Once upon a time there was a church that found itself in a global pandemic. In addition to physical distancing and mask wearing, health officials recommended removing items that could transfer germs from one person to another. So the church leadership reluctantly agreed to remove the Bibles from the sanctuary.
The devil on his dark and lonely perch took an interest in this development. And a smile cracked his pale, dry lips. “A church with no Bibles?” he laughed. It’s just what the devil had long hoped for – a place of worship (where people worshiped his archenemy) without the Story and Guide directing that worship.
The pastor and church leadership, however, remained confident. They knew that God’s Word is not contained to typed letters in justified margins on thin leaves of paper bound between two covers. The same Holy Spirit who inspired the Word works in the minds and hearts of those committed to that Word, helping God’s people recall specific verses and general principles. Moreover, the congregation remained free to bring their own Bibles, whether in print or in pixel. It helped people get in the habit of carrying a Bible with them, adding to their public witness of their allegiance to the divine Author.
Realizing these things erased the smile from the devil’s flinty face. But he took solace in his expert ability to watch for another opportune time.
Eventually the pandemic began to subside. Physical distancing and mask wearing were still encouraged, but the Bibles could return to the sanctuary.
From his perch, the devil watched each Bible carefully placed back in its spot. And a new smile cracked through his otherwise stern and joyless face. “A church filled with Bibles again?” he laughed. This too turned out to be a dream come true. No longer did members have to carry Bibles with them to worship. No longer would their allegiance to his enemy and the Word be so obvious to the world. No longer would biblical truth be easily at their fingertips with their Bibles in hand.
The pastor and church leadership, however, remained confident. They knew that God’s Word is not contained to typed letters in justified margins on thin leaves of paper bound between two covers. The same Holy Spirit who spoke through the prophets and apostles also spoke through the words from the pulpit – memorable words that the congregation carried in their minds and hearts into the week. Moreover, the congregation was equipped by that same Spirit to live in light of the Word even in moments it wasn’t open in front of them.
Realizing these things erased the smile from the devil’s face and he looked a little less cunning than before. He would watch for yet another opportune time. But he found those opportune times were becoming more and more ineffective.
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This is a little parable based on the decisions we’ve been making at Trinity CRC due to COVID-19. It was initially strange to see all the Bibles removed from the sanctuary. In the end, however, I would have been fine with them remaining out for longer: It encouraged people to bring their own Bible, to get used to having a Bible on hand. Granted, it was easy to forget and sometimes it feels awkward carrying a Bible in public. (We did begin keeping some in the back for people to pick up and return.) But I remain encouraged knowing that God’s Word works in the lives of the members of Trinity CRC regardless of whether they happen to have a Bible in their hands or under the seat in front of them in the sanctuary. The Bible is in the church (God’s people) even when the Bible isn’t in the church (the building).