A View from the Pew: Bible Totin’

In more ways than I care to count, I am old-fashioned. Add to that growing list my habit of carrying my Bible to church.

About a month ago when the pastor asked us to “turn in your Bibles” to a specific passage, I did as instructed. That’s when I realized how much of an outlier I am in my own congregation. Lots of folks reached for the pew Bibles while others pulled out their phones. I’m not judging them. I just noticed that I’m different.

For the rest of the day, I noticed how carrying the Bible was part of my overall Sunday aesthetic. The way I clutch it in my left hand, gesturing with it during conversation (including non-sermonic dialogues), and even how I stuff it irreverently into my left armpit when I need two hands to move a chair or carry groceries to the cart on food pantry donation days.

I was brought up on Ephesians 6, and you don’t go to church “unarmed.” I don’t know that I fully endorse the weaponization of Scripture these days, but keeping my Bible on my person is a habit that I haven’t relinquished.

Instead of carrying a Bible, church folks are now more likely to carry a Starbucks cup, their Yeti Rambler, or their Hydro Flask or CamelBak water bottle. Again, I judge not. Caffeination and hydration are important. Does what we carry into church say something about us? Is it an indication of our spiritual maturity or relationship with God?

The question I’m really grappling with is what am I carrying to church? Even if I have my Bible in hand, what is my orientation to the scriptures and how much am I working at understanding its meaning for my life? At one extreme, the Bible can be just a symbol with little functional value in our lives. It can be just an accessory like my wrist watch or necktie. At the other extreme, the Bible can be turned into an idol, a physical object we elevate and worship over and above God and the redemptive work of Jesus in our lives and in the world. It can be a paper and faux leather replacement for prayer and spiritual discernment that we wave around, proof texting our long-held opinions and keeping its deeper questions at arm’s length.

I recently finished Thomas Merton’s “Opening the Bible,” a quick read that challenged my way of engaging with scripture. I found his assertion convicting that sometimes our piety can interfere with our understanding. I know I am guilty of letting the words of my quiet time wash over me, leaving me unaffected 10 minutes after I put aside my journal. My familiarity with texts prevents me from seeing their power and truth.

Having your Bible with you at church doesn’t necessarily make you a good person, church member, or disciple of Christ. It may mean, as in my case, that you have a habit you haven’t let go of or contemplated in a long time.

My prayer is that more church folks will carry their Bibles to church, either in their hands or in their hearts, and will be open to doing the work of discovering its truth.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications and writes a blog at newsouthessays.com.

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