray for your enemies”.  

Pray that they may repent of this great sin which they have committed and pray  that they may live to tell others,  and warn  others  of the great  judgement of God  that is soon coming on the face of the earth (Matt 25:31-46).  

So the  big  question is this: “Can God bring good out of  this unspeakable evil done by men?” The answer is “Yes!”  Much more than you think. In the Bible and in the history of the Christian church, by this uncommon logic, supremely demonstrated in the cross of Christ,  God has  shown Himself to  be mighty  and awesome in this world.  Let us trust God to   show us  great and wonderful things  as a result  of this death, as we trust  Him for the outcome. May glory  come to  God  and may joy come to us!

One more word  concerning the  care of widows and orphans – our duty to  Carol Ann, Heidi and  Riana.  God’s heart  is with these vulnerable  people (James 1:27). It is our duty under God  to love them and protect them and not to exploit them. And to  you I say: the best gift that God has given you on earth for your protection, apart from  having a godly family  is  being  a member  of a  godly and  biblical church. Make sure that you are part of one.  

And  to  Heidi and Wilfried, the parents of Hans- Jörg, my aunt and uncle,  and to  Mischka  his sister and my cousin  we say: “May the Lord Himself comfort you and counsel you  in this dark hour.”  May He  direct you into  Christ  Himself, so that you  too will  know Christ  both now and in eternity.

May the peace of God the Father  and the grace of our  Lord Jesus  Christ,  and the  fellowship of the Holy Spirit  surround  you  all.
Amen !




[1] See also 2:1 ; 22:1’ 42:5,6,11;43:5;44:23 ; 52:1; 74 :1

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

HOW THE SPIRITUAL LANDSCAPE IS CHANGING IN NAMIBIA

Churches  exist in societies, and the changes that happen in these societies   tend to     affect the church.  Since  our world is  subjected  to the  effects of the fall described in Genesis  3  and illustrated in chapter 4,  and indeed  in the rest of the Bible, the pull is sadly   ‘downward’.  

Society, contrary to popular opinion, unaided  by the gospel  and left to  itself  does not  evolve  nor improve with time.  If it were not for the   continuous preaching of the Bible  in the pulpits of the world, and if it were not for  heaven–sent reformation and revival movements   given by God from time to time, and if it were not for the  common grace and the patience  of God,  and were it not for the true  church of the Lord Jesus Christ, acting as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) in all ages, the  self-destructive nature of  fallen men  would have brought about the total   demise of this world  far sooner.

Many people  are  not sure as to what the role of the church  ought to be  in  our ever changing society.  On the one hand there are those who maintain  that the church ought to accommodate herself to the times. Their representatives   call the church  to adapt her message to suit  the  times.  On the other extreme  there are those  (they are  not too many these days)  who believe that  the church ought to resist  the times, to the point of becoming isolationist and  non- interactive.  Therefore, since  they do not intersect with their society, they have no influence upon  their society, and  for all intents  and purposes,  they are irrelevant.

Jesus  never intended  His church to be an uncritical  follower of  culture or societal norms. Jesus Himself was not afraid to take on    religious and cultural establishments  in His day. What mattered to Him was  that  the truth  of God’s plain Word should be applied  to  man’s thinking,  thus correcting the  continuous  drift of society  into  evil and falsehood.  The church must do likewise.  

The church is  not a  cultural  phenomenon.  The church is not an institution designed by man.  The church is  not an uncritical  rubberstamp  of  her society. She  is  a creation of God.  She is the ‘ekklesia[1]  of God. She is the people  of God, purchased by the  death of Christ on the cross.  She represents  the people  that are ‘called  out’  of the world , and called to belong to God.[2]   She  is ‘God’s new society‘[3]. She is  called  by God to be God’s alternative society. She is  called  to proclaim the gospel  to this corrupt  society, declaring  the  good news  that God has made a way for sinners[4]  to be reconciled  with God  through believing in Christ and to be changed  by Christ once more  into a God  fearing, godly people. So, the  gospel  is not only  an announcement concerning how  sinners may be  reconciled with their Creator. The gospel  is also an announcement regarding ‘how we should live’.  

 SECULAR VERSUS BIBLICAL ANTHROPOLOGY 

In this regard  one of the  greatest  challenges in our day has become  the matter  of biblical anthropology (i.e. the doctrine of man)   severely clashing  with  an aggressive secular  and atheistic  anthropology  that is challenging  the way in which we have traditionally and biblically looked  at God and man.

I consider how the landscape has changed even within my life time. I find that the  greatest challenge started when society began  to   abandon  the biblical  distinction concerning the  different  roles of  men and women in favour of an ‘egalitarian view‘.  The biblical view is ‘complementarian’,  meaning that men  and women have been created by God  to complement one another, rather than to compete with one another. The egalitarian  world view recognises  no  functional  difference  between men and women, and therefore  men and women are now  competing  with one another, rather than completing  one another. The  gender wars  have become  not only a feature of  the international community, but indeed also of Namibian society. 

