Sunday, August 2, 2009

Two arguments for the use of the RCL, and an important suggestion

Bosco Peters is continuing an important series of posts on the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), the second posted here.

I endorse all he says there, but wish to draw attention here to three matters (especially to colleagues, lay and ordained, in the Diocese of Nelson): two arguments for the use of the RCL in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia, and a suggestion in respect of Bible teaching in parishes.

Two arguments

An obvious argument is that it is a matter of our church's canons that we use the lectionary. On page 409 of NZPB, for example, the rubric or liturgical instruction is "The appointed readings follow", which means that lectionary readings are to be used. By itself this rubric is not an argument for the use of the RCL because our church permits the use of a two year lectionary cycle as well as the three year RCL. But there are good arguments for the RCL being the better of the two lectionaries (e.g. because it offers a more comprehensive coverage of Scripture), so the combination of the rubric and the advantages of the RCL combine to be an argument for its use.

Bosco Peters introduces a very important second argument when he says,

"I think there is always a danger from some to turn liturgy into rubrical fundamentalism – always following the instructions of our liturgies to the letter solely because these instructions are there. I am far more interested in understanding the reasoning and principles underneath our rubrics (liturgical instructions). This post, hence, will look at some of the advantages of following the lectionary as well as examining some alternatives."

The importance of this introduction, of course, is that it explicitly proposes an argument with more depth and breadth of vision than a "these are the rules, keep them" argument (which the first argument above could be interpreted as being). Bosco goes on to make the argument that there is no better system than the RCL for systematically reading and preaching through as much of Scripture, as efficiently as possible, in the course of worship services.

His subsidiary argument is that some schemes for reading and preaching through Scripture, despite language and appearances to the contrary, are in reality inferior to the RCL. To give one example (following Bosco, but in my own words): a scheme for preaching through the Bible one chapter per week would take 1189 (chapters) divided by 52 weeks = 22.87 years. Even allowing for, say, avoidance of 305 chapters because they were repetitive, extremely boring, or pointless (e.g. all the chapters of Esther make just one point so one would not need to preach on each chapter), this scheme would still take 17 years!

Another argument of Bosco Peters is worth noting, but I do not think it is quite as compelling as the first two for evangelical Anglicans who, almost by nature, are not drawn to get excited about conformity with the larger community of Christians. This argument is that when we follow the RCL we join with the majority of the Christians of the world in reading the same passages on the same day. (Personally I like this argument very much: it is spiritually exciting to know that this particular 'unity-in-Scripture' is being shared around the world; and it is very Anglican to engage in as much 'common prayer' with other Christians as possible).

An important suggestion

It could be objected by some evangelical Anglicans that preaching according to the RCL exposes the congregation to a series of short passages of Scripture, as well as compelling the congregation to hear three passages of Scripture each week, when the better value for expository preaching might be to have one reading, and for it to be a whole chapter. Thus an adherence to RCL might mitigate against a form of deep and learned expository preaching at length in the course of Sunday worship.

Bosco Peters' suggestion is that we take up a bigger vision for the exposure of God's people to God's Word:

"The Sunday Eucharist ought not to be the only encounter that Christians have with the scriptures. Christians ought regularly to be encouraged to read a book as a whole, for example. Mark’s gospel, our focus this year for example, takes only little more than an hour to read. A Christian community can provide other opportunities for encountering the scriptures in a deeper way – not just individually or in small groups, but online. I am amazed when communities are not providing online resources and discussions to facilitate the deeper, ongoing, systematic, continual working through the scriptures to complement what is provided Sunday by Sunday in their common worship."

In other words, if the vicar wants to preach through Ezekiel chapter by chapter, other opportunities exist such as a Sunday night preaching service or a midweek lunchtime or evening Bible study meeting.


Anonymous said...

Much appreciated and supported. The use of the Lectionary stops preachers using their favorite parts of the Bible all the time!
Barry Smithson

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Barry!

spirit2go team said...

as a baptist, we've been exploring the place of lectionary in our life as a way of extending biblical engagement. we noticed that as the lectionary tends to follow bible books, that provides a natural opportunity for big picture overviews. so we have started "bible days" in which (every 6-8 weeks), as a new Bible book starts, we spend 2 hours (late Sat arvo), introducing the Bible book. it's been an excellent addition to our life and is, perhaps, a practical congregational application of this post,

steve taylor

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Steve - great to see evidential support for providential suggestions which come my way!