The Problem with the Lectionary No One is Talking About

A friend of mine, years ago told me, “We always go to a liturgical worship service when we travel because regardless of anything else in the service, we can at least know that we will hear readings from the Bible.”  My friend offered sage advice, and yet I have a serious problem with the Christian lectionary. I have heard people complain that lectionary is programmed, and not led by the Spirit.  I have no problem here.  I have preached from texts other than the lectionary text when the need arose.  Others have complained that the texts for the day might not be the text for a given moment.  I have frequently found that God will use a text I did not think of to address a situation in which the community is living.  I have found that God will use a text that is listed to address a crisis we could not have foreseen. I see the three-year lectionary as a helpful method for keeping God’s people within the story of His Word. 

So, my problem is not that the Lectionary is prearranged. My problem is what is missing from lectionary in light of its careful arrangement. The fact that the Synagogue cycle brings worshippers through the Torah every year, most Christian lectionaries cover 14% of the Torah every three years could be a clue to the bias in operation in the formation of the Lectionary and what its results have been.

You could attend worship using a 3 Year Common Lectionary for your entire life and only be exposed to 2 passages from Leviticus, three passages from Numbers and fourteen sections from the thirty-four chapters of Deuteronomy.

I commend the Christian Church’s commitment to the New Testament.  I have seen it in action. When I created a lectionary cycle for our church that included the entire Torah, I was asked by a parishioner, “why do we have to read through Numbers. Aren’t we New Testament Christians?”  My answer was, “of course we are, just like Paul.”  When Paul told Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture (1Timothy 4:13-16) did he intend his young mentee to focus on Matthew – Revelation?  When Paul told Timothy that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” was the Apostle thinking of Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 2 Corinthians?  As many people as insist to me that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, I grieve for all those who are simply taking Paul’s word for it, not having studied it themselves.  Commitment to the inspiration of the Scripture is meaningless apart from the commitment to be taught, corrected, and reproved by it. 

Here is what concerns me most. The pushback to my complaints run along these lines, “The selections in the lectionary are based on passages that tell us what we need to know as the foundations of our faith.” If this is the case, it explains the Church’s current crises of identity and practice. We cannot understand who we worship and serve unless we know Exodus. We cannot know what it means to worship without studying Leviticus. We cannot understand our life and mission in the world without reading Deuteronomy. We cannot know the consequences of our failures and how to recover from them unless we study Numbers. Without the Torah, we will utterly misconstrue Matthew, Romans, The Letter to the Hebrews, and Revelation. We cannot understand who we are without knowing the whole story of God’s people Israel. If we are in any way supercessionist, antinomian, and Neo-platonic, we have Christian traditions in place to make sure we stay that way. If we are self-seeking, immoral, superficial, and unable to make distinctions between the Holy and the Unholy, it is not because of what we have seen or read. It is because of the texts we have never heard. The root problem is not the omission of texts by the lectionary. The problem is church leaders how have failed to recognize how foundational the Torah is. On online bulletin board on this topic someone quipped, “Yes, well God’s people should be expected to read.” My response. “Yes, and God’s shepherds should be committed to help.”

Some helpful links on the contents of the lectionary