I had the privilege of having four weeks of vacation. It wasn’t so much vacation as setting up one daughter in Vancouver for Vancouver Film School and the other daughter in Toronto at Tyndale University. One of the neat opportunities was to take in four different churches, and it was an eye-opener to me.
I’m wondering if we are in danger of “chaining the Bible to the pulpit” again. When the Bible was first printed, the average person couldn’t afford one, so there was one in the church, which only the clergy had access to. Only the clergy studied it. Only the clergy explained it to the people. I’m wondering if we are coming back to this system today.
In three out of four churches I felt like they didn’t really preach the Bible. Walking across the parking lot and into the service carrying my Bible – I actually felt a little embarrassed to be carrying my Bible. I’m a pastor. I shouldn’t be embarrassed, but even walking in there seemed to be a culture that no one else was carrying a Bible. Only in the fourth church did we see others opening their Bibles and following along with the sermon.
In one church the pastor preached from his iPad, he did not open up a Bible and preach from it. It wasn’t that he had bad things to say, but they didn’t really come across as being “God’s Word” for the people. He was just a great charismatic preacher, with not a whole lot of content.
In another church, the text of the morning was read during the singing, with the whole text up on the screen. Later when the pastor begin his sermon, the first slide told us they were doing the “Stories Jesus told” – parables. Well, the text that had been read earlier was a parable – I can’t even remember which one. The preacher referred to it but never read it in the sermon. He talked about how the parable was about Grace and then proceeded to preach on Grace – not on the parable. He never once asked people to open their Bibles – or even to open it on their phones. He quoted Paul a couple of times but didn’t tell us where it was from. It was on the screen so you could follow along, but he just said: “As Paul says, …” and then quoted. He also quoted Dallas Willard in the same way. And I was left with the feeling that Jesus and Paul and Dallas Willard all have equal authority in what they are saying to the topic of Grace.
In the fourth church, the pastor opened the Bible, he held the Bible in his hand as he preached. And he walked through the passage in Acts he was preaching on. Occasionally the verses he read were on the screen, but he asked people to look in their Bibles – unlike the “iPad pastor” who only read the scripture from the screen.
All of this to say, I’m concerned. If people are not encouraged to open their Bibles in church, will they at home? And if people don’t see that you are preaching Scripture and let Scripture speak as God’s authoritative Word to the People of God, then the authority rests in the hands of the preacher like the clergy of the chained Bible.
Our churches need to see that we are preaching the Word of God. And they need to be clear that nothing else speaks with equal authority. Quoting from others is fine, but people need to understand when it is the Word of God speaking. Preachers – we need to open Scripture for people in such a way that they are hungry to read more and so that they see they can actually understand and apply it to their lives personally.
Ask your congregation to open their Bibles and read along. Take them back to the passage again and again as you walk through it. Some read on their phone – but again – are they understanding that this is the Word of God – not just something else they can find on Google? I still like for people to read from a Bible because just opening the Bible to a certain passage physically reminds you – oh, this is New Testament, or This comes after the Gospels, or this is the last book of the Bible. There are aspects of Bible understanding that will not be as evident when people are looking at their 2 inch screen.
The Bible is the authoritative Word of God. Let’s make sure we treat it as such and make that clear to our people. And let’s make sure we do our best to make them thirsty to read more.