This ongoing gender  war  has opened a   proverbial can of worms. If  we  challenge the biblical view  of   the unique design of men and women  in terms of their unique design in terms of their  differing roles, and their  different  sex, then   we  must  not be  surprised  that,  following the abolishment  of  these biblical distinctions,   further cracks  appear.  The little  crack in the pipe has now become a  serious  water – leak.  Lack of gender distinction has now become gender confusion. And  all of a sudden,  and at a dizzying speed,   the gay, lesbian and transgender    agenda has appeared with an  astonishing  force and  strength,  challenging   everything sacred:  marriage, biblical sexuality, child raising principles, education.  

In the  church  the  prevailing trend    in  Namibia has  been   to  almost uncritically  endorse   the prevailing  culture, even to the point   to  which  the plain  meaning   of the  Bible,  the  Word  is of God  is challenged and re-interpreted  to suit  the  culture.   For instance, the  Bible  knows nothing of women elders and  pastors   leading the church,  and yet  it is true that more and more  women take over the leadership roles of  the Namibian church. The Bible  would  firmly challenge this development.  People would call this a fundamentalistic position, when in truth  it has everything to do with the authority  of Scripture  which is being plainly ignored.   
It is this  tendency to rebel against biblical authority in the church   which  ultimately gives way to the great  spiritual apostasy of the church  and thus ultimately to the  disassembly  of society. 

Namibian  churches and pulpits must be prepared  to see this and  to pray, preach and obey    the gospel, rather than pandering   to our society's  whims and fancies.




[1] From the Greek word  ‘ek’ & ‘kaleo’ -  literally, ‘ to be called out’. The church is  the people of God called out of this world and called to belong to God . She is  God’s  new society  
[2] 1 Peter 2:9-10
[3] John Stott : Commentary of Ephesians , BST Series (IVP) , p.26
[4] The  Bible  makes it clear  every man is a sinner :  “ All have sinned  and fall short of the glory of God.” ( Rom  3:9-26) 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

ON THE PUBLIC READING OF SCRIPTURE

Saturday Seminar 
Recently,   our  eldership,   which  ordinarily leads  the public  worship services has decided  to encourage  men in our congregation to participate under our oversight   in the public reading of the Bible. Subsequently  we have organised this seminar  on a Saturday morning to  prepare men for reading  the Scriptures. With the help of periodic evaluation we  have also committed ourselves to  practically help each other to become better readers  of the Word of God.  Below is the sum and the substance of what was shared at this seminar , followed by a  time of application.  


                         THE PUBLIC READING OF THE  SCRIPTURES

“Until I come , devote  yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching…”  (Paul to Timothy – 1 Timothy  4:13)

“ … man does not live by bread alone , but man  lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  (Deuteronomy  8:3 and quoted by Jesus in Luke 4:4)

The Bible is the very Word of the Living God. It  is  breathed out by God and given to us to train us in all that is necessary for life and godliness (2 Tim. 3:16).  As God’s people we are deeply reliant on Scripture, since  the Bible is the only means through which God speaks reliably by His Holy Spirit to us. For this reason  the   Scripture ought to  be central to our worship services. We ought to read it, sing it and preach it every Sunday,   trusting that this is a means by which the Lord blesses, instructs, pursues, convicts, heals  and draws us to Himself.

Because of the importance of the Word of God,  we  desire to help people to read  the Scriptures well.  The reading of the Bible,  is in fact  a teaching ministry since  the reading of the Bible imparts to us the knowledge of the Word of God, which means  that in public worship  this  is a ministry reserved for men.  Having said that,  all would benefit from reading the Bible well,  whether  it is in a Sunday School setting or  at a  women’s bible study or simply reading the Scripture to someone in hospital. 

 A SOLEMN THOUGHT: To stand  before a church and to  read the Bible is to stand in the place of God and to  proclaim his Word. This must  therefore be done  with  reverence and thoughtful  preparation.

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        HINTS  AND HELPS  FOR READING THE SCRIPTURES

1.   PRAY!  Pray  for  the Spirit’s illumination on the passage  that   you are asked to read.

2.  UNDERSTAND!  In order to read a passage well, you first need to understand it. You need to understand the  message, the genre, the tone, the purpose for which this specific portion of Scripture  was written. You need  to have a general comprehension of what the passage says  so that you can reflect the tone which  the  specific Scripture  message bears.   Is this a triumphant passage proclaiming the glories of God?
·         Is this a poetic, meditative passage reflecting on pain and persecution?
·         Is this God speaking to man or man speaking to God?
·         Is this a story or a letter?
·         What is God seeking to communicate to us in it?

