Posted by: Johnold Strey | February 15, 2012

Scripture and the Lectionary

While doing some research on a different topic, I came across the following quotation about the benefits of using a lectionary — a predetermined series of readings for Sundays and festivals built around the seasons of the church year.  The quote comes from James White, author of the book, Protestant Worship, a long-time professor at Notre Dame University, who died in 2004.

A curious link unites the worship of many liberal and fundamentalist congregations. Their use of Scripture in worship falls into the “when convenient” category. Scripture functions in the worship of thousands of Protestant congregations only as a means of reinforcing what the preacher wants to say. This use makes the Bible an optional resource rather than the source of Christian worship. It is forgotten that Scripture is read in worship not as a sermon text but as God’s word to God’s people. The sermon follows as a faithful exposition of what the Scriptures mean for our time. The new reforms encourage the reading of three lessons plus the singing of a psalm each week. 

Reforms in this area have been the most successful, largely because of widespread use of the ecumenical lectionary. Unprecedented numbers of Protestant ministers have made the lectionary their organizing basis for the Sunday service. This is all the more striking in that, prior to 1970, such use was virtually nil to the liturgical left of Lutherans and Episcopalians. I was invited recently to speak to a ministerial association in a rural county in Indiana and was told not to mention the lectionary because most of those present would be Nazarene or Church of the Brethren preachers. But when I got there, the lectionary was all they wanted to talk about!

The discovery of the lectionary has had a major impact on preaching. A subtle form of oppression has been the subjection of the congregation to the preacher’s own private canon of Scripture, which frequently excluded most of the Old Testament and much of the New. Conscientization has resulted in confrontation with all of Scripture. Use of the lectionary has meant a return to exegetical rather than topical or thematic preaching. And its use has surprised many preachers by making their preaching far more relevant than their own favorite thoughts, good advice, and Reader’s Digest illustrations.

James F. White, “A Protestant Worship Manifesto”

The Christian Century 99:3 (January 27, 1982): 82–86.

Quoted in Twenty Centuries of Christian Worship, ed. by Robert Webber.

Nashville, TN: Star Song Pub. Group, 1994.



  1. I would commend to you that this is not only an argument for the use of a lectionary, but it is one of the compelling arguments for the use of the historic lectionary. (The one year lectionary) We should have that conversation sometime over coffee. Or beer.

  2. Since there is no “like” button, I’ll give this blog post “two thumbs up.” 🙂

  3. One of Luther’s principles of worship is that Christ be the centerpiece of worship. When the pastor chooses not to use the lectionary, the focus of the service soon becomes about him and what he wants to talk about instead of about Christ and what he has to say to us. When the lectionary is used, wonderful things happen: 1) the full spectrum of the Gospel message is expressed to the congregation over the course of the 1 to 3 year lectionary, 2) the pastor is lead through portions of scripture he may not choose on his own, thereby strengthening his understanding and faith as he wrestles with difficult or less familiar portions of scripture, 3) the pastor and his agenda fade and are replaced by Christ and his Word.


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