We can’t go it alone.
If we want to understand the Bible and obey its teaching, we need each other.
Why? Because the Bible is a “community book”, from start to finish, written in communities, for communities.
First, it was written in communities of living, active faith in God. Paul attributes writing roles to members of his ministry team, such as Timothy and Silas. I imagine Paul reading aloud to his team, discussing what he was burdened by, hammering through how to say it best, and praying together for good reception (especially for some of the more difficult letters). Luke, the primary author of the Luke-Acts volumes, interviewed people and collected stories, producing a dynamic narrative. Other works in Scripture show community involvement. And, of course, the Holy Spirit was involved every step of the way!
And, secondly, everything was written for particular communities, whether we’re hearing the great Hebrew prophets, the Gospel writers, or the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Little clusters of the faithful in Babylon, growing groups in Rome, persecuted Christians in Pergamum, all received God’s Word for their communities, as a community. Most early Christians only ever heard God’s Word spoken, Paul’s letters read aloud, Gospel stories discussed while gathered together. Due to illiteracy, many never would read it for themselves. Hearing God’s Word read aloud and then prayerfully discovering what it means and how we can obey as a community is how Christians engaged Scripture for most of Christian history.
The advent of the printing press, the rise of literacy and the proliferation of writing is a tremendous gift. But one effect this gift has had on Bible reading is to privatize it, relegating Scripture to the silent, mental sphere of individuals. Many Christians, if they read their Bibles at all, do it in silence, alone, with no one else present. And that’s where it stays! For most of our brothers and sisters from the past, that would be a very strange way to engage God’s Word!
Scripture was given to inspire faithfulness in God’s people as a people; to honor that intent, we must engage God’s Word in community, hearing it out loud, taking it in live. Silent reading, personal study, private reflection are all important–don’t hear me wrong. But private practices will always fall short, even misleading us, if they are not sustained within a larger context of community reading, study, reflection and obedience.
What does this mean? It’s pretty simple, actually. Read and study the Bible with other people as a regular part of your life. Don’t accept as normal (silent, private reading) what is really, truly weird. When we read together, not only will we stay more engaged, but others will, too, and together we’ll be able to understand and obey the Bible in ways we’d never be able to alone.
God’s Word was given to us, for us, with an emphasis on the “us”. If there’s no “us”, even in the practice of listening and obeying, then we’ll miss out on much of what God intends us to receive.
How has reading Scripture aloud with others helped you understand the Bible more?
Can you think of a time when obeying God’s Word was only possible because you were receiving it as a community?