Who Killed The Bible Reading?

Believers that seek to meet according to the New Testament pattern for
assembly gathering have been blessed with a long succession of gifted teachers over the
past one hundred and eighty years. Men like John Nelson Darby, William Kelly, Henry
Soltau, Edward Dennett, John Gifford Bellett, Frederick W. Grant, and Charles Henry
Mackintosh helped their own generation, as well as subsequent generations through their
spiritually sound writings. Many of their works originated in public "conversational
Bible readings" that were held throughout the English-speaking world. These meetings
consisted of a gifted brother leading the study, coupled with the contributions of other
exercised brethren. The study leader would typically introduce the passage to be studied,
and then allow time for questions and comments by other Christians. While there are many
other viable formats for corporate Bible studies, this method allows for different
believers to exercise their gifts (in keeping with the spirit of passages like 1
Cor. 14:26-35.) Furthermore, it generates interesting and edifying discussion, bringing out
the many faceted depth of the scriptures. Bible readings were once a fixture in the
meetings of God’s assemblies throughout North America. In recent times, however, many
assemblies have abandoned them in favor of regular preaching services. While these
preaching meetings are biblical and valuable, it is the author’s firm conviction that
there is still a valid place for the Bible reading in our gatherings.

It would no doubt be instructive to ask ourselves why the Bible
readings have been forsaken by numerous assemblies. Certainly part of the reason must be
that the discussions among the participating brethren often degenerated into meaningless
debates on various controversial subjects; alas, in many cases this has been the case. Two
solutions would help avert such theological quagmires. First, the brother who leads the
study should ideally be a seasoned man of God, adept in the Word and diplomatic in his
dealings with others. With such a leader, arguments could quickly be dispensed with, and
the study could be kept moving at a decent pace. Secondly, if a brother is a consistent
disruption to the study, he could be gently approached about refraining from controversial
subjects that would hurt the saints (if he refuses this admonition, Scripture gives clear
instructions for how he is to be dealt with. E.g. 2 Tim. 2:24-26; Titus 3:10.)

The ill-preparedness of the brethren of the assembly is another malady
that has aided in the near extinction of the Bible reading. Long pauses, disjointed
comments, and tangents that are unrelated to the text are all symptoms of the failure of
many of the brethren to come prepared for the study. In some instances, brothers read
lengthy sections from commentaries in lieu of making their own comments. While
commentaries are helpful tools, they are no replacement for informed remarks from
Christians who have diligently studied a passage. It is evident that not all brethren are
gifted in teaching. Nevertheless, there are some brothers who do have this gift, but
choose not to develop or exercise it as they should. Perhaps the most troubling factor of
the death of the Bible reading is that it indicates a low appreciation for the Word and
failure to seriously study it among the brethren of the assemblies. Let us pray for wisdom
and diligence in studying the Scriptures that meetings such as the useful Bible reading
may be recovered and revitalized in our gatherings. Undoubtedly the prayers of the sisters
also go a long way in preparing the assembly for the Bible reading.