Use  a commentary  to help you understand  the text  better.  Although we use the English Standard Version in our public worship, it may be useful to read the passage in a couple of other translations for further help and clarity.  It may be useful (but not necessary)  to give a very short introduction  or explanation   to  the passage  you read.  Remember however that you are not called to  preach, but to  read  the Bible at this stage.

3.  PRACTICE: Once you have a basic understanding of the passage, you will need to practice reading it. As you read you will  need to understand its flow,  and to take notice of any natural divisions. You need to ensure that you know how to pronounce every word. Because you will be reading out loud, will need to practice  by reading out loud. Read the passage from beginning to end until you are confident that you will be able to capture its flow.  As you practice, learn which words or phrases you will need to emphasize, find natural places to pause and look for places where you will need to increase or decrease volume. Practice varying your tone and pace, but be careful that people do not become more overawed by your  skillful presentation  than  the Word of God.  Your task is to read the Scripture in a way that aids understanding without drawing attention to yourself. You have succeeded well if people are drawn to the Word of God and take no notice of you!
If you encounter any difficult names, places or other words, you can visit  websites like http://thebibleworkshop.com/category/bible-pronunciation/a-words/ to help you in your pronunciation.  Make sure  that you practice those difficult words enough times that you will not hesitate or mispronounce them   when  you read.   

4.  BEFORE THE SERVICE: Dress appropriately and according to the front-of-the-room dress code. Shorts and  T-shirts  are  casual wear, and   whilst not expecting you to wear a tie, be sure that  you look presentable to all.     Make sure  that the passage you will be reading has been bookmarked in your Bible so you can turn to it without  wasting time in finding your passage.  Adjust your microphone to your height. Make sure that the microphone is switched on.  Keep a distance of  at least  30 centimeters  from the microphone.

5.  READING: At the appropriate time in the service, walk to the front without hurrying, turn to face the church and open your Bible to the relevant  passage. We like to preface our readings with these words: “This is what Holy Scripture says.” Stand tall without slouching.  If possible, try to make  eye contact  from time to time with the people you are reading to. Use your hand to guide your reading, if necessary.  

Here are a few common mistakes that you should be aware of   when reading. 
a.   Too Fast!  Do not be surprised if you find yourself a little bit nervous at  the beginning. This nervousness typically causes people to  read too quickly.   This is why preparation is important. Preparation provides confidence.  Try to keep a good, natural pace. Your natural  tendency will probably be to read a little  too  fast.  Slow down, and read  with emphasis.  Through it all, remember that you are reading for the benefit of the church,  and so serve your brothers and sisters by reading God’s Word to them with love and care. 
b.  Not Enough Preparation:  Let us make this point again ! Do all you can to prepare properly for the reading of  God’s Word. God’s Word deserves our best efforts. If you are constantly stammering  and mispronouncing words, you may be irritating  those who  know how to read, and thus  you  are   not serving your brothers and sisters as well as you could. 
c.   Voice:  The key to good vocal projection is to take a good breath  before your first word and then to use  your  diaphragm to push the sound forward out of your mouth. Read clearly and loudly (without shouting)  as  if you  were  trying to help the man sitting at the back wall  to hear you without amplification.  Keep your voice constant  and  practice  clear pronunciation throughout. One bad   habit is   to project well  in the first part of a sentence, but  then   drop  off to a near-whisper by the  end of the sentence.
d.   Emphasis :  Here  are two dangers:  (i) Reading without feeling or (ii)  reading  with too much feeling.   By all means do all you can to “feel” the text as you read it. Having prepared well you will understand  the text, and  you will  allow the truth  impact your  own soul  and cause you to  interact appropriately with the  text as you read  it. Now, while you want to “feel” the text as you read it, be careful that you do not become an actor performing a dramatic recital, drawing attention to yourself rather than the Word of God.
e.   Lack of Authority :  God’s Word is  read  publicly to call people to listen  and to act, so learn  to read  as a messenger  or  as a town-crier[1]. You are  a messenger of the King  and you  have something to say and you must  expect those  before you  to give it attention.  Let this frame of mind  accompany you when you take up the Bible to read  to the congregation.  Much public reading of the Bible  fails  at this point, because the  reader does not carry the  authority of God with Him.

6.   ENDING WELL! At the end of the passage pause for a moment, look at the congregation before saying your words of conclusion: “This is the Word of the Lord. Amen.” Thereafter, go  back to your seat, but do not rush.

  





[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Town_crier  :   in England, town criers were the means of communication with the people of the town since many people could not read or write. Proclamations, local bylaws, market days, adverts, were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier. In Goslar, Germany, a crier was employed to remind the local populace not to urinate or defecate in the river the day before water was drawn for brewing beer.