The regular, systematic reading of scripture, in a language people understand, is a foundational part of the heritage and vision of the Anglican Reformers. And I’ve often thought what a good thing it is that in listening to the weekly lectionary readings Sunday by Sunday, all kinds of people are getting a steady, balanced dose of scripture, even where their church does not have a strong ministry of expository preaching.
But it turns out that I was wrong. On Monday a friend at a conference pointed me towards this index of the Revised Common Lectionary, which (with very little amendment) now forms the 3 year lectionary for main Sunday services in the Church of England. (The index lists passages in bible order and shows you on which day they appear, so you can see exactly what ends up where.)
And the shocking thing is what doesn’t appear. Because the ‘good news’ makes very little sense unless there is some ‘bad news’ to put it into context.
Now of course you can’t easily read the whole bible over the course of 156 services. But there is a chilling pattern to what is missed out. Romans? We read most of the book – wonderful! But we jump from 1:17 to 3:22b. So do we hear the foundation of Paul’s argument, that Jew and Gentile alike, all people on earth, are under God’s judgment? We do not. Then what about chapters 9-11, which discuss the salvation of the Jews? How about wresting a few short passages out of context so as to give all the positives and none of the negatives? 1 Corinthians? We get a fair bit of the first few chapters. Then we get to chapter 5, one of the key New Testament passages on church discipline. Awkward. Let’s skip quickly past, pausing just to read two and a half verses for Easter without any of their surrounding context.
What about the qualifications for church eldership in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1? Not a sausage. Those two books earn only five short passages between them, cherry-picked for special occasions. How about 2 Peter and Jude, with their timely warnings about false teaching? 2 Peter features just twice in the course of your three years: a ‘special’ on the Transfiguration, and a ‘special’ for Advent on the Lord’s return, ironically stopping half way through the verse where Peter commends Paul’s scriptural writings. (I guess if they’d agreed with him they would have included a few more of them.) Jude gets nothing. Letters to the seven churches in Revelation? Of course not.
And where is the bible’s input on the two issues that currently threaten to tear the Anglican Communion apart, homosexual practice and the ministry of women? The key passages just do not appear. Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 5, 6, 11 and 14, Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 2, 2 Peter 2, Jude. Nothing. And that’s just the New Testament.
It is no wonder that our theology has become so unbalanced if this is our Sunday diet. As Paul said to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:27:
I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
Needless to say, that passage doesn’t make it into the Revised Common Lectionary either.