A pastor in Oklahoma wrote to me this week to ask why I typically ask people in my congregation (or elsewhere) to stand for the reading of the Scripture, and whether I encourage others to do so as well.
I don’t encourage others to do so, and never have. I don’t think it is an essential aspect of biblical preaching or of Christian worship. But I have found it helpful to me in my ministry and here’s why.
There is a biblical foundation for it. Nehemiah tells us the people of God all stood as Ezra opened the Word of God to them (Neh. 8:5). Likewise, our Lord Jesus stood when he read the Word in the synagogue in Nazareth, sitting down afterword to preach (Luke 4:16).
I learned, however, of ancient practices of reading the Scriptures while standing only after I started doing it. Truth is, there is no soul-rattling theological rationale for my practice here. It is, in many ways, a habit formed early in my ministry.
I was taught to preach in large part by a man named Argile Smith, who had served as interim pastor of my home congregation and as my preaching professor at New Orleans Seminary. Brother Argile (or “Dr. Smith,” depending on where I was when I said it) always had the congregation stand when he read the text, and I did likewise.
That said, the Lord has used the habit for good in my own sanctification. I don’t have the congregation stand for their benefit, at least not directly, as much as for mine. I’ve found that having the congregation stand with me, in reverence for the Word, is a visible, tangible reminder to me that it is not I who am there to instruct these people. I am instead part of the congregation being addressed by the Holy Spirit speaking through the Scriptures.
Standing alongside the people as we read the text is a cue to me of both the gravity of the moment and the fact that I am not only speaking but being spoken to by the Word of Christ.
There are many (probably most) preachers who can preach without this kind of persistent reminder, and that’s why I don’t think there’s anything “holy” or even necessarilly advisable about the practice. But I’m a weaker brother who needs the weekly pattern of a picture of sermonic submission and solidarity.