Thanks for your kind letter asking about Bible Readings. Since you have never attended one of these meetings, let me describe one for you. I hope that you will be so intrigued that you will attend one as soon as possible. They have proven to be one of the most useful influences in my life as a Christian and one that has brought much blessing to others. While there may be variations as to the details of the meeting, owing to local preferences, what I describe is what I have seen in dozens of assemblies across North America.
The conversational Bible reading was one of the hallmarks of the early assemblies in the British Isles and Europe. Granted, we don't do things because of historical precedent, but I believe God has richly blessed a long history of Bible readings. I am convinced that the Bible reading meeting is entirely consistent with the principles and pattern of the New Testament.
A Bible reading is usually one of two types: a sequential Bible study, where the assembly progresses verse by verse through a book, or a thematic Bible study where a number of texts are read and discussed in light of a given subject. The subject or book is chosen by men in the assembly who have the care and feeding of God's people in mind. Usually this, is done by the overseers in a local assembly.
The subject or chapter for the upcoming weekly reading is announced a week or more in advance. This allows everyone to be informed of the scriptures under consideration so that prayerful reading and meditation by all the believers can precede the actual meeting. This preparation is crucial for both teachers and learners.
The Bible reading itself is opened with prayer for divine guidance and light on the Scriptures. A brother, possibly a young man, stands and clearly reads the portion under consideration. The meeting is then "open" for discussion. Often, a mature brother, who exhibits the gift of a teacher, gives a brief outline of the passage and asks questions that can be profitably discussed in the meeting.
The gift of the teacher in a local assembly would be meaningless without a venue for its exercise. We would be well within scriptural bounds to see that it may be used personally, conversationally (in a Bible reading), and in a ministry meeting, where one or more men teach in turn for the benefit of God's people. In this light, the Bible reading is a vital part of God's pattern for the assembly.
The Bible reading is conducted like other assembly meetings. There is no prearrangement as to what will be said. The Spirit of God leads the conversation on spiritual themes found in the portion read. This does not mean that an outline or other supplemental materials are never used, but that the conversation is not bound by them.
Secondly, it is a meeting where spiritual gift is recognized and used. While any brother in good standing in the assembly is free to ask questions, generally men who have been gifted and recognized as teachers are expected to answer questions and give direct teaching on the verses or subject before them. This is the principle of 1 Corinthians 14:29-33.
Also, it is a meeting where the women are to be silent and to cover their heads. I'm well aware that this is becoming a rarity, but see 1 Cor 11:2-16, 14:34-35. Paul said "...we have no other practice ... nor do the churches of God." This order is when the "church is come together." There are Bible studies in homes that do not follow this pattern.
The very best readings are when we "submit ... one to another in the fear of God" (Eph 5:21). There is no room for "showing off" mere book learning or "debating" skills.
It is the mark of a good man in response to a difficult question to say, "I don't know. I'll study and pray about the matter before I comment on it." This attitude of humility and waiting on God yields harmony and blessing.
I think that Bible readings are best when we sit so that all the speakers can be easily seen and heard. This is a convenience for God's people and not a Biblical requirement. Speaking clearly, so that all may hear, is a common courtesy, and conducive to profitable readings. Also, the meeting is best if it is truly conversational. Brief, pithy questions and statements are preferable over long "speeches." This is doing all things "unto edification" (1 Cor 14:26).
To summarize my thoughts, the goal of the Bible reading meeting is as follows:
- A distinct public reading of the Holy Scriptures.
- A clear exposition of the Scriptures, .giving the sense" of the text at hand.
- A wise instruction from the passage; an application to my life.
- An exhortation to obey the Word of God, not superficially, but from the heart.
- An encouragement to God's people; the promise that God honors those who honor Him.
Acts 15:30-35 describes a Bible reading that encouraged and strengthened the saints. Paul and Bamabas remained in Antioch for a significant time, teaching them the "Word of the Lord."
I trust this letter will stimulate us to a greater desire to study the Word of God with our brethren. "They that feared the Lord spake often, one to another" (Mal 3:16). What better subject than the Scriptures of Truth? 1:1