When I compared the church services of the Christian Reformed Church with the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Church, I didn’t understand why a graphic I found in a textbook said that my church, with respect to the presence of the Spirit within the physical elements of the service, was halfway between these older churches and the newer Evangelical denominations.
I figured the CRC (and other “mainline” church) was way more like an evangelical church than one of the big three/older denominations. I mean, I didn’t see a whole lot of the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit in and through the physical elements of a CRC church service.
Then I began to regularly attend a modern Evangelical church. I have begun to understand that chart. I can see the difference between my new church and my old church, and there are some things that I miss.
The Holiness of the Bible–the Literal Physical Bible
When I was a kid, there was a big Bible on the pulpit in the front of the sanctuary. I now know that its position declared the centrality of God’s word, but even though I was very young, I got a clear sense that this Bible was holy in some way. This Bible was ever used; the minister always read out of his much smaller personal Bible. The fact that it wasn’t read added to the sense of importance, rather than detracted from it. It was as if it was too holy to touch.
When I was about five years old, I entered the sanctuary with some other children. I felt compelled to gaze at the power and mystery represented by the Book. I’m not sure how it happened, but while I was looking, the water glass tipped and spilled all over the Bible. Although very young, we all knew the seriousness of this act and bolted from the church.I remember when the pulpit Bible was not treated with reverence just because it contained the revelation of the Most High God, but because it was more than just a physical thing--it was an enchanted object. Click To Tweet
Just a few weeks ago, I was visiting with a seminary classmate of my father’s who recounted a time when he was a young guest pastor at a mainline church. Before he started to preach, he closed the pulpit Bible and arranged his noted on top of it. Following the service, he was chastised by an elder of the church who informed him that that Bible had been sitting open on the pulpit for over 50 years. It had never been closed. Now on one level, it is ridiculous to take offense at the closing of a book, but on another level, this book was clearly far more than a composite of paper, leather, and glue.
At my new church, we recently had a guest speaker who was asked about the differences between our western churches and those of India where he grew up. He offered several differences; one of them had to do with our treatment of our Bibles. He said that in India, the Bible would never be placed on the ground and we do in Western churches and homes.
In my new church, there is no pulpit Bible, actually, there is no pulpit, just a music stand. Most people, including me, read the Bible on an electronic device. Many of the people who do bring a physical Bible, place them Bibles on the ground when they sing.
The pulpit Bible of my youth was not treated with reverence just because it contained the revelation of the Most High God, but because it was more than just a physical thing–it was an enchanted object.
There aren’t too many enchanted objects in our churches anymore.
Is this a problem?