Recently I have talked with a number of Christian leaders from various denominations. They have told me they are giving up on any private reading of the Bible. They said it with a bit of uncertainty in their voices, wondering if they were doing the right thing, wondering if they were secret heretics. You see it has been drilled into them that a good Christian has a quiet time every day and part of that includes personal Bible reading.
Now these leaders aren’t giving up on the Bible altogether, they have just concluded that Bible reading ought to be communal practice not individual. They point out correctly that the books of the Bible were not addressed to private readers; the various authors expected these books to be read to gathered audiences of the faithful. Even letters addressed to private persons like Philemon and Titus were expected to be read publicly. Consider Paul’s admonition that “faith comes by hearing” (Romans 10:17); the apostle assumes one who speaks for God and one who listens to the good news. Revelation 1:3 pronounces blessings upon those who read—that is, those who read aloud to the congregation—and those who hear the words of the prophecy. The one who reads is one; those who hear are many.
These leaders also cite church history, particularly, the development of the daily office and other regular gatherings of the faithful to chant the psalms and read the Scriptures. In particular, lectio divina—the spiritual reading of Scripture—is not intended as a solitary enterprise; it requires that believers gather and listen to the Scriptures together. It assumes a community of people who are living life together and not just a haphazard collection of people with some common interests.
It’s clear to me these leaders are feeling a bit guilty and are unsure about their decision. They want to be good Christians. They see themselves as good Christians. They want others to see them as good Christians too. It’s not that they have found private Bible reading unproductive; it’s that they have found engaging the Bible publicly more productive. It seems to me they have arrived at this point along their spiritual journey in good faith. They aren’t trying to get out of anything or take any short-cuts. They’ re serious in their Christian commitments.
For my part, I’m not quite ready to give up on private Bible reading. On my own blog, I share some reasons why, in case you’re interested. http://davidbcapes.com/2013/09/21/should-we-give-up-on-private-bible-reading/
So, what do you think? Have you given up on private Bible reading? Or do you think it is time you did? If so, why? If not, how would you convince these leaders that private Bible reading is a practice worth pursuing?