Where would we be without Johannes Gutenberg? His printing press has profoundly changed history. Though there are some dissenting opinions, most would conclude that the changes have been incalculably for the better.
The printing press, of course, made reading vastly more accessible for the average person. As the supply of books increased, so the price of books gradually declined, and thus more and more humble homes were able to fill bookshelves. Formal education became increasingly available, and thus a more informed society developed. Reading became both a treasured leisure activity and an essential academic discipline. Nations would soon make incredible literary, technological and sociological strides. And so would the church.
There is no doubt that the church has greatly benefited from this providential development. In fact, the fingerprints of God were all over this invention, and the first book printed on that press was the Bible.
It is hard to imagine the great Reformation of the church taking place apart from the printing press. It should be duly noted that the invention of the printing press and the Protestant Reformation were contemporary events.
Without a doubt, the church has been immensely blessed with a vast amount of books, pamphlets and tracts that have flowed from Gutenberg’s discovery.
But having acknowledged this, let’s take a trip back to the days before Zondervan, Thomas Nelson, Trinitarian Bible Society, etc.—back before books, and especially the Bible, were available to the common man. How then did the church learn the truth of Scripture? Simply, they listened to God’s Word. Note the words of Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy.” Note that not all would be able to read this book (mainly due to lack of accessibility to copies) but all could indeed hear it as it was read. Most likely the ones who read the book did so in a public, corporate setting. They would be reading so the majority could hear. And by the New Testament account of the early church’s fruitfulness, it is clear that they heard.
God has prescribed the public reading of Scripture as a part of regular, Lord’s Day worship. The apostle Paul makes this clear as he exhorts Pastor Timothy to “give attention to reading” (1 Timothy 4:13). The instruction was not so much a personal one as it was corporate. Paul expected the pastors of local churches to publicly read the Scriptures as they gathered. I would argue that the rest of the verse is a related admonition: Timothy must teach what was read (“doctrine”) and apply it (“exhortation”) publicly. Thus, the picture is one of the pastor reading (perhaps the only copy of the text available) to the congregation and then teaching what they had just heard being read. The congregation would thus listen carefully to both the reading of Scripture and its exposition. Since they did not have Bibles available, they had to listen well. And, as already indicated, they obviously did.
We as an eldership want to encourage the congregation to both read well and to listen well. Please bring your Bible to church. When the Word is being preached, have an open Bible and follow along. If you have a different version than the one being used by the preacher, you can still follow, as he will usually explain the sentences and the individual words of the verses. Thus your having a different version will not hinder your being edified by the preaching.
But when we corporately read our selected chapter in the opening of our service, we would encourage you to simply listen—with Bibles closed. Listening requires discipline, but sometimes the hearing, rather than the reading, of a text can have a profoundly beneficial effect upon us.
We are aware that many of you (us!) are struggling to follow along in your (our) Bible when a different version is being read from the pulpit, and thus the desired purpose—worship—is impeded. We are sensitive to this and we desire to help to overcome this very real obstacle. So, what to do?
We could establish a “fixed” translation for the church, but this would probably not be in the best interests of the church. We could perhaps put the selected text—in the chosen version—on the overhead and we could all follow along. This indeed would be helpful. But we have chosen a third option: to ask you to reverently and thoughtfully listen to God’s Word as it is being read. As you discipline yourself to listen to God’s Word , praying for the Spirit to illumine your heart, we will be blessed to indeed hear the very words of God, which will led us to meaningful worship.
So let us implement this with immediate effect and ask the Lord to help us to truly hear His Word by the aid of His Spirit. May both those who read and those who listen experience the eulogy, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear … this book.”