The translation of the Bible into the vernacular — into the everyday language of common people — was one of the greatest and most far-reaching accomplishments of the Reformation. As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 theses, we might also recall that following that event in the year 1517, other events ensured that the Reformation would leave a permanent mark on the Christian church. To name only a few, we might include Luther’s three great treatises of 1520 (To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, The Freedom of the Christian Man and The Babylonian Captivity of the Church), Luther’s catechisms of 1529 and the Augsburg Confession of 1530 by Philip Melanchthon. But we also cannot omit Luther’s translation of the Bible into German, with his publication of the New Testament in 1522 and the entire Bible in 1534. The German Bible and the Catechisms enabled the Reformation to extend deeply into the mind and life of the laity.
During ongoing discussions between representatives of the Lutheran Church—Canada, the North American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the participants agreed on two foundational matters. First, we came to a common understanding of the Holy Scriptures. In so doing, we adopted a document titled “God’s Word Forever Shall Abide: A Guiding Statement on the Character and Proper Use of the Sacred Scriptures” (appended below, issuu.com/ thelcms/docs/jlm-september-2016/6). That document has been circulated within our three church bodies to widespread approval. Second, we agreed that, to a great degree, the membership in each of our church bodies suffers from a declining familiarity with the Bible. We are reminded of the commendation of the Bereans, who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11).
In order to encourage the people of our church bodies in the daily reading of Holy Scripture, we have compiled a three-year plan of daily Bible readings and a year-long series of weekly readings on Martin Luther’s approach to the Scriptures. The daily readings are on the attached calendars for 2018, 2019 and 2020. The plan provides a guide that will take the reader through the entire Old Testament one time in three years, with the exception of Psalms, which are read twice each year. e New Testament will be read twice in the three years. A reading from the Old Testament, a psalm (or portion of a psalm) and a reading from the New Testament is assigned for each day. Certain church festivals — Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and so forth — have readings appointed for the specific occasion.
The suggested readings are offered for one reason only: to enhance devotional life as an individual or a family daily examines, and is examined by, the Word of God and then responds in prayer to the heavenly Father. Toward that goal, the following suggestions may be considered. They are merely suggestions, of course, as is this daily reading guide. The most important purpose of the guide is to encourage a daily practice of reading and meditating on the Bible, God’s Word. Since the Scriptures as a whole are God’s Word, increasing familiarity with the various books is encouraged.
Individuals who set aside time for personal devotion may find it easier than families to use this guide as a whole. Families, especially those with small children, who believe this is too ambitious for them may want to select only a portion of what is suggested, as a briefer reading that can be simply explained.
A set time is important — typically morning or evening at mealtime. The individual or family is encouraged to choose a time each day when there will be minimal or no distraction, allowing perhaps 20–40 minutes for reading and prayer. The individual or family may begin with the sign of the holy cross and “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” as a reminder of our baptismal identity, followed by a prayer for the Holy Spirit to prepare the heart(s) to hear and understand the Word of God and to bear fruit in keeping with it (Matt. 13:13; Luke 8:11 .). One may then read the Old Testament selection, followed by the psalm and concluding with the reading from the New Testament. The individual Christian may wish to read aloud even if reading alone. While reading, remember that the two central messages of Scripture are Law and Gospel, for the Bible continually reminds us of our sins and God’s legitimate wrath against human rebellion (the Law), even as it also tells us the precious truth of God’s forgiveness, mercy and love, which are made certain in the incarnation, death, resurrection and assured return of our Lord Jesus.
With the frequent reading of the psalms comes an opportunity to use the psalter as the “prayer book of the Bible,” letting each daily psalm become an encouragement for prayer. The daily devotion will be strengthened even more if, following the counsel and practice of countless Christians, it includes confession of the Apostles’ Creed and a purposeful recitation of our Lord’s Prayer, considering each petition. As a nal suggestion for this devotional time, the use of Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer is encouraged.
Lest this devotional exercise be viewed as an alternative to the church’s gathered life in the congregation, two other points are worth noting. First, the user(s) of this guide may wish to keep a notebook of questions that arise during the weekly devotional time. ose questions may be shared with a pastor or other church teachers for further insight in the Word of God. Second, since the morning is given to the Divine Service, the evening of the Lord’s Day is probably the best time to set aside for the daily readings, especially for a family. at time can also provide an opportunity for the family to discuss the sermon and the service that Sunday. The Sunday or weekend devotional time is also an ideal time to read the selection about Luther and Holy Scripture.
Weekly Readings —Martin Luther on Holy Scripture
As a companion to the Daily Reading Guide, the participants of the LCMS – LCC-NALC consultation are also offering selected readings from the work, Luther on the Scriptures, by Johann Michael Reu, (1869–1943), a German-born American Lutheran pastor, theologian and educator who taught from 1899 till his death at Wartburg eological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa.
While we in no way intend for these to replace or be understood as equal to the value of daily Bible reading, we do believe they will be helpful, especially for Lutherans. Why?
Undoubtedly, there are those within Lutheranism today who no longer understand the meaning and purpose of Holy Scripture. Some Christians describe multiple methods of reading and interpreting the Scriptures, and this has had a negative impact in Lutheran churches as well. Increasingly in world Lutheranism, the notion of a “Lutheran” way of approaching the Bible has been lost, ignored or confused by competing yet supposedly equally valid means of studying Scripture. The result has been, in some places, a lack of commitment to the truth and authority of God’s Word, skepticism about the trustworthiness of God’s Word and a general lack of interest in hearing and heeding God’s Word. It should be no surprise, then, that there is the aforementioned “declining familiarity” with the Bible in our churches.
As we commend the Daily Bible Reading Guide to you, then, we also invite you to explore Martin Luther’s understanding of Holy Scripture with the series of weekly readings. Reu’s brief work, now out of print, has been shared among the participants of our consulta- tion, enlightening and directing our conversations as we have sought a deeper and richer appreciation for God’s Word, largely through Luther’s own writing. As he speaks to us of the clarity, simplicity, trustworthiness and infallibility of Scripture, it is our hope and prayer that each member, household and congregation will turn daily to the Biblical readings with renewed desire for the Word which is a “lamp to [our] feet and a light to [our] path” (Ps. 119:105).