As I was preparing to attend church last week, I dutifully selected one of the many Bibles that fill a goodly part of one of my shelves. There are big ones with plastic tabs along the edge, so scriptures can be more easily found. There are old broken-down ones that have lost their binding and used only gingerly on my desk and examined with care. There are numerous Bibles that are differentiated by the translation; NASB, MOFFAT, KJ, NKJ, NIV, Message, RSV and on and on. This week I chose a TNIV. It is a study Bible with lots of helps and references.
As I sit in the sanctuary just a few moments later and the scripture for the sermon is blaringly displayed across three screens, I wonder, “what is the necessity of lugging a big black book to church”. What is it that makes me feel that I have my act together in worship when I carry my Bible? Has the church passed by the need to have pew Bibles for those don’t have one, or do we don’t need one at all? The Word is passed down to the congregant in little spoons full by the upfronts and that seems to be good enough.
I have one Bible that I started my ministry way back there and since then the cover fell off, the pages are so well worn that I must be careful not to tear them. It has been marked, highlighted, annotated and referenced thousands of times. There is a sense of history about it. If I have the latest version with updated references and scriptural research, why don’t I just throw it away?
Books have lives, and for me and my fellow attendees, consideration must be made for what we have lost personally and collectively by neglecting the Bible as a tangible object. As one writer said of both the Bible and the hymnal that they, “straddle the worlds of literary and religious reading, of song and private reflection.” They are a part of the method that should not be done away, just because there is no pocket in the back of the folding chairs. Bibles at church are part of the foundational formation of the family of God? Another scholar points out that what we hold dear affects us and called it, “hand piety.” That which we hold, that which we carry, that which we place on our laps at church has a significance. These things are permanent parts of our experience of knowing God.
With the Bible on our phones and words on the screen in most evangelical churches, are we being molded into the church by the objects we touch, hold, and memorize? I really don’t think a Bible app on a smartphone holds the same importance as a Bible you have prayed with, cried with, laugh with and come through terrible trials with. A smartphone is just too easy to become a group of loosely networked individuals, where devotional practices and worship are experienced in an individualized manner.
Take your Bibles to church.
By the way, I was snooping a couple of weeks ago and those who had their screens on during service were not looking at a Bible application.