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Reformed Christians generally do not like lectionaries. A lectionary is a schedule of scripture lessons to be read in the course of the liturgy over a period of one or more years. Its origins can be found already in rabbinic Judaism, which prescribes the public reading of the entire Torah in the course of the liturgical year.

Within Christianity the Eastern Orthodox churches follow a one-year lectionary that prescribes one lesson each from the New Testament epistles and gospels for each sunday. So much is this part of the Orthodox tradition that the liturgical year consists of so many sundays of Matthew, Luke and so forth. The western churches, including the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican, used to follow a similar one-year lectionary, whose origin appears to go back at least a millennium.

The problem is that, contrary to Judaism, which is easily able to cover the entire Torah in a single year, the complete Christian Bible, including Old and New Testaments (and sometimes what protestants term the Apocrypha), is far too long to cover in so short a time. Thus virtually any lectionary can consist of only snippets of scripture (or pericopes), the vast majority of which is bypassed in the liturgy. Conspicuous by its absence in many one-year lectionaries of both east and west is the Old Testament, except for the Psalms.

One of the things that the non-Lutheran reformers sought to do was to recover a positive place for the Old Testament in the life of the church. But rather than reforming the lectionary, they replaced it altogether with a lectio continua, which would see entire books of the Bible read and preached on over the course of many months. Thus it would be theoretically possible for a church congregation to hear the entire Bible over the duration of the pastor’s career. But it was up to the individual pastor to determine the content and order of the lectio continua, which would inevitably differ from one congregation to another.

Unfortunately, most Reformed churches, and, following them, the various baptistic and free churches, have all but abandoned the lectio continua for topical or thematic preaching. This means that the congregation still hears only snippets of scripture, but as determined by the idiosyncratic predilections of the individual pastor rather than by the church as a whole.

Perhaps now is the time for the Reformed churches either to adopt the ecumenical three-year lectionary, which, despite its flaws, includes generous portions of scripture from both testaments, or to recover the lectio continua. Either would be a considerable improvement over the topical preaching ubiquitous in so many contemporary churches.

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