Why I couldn’t read the Bible in church

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

By Steven H. VanderLeest

Our church holds its Sunday morning worship services in two locations within our building, connected together by a video link.  The upstairs sanctuary holds a couple hundred folks in the traditional double aisle of long pews from front to back.  Our Family Life Center, which functions as a gymnasium, cafeteria, activity room, and more during the week, becomes the downstairs sanctuary on Sunday mornings, with flexible seating in widening semi-circles around the stage where a praise team leads singing and where a projection screen carries the video feed of our pastor who is upstairs leading prayer and preaching the sermon.  Sometimes the pastor leads from downstairs and the upstairs folks get the video feed (just to keep it fair).  The upstairs pews are stocked with Bibles and songbooks, but not so with the downstairs seating. 

One Sunday morning my family decided to sit downstairs for a change, instead of our normal upstairs spot.  While many of you habitually bring your personal Bible to church, we had lost this habit in depending on those handy Bibles in the rack in the pew.  So here I was sitting downstairs watching the pastor on the video screen as he commenced reading the scripture passage for the day’s sermon.  Wait, I didn’t have a Bible handy!  Sure, I could listen to his reading, but I really preferred to follow along in my own Bible, since I’m more of a visual learner. 

No problem, I could pull the passage up quickly and easily on the Bible app on my smartphone.  It would be even better than reading the print version, since I would be able to compare multiple translations, instantly click through any footnotes to see reference passages, pull up commentary notes, and more.  However, when I pulled out my phone and fired up my Bible app, my wife and teenage son quickly put the kibosh on the entire plan.  They were obviously mortified, so I quietly put my phone away and politely listened to the pastor read the verses for the day. 

After church, I queried my family about the incident.  There were a several reasons for their dismay.  First, it might be distracting to other parishioners to have someone using an electronic device.  True, an electronic reader on a smartphone or tablet device typically has active lighting, so it would catch your eye more easily.  It also may require more manipulation, especially on a small screen device like a smartphone, where you’ll need more swipes to turn the small virtual pages compared to the necessary page turns of the physical book.  Second, it might give the appearance of bragging about one’s possessions.  Perhaps that would be the reality—that using one’s smartphone in church was no different than wearing expensive clothing or gold jewelry to advertise one’s wealth. 

Since that day, I’ve noticed a few other church members using an iPhone, Kindle, or other device to follow along in scripture, so perhaps I’ll try again at some point.  In any case, I am now a bit more thoughtful about how I use my gadgets.  As an engineer, I’d like to think I only use the most effective, efficient tool for the job.  However, that’s not always my entire reason for buying a technological product, whether I admit it or not.  I must be careful to avoid the pride of possessions or the gluttony of rampant materialism.  I must show care for my fellow believer down the aisle.  I must consider stewardship—both of my finances and of our natural resources.  In short, I must honor God in all I do and all I own.

Etymological bunny trail:  By the way, did you know that “kibosh” has a long history going back at least to an 1836 Dickens short story, but appearing in some newspapers and court proceedings even earlier.  There does not appear to be strong consensus about what or who a “kibosh” might have been or why it came to mean putting an end to something.

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(c) 2013, Steven H. VanderLeest