If the church is unified in a lectio continua approach to Bible reading and Bible preaching—it will create a solid and healthy foundation that will mark the life of the church. Lectio continua is a Latin phrase that means, continuous reading. This phrase has been used to describe the continuous approach to systematic expository preaching—the popular method of the Reformers and towering giants of church history.
The long cherished lectio continua approach to preaching has been a healthy method for many years throughout church history. Unfortunately, in recent years, preaching has fallen on hard times—even among those who claim to be Reformed expositors. There seems to be a wide and shallow definition of exposition within even the most healthy pockets of evangelicalism. The typical pulpit method today is fad-driven and man-centered. This pragmatic approach to the pulpit ministry results in informal and often immature talks that are shallow, short, chatty, and filled with more cultural cliches than biblical theology. After all—it works.
If the church today will indeed see a revival—it will be based on a firm commitment to God’s Word rather than the shallowness of man-centered gimmicks. We need a return to the lectio continua approach to reading and preaching that will cause the church to gain massive theological growth. Those old paths were walked once before and it brought great results. May the Lord be pleased to do it again.
Lectio Continua as a Bible Study Methodology
How can we expect the people in the church to have an appetite for sequential expository preaching if they are not practicing sequential expository Bible reading in their home? If your personal Bible study looks like a cherry picked verse or paragraph from day to day—it will not only leave you with a superficial understanding of the Bible, but it will likewise leave you with a discontented spirit on the Lord’s Day when your pastor is seeking to preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible.
The random Bible verse approach or the mainstream boxed devotional approach to Bible study will often lead a person to adopt poor study habits as well as a low view of a expository preaching. Why would you approach the pages of the Bible in a way that you would never approach your mother’s will after her death or a legal document that you received in the mail? Why would you read those documents line-by-line in an attempt to understand the meaning, intent, and message of the documents rather than merely picking out a line or two from the center of the letter? With that in mind—why would anyone dare to read the Bible with that type of approach?
The benefits of a continual and sequential reading of the Bible in your personal study is that it allows you to deal with the original author, his grammar, his intent, and his meaning in each verse and the entire book as a whole. With all of this information, you can then have a good grasp of the entire book of the Bible and its place within the canon of Scripture as a whole. At this juncture, you can begin to connect the dots to your personal life and make proper application.
Before a church can learn to love expository preaching—the people must first be capable of expository listening which emerges from expository reading on a personal level. Solid corporate worship begins in the home.
Lectio Continua as a Preaching Ministry
As stated previously, the lectio continua approach to the pulpit was the common method of the early church and the patristic eras. When Huldrych Zwingli sought to lead his congregation back to this historic approach in 1519—he was met with many questions and concerns. However, his commitment to a sequential exposition of God’s Word proved to be the right move. John Calvin would adopt this same approach as he labored in the pulpit. As we read church history, we get a glimpse into the ministry of Calvin:
- He began his series through Acts in 1549. He completed it in 1554.
- He preached 46 sermons through 1 and 2 Thessalonians.
- 1 and 2 Corinthians – 186 sermons.
- He preached 86 sermons through the pastoral epistles.
- His series through Galatians was 43 sermons.
- He preached 48 sermons through Ephesians.
- 159 sermons through Job. Many modern preachers haven’t preached one sermon from a text in Job.
- His series through Deuteronomy was 200 sermons long.
- He labored through Isaiah in 353 sermons.
- His series through Genesis was 123 sermons in length.
We get a glimpse into his commitment to lectio continua preaching as he finished his sermon on Easter in 1538 and was banished by the City Council from his pulpit. Calvin would not return for more than 3 years. On the first Sunday back in the pulpit, he picked up in the very next verse. He was communicating something to the people. He was making it known that he was committed to sequential preaching through books of the Bible. He wasn’t finished. His work was not complete.
Standing upon the shoulders of the Reformers have been men like D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, James Montgomery Boice, and in modern times—John MacArthur. It seems that God blesses the faithful proclamation of his Word—yet modern man-centered preaching styles are headed in a different direction. In an interview with Ed Stetzer in 2009 regarding his book titled, Communicating for a Change, Stetzer asked Stanley about preaching. The question was, “What do you think about preaching verse-by-verse messages through books of the Bible?” Andy Stanley responded, “Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible– that is just cheating. It’s cheating because that would be easy, first of all. That isn’t how you grow people. No one in the Scripture modeled that. There’s not one example of that.”
Not only does Andy Stanley have a skewed understanding of expository preaching, he apparently has a skewed understanding of preaching throughout church history—beginning with the apostles. Yet, Andy Stanley is not alone. The popular church growth techniques are rolled out at conferences each year and those methods get results. Often, they get fast results. Such pragmatism fills empty seats and offering plates and so for that reason, lectio continua has been pushed to the backseat in modern times.
Historically, the first mark of an authentic church is the right preaching of the Word. If you get this mark wrong, everything else will be negatively impacted. Yet, today, when you ask someone why they chose their church, they will talk about the choir, the programs for the children, the way the church made them feel, and various other things—but they rarely if ever discuss the fact that the church has a proper expository preaching methodology. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the top priority in many professing Christian homes.
Shallow preaching leaves people spiritually dry and hungry. The evangelical church is not a picture of health. Modern preaching is using every gimmick known to man in order to fill worship centers including rock concerts, slick movie clips with media presentations, and every other trick you can imagine. Only through a robust pulpit where the Bible is sequentially explained verse-by-verse on a weekly basis can we have confidence that God will usher in a revival, change people’s hearts, and ultimately reach the world.
God doesn’t need our tricks and gimmicks. God’s Word is sufficient. Sola Scriptura lives on. Preach the Word!