Reading Scripture Corporately

25 05 2009

Oliver O’Donovan has a new book out: “A Conversation Waiting to Begin: the Churches and the Gay Controversy“. At the launch, he gave a lecture entitled, “The Reading Church – Scriptural Authority in Practice“.

In the lecture he’s picking up on a phrase from the “Jerusalem Declaration” issued at GAFCON: “We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation. The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.”

Here are a couple of tasters from O’Donovan’s article:

  1. “Another requisite for the public reading of Scripture … is a public reader. A task once confined to the clergy has now largely been made over to lay members of the congregation, but far from dignifying lay ministry, this has, on the whole, merely marginalised a task on which a great deal in the act of worship depends. I confess that I know of no church that trains its readers; its reading readers, that is, for when we call people “readers” and say we train them, we have something different in mind, which is itself eloquent! When I hear a lesson read with careful thought, with pace, articulation, pause and pitch all placed at the service of the sense of the passage, I make a point of thanking the reader, since the effort made will not have been asked for and probably not appreciated. Yet many a church may stay alive by the ministry of its readers which would otherwise die by the ministry of its preachers.”
  2. “All authority arises from mediation of reality. The free imagination and ranging purposes of the human mind are brought to heel by an interruption of something that simply and unnegotiably is the case. And the authority of Scripture is the moment at which the attested reality of God’s acts disturb the ideal constructions and zealous projections of human piety. Those who are anxious about the church’s weakening attachment to Scripture do not anticipate a loss of piety, but a rank growth of it; they fear the promiscuous multiplication of religious images in which history and fantasy are blended in equal measure, in which Star-Trek and Jesus are equally apt for our devotion. Attending the Eucharist as a visitor at a strange church on Palm Sunday, I was surprised to find the reading of the Gospel dispensed with altogether, and in its place a devotion in which members of the congregation stood up one by one and imagined the biographies and experiences of various objects that figure in the passion story: the tree from which the wood of the cross was made, the nails used to fasten the victim to the cross, etc. The fact that this exercise was embarrassingly insipid is, of course, neither here nor there; religious imagination has had more than its fair share of insipidity in the past, and recovered. The important point was why the Scriptural narrative was displaced from its customary place of honour in Eucharistic worship: it was to free up the religious imagination, to ensure space for the mind to wander freely through the gallery of images without being inconveniently summoned back to what has actually been told us of those events.”

Posted by Rick Creighton