Traditions for the sake of traditionalism are not what we’re going for in worship. There are, though, some traditions that bear contemplating upon. Recently, I’ve been using an old call-and-response to the reading of the Bible before I preach. I read and say: “These are God’s words.” The congregation is invited to respond: “Thanks be to God.”
The reading of God’s word, while beneficial when done privately, has long been a part of Christian worship. When Paul wrote to Timothy, encouraging him to the reading of Scripture, he wasn’t talking about private devotional reading. And when Scripture is being read, who is it we are listening to? Is it the preacher? It may be their voice but the words are from God. “These are God’s words…”
It is vital to know this because it’s not mere human opinion we’re listening to and being called to respond to. It is God’s revelation to us. And the challenge is then placed upon the preacher – their words may follow or be explaining the passage – but they’re not free to give their mere opinions. They held to explaining, applying, encouraging with, warning by… what God has first said.
And how do we respond when God’s word has been in our midst? “Thanks be to God…” Because that is the correct response to having heard God’s revealing speech. We have such access to the Bible we can easily forget by such familiarity that we have just heard the Word of the Speaking God! Where a command has been read – we have been commanded. Where an encouragement is offered – we have been encouraged. Where a promise is declared – we have been promised. Sometimes God’s word cuts us, sometimes it heals us, sometimes there’s comfort, sometimes challenge. Whatever we may receive, it is from God though and so there is only one response appropriate to such reading. Thank you. Thank you because we have just heard from God.
The tradition of the preacher declaring this fact and then the congregation thanking afterwards does not automatically work some kind of magic. God’s revelation is his revelation whether we appreciate it or not. And traditions gone to mere rote can lose their life. But we are reinforced by how God’s word is read publicly in the midst of our worship gathering, and by how we respond. For they are God’s words, not ours, and we are thankful.