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Texting during worship? No, just reading the text

Back in my high school days, my family attended the old Midtown Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas.
Most every Sunday, minister Jim Hackney made the same request before he preached.
“Hold up your swords!” he’d say, and we’d all raise our Bibles to show that we brought them.
Those were the days, of course, before PowerPoint sermons with Scripture references shown on a big screen at the front of the auditorium.
And, yes, those were the days before technology made it possible to view the entire Bible — and quickly look up specific books and verses — on handheld phones.
In those days, a worn-out Bible with a battered leather cover andcrinkled pages gave you a pretty good indication that the owner hadspent quality time “in the Word.”
A “sword” that looked new and shiny, with no creases or dog-eared pages, wasn’t necessarily a badge of honor.
But can we make the same generalization today?
The Christian Chronicle ran a small item last month about churchmembers in Abilene, Texas, bringing their iPhones and Blackberrys toworship.
As the Abilene Reporter-News explained, members at the Southern Hillschurch don’t use the phones to send text messages during the sermon.Instead, they take notes and access online versions of the Bible.
“When it gets a little darker, you can look around and see these littleglows where people are … looking up Bible passages,” minister Phil Waretold the Reporter-News.
Is that progress? Or would you prefer the ruffling of pages to the tapping on tiny computer screens?
I must acknowledge that I find the Bible on my iPhone so convenient.
Outside of church, I do most of my Bible reading that way because myiPhone fits so easily in my hand. The ancient words seem to jump tolife in a hip new technology. Moreover, the online Bible is accessiblein a multitude of translations, from the King James Version to theMessage, although I typically choose the New International Version.
But on Sunday, I take my regular Bible and — when the preacher refersto it — act like finding Habakkuk amid a few thousand razor-thin pagesis no problem.
However, I can imagine a point in the not-so-distant future when onlineBible reading becomes more widely understood. Maybe then I could use myiPhone at church without drawing too many curious glances.
Then again, I have to ask, would the temptation to check my e-mail orchange my Facebook status be too great if the sermon drifted off intoa, shall we say, less-than-compelling mode?
And, is there something more sacred about God’s word on a simple sheet of paper than on a computer screen?
Bailey McBride, an Oklahoma Christian University professor and theChronicle’s editor emeritus, keeps more than 30 Bibles in his office.These are Bibles that Bailey has collected over the years, and hesometimes shares them with students who read exclusively online.
Besides just viewing God’s word, Bailey explains, he wants students to have the experience of holding it in their hands.
Back to my high school story: Several years ago, the Midtown churchrelocated to the north part of Fort Worth and became the HeritageChurch of Christ, with a Keller mailing address.
After 30 years, Jim Hackney remains the preacher. As I wrote this, Igave Jim a call to see if he still asks church members to show theirswords.
“Did it last Sunday,” he said with a chuckle. But these days, somemembers — particularly “the techies,” he said — hold up their phoneinstead of a Bible.
Jim, who read the entire Bible on his laptop for the first time lastyear, said he has no problem with that. “I could care less if it’selectronic or if it’s on paper,” he said.
In fact, Jim uses the online social networking site Facebook to solicitfeedback and ideas for sermons. Often, he’ll share members’ commentswith the entire congregation.
If he could figure out a helpful, non-disruptive way to do it, Jimsaid, he’d even consider using text messaging or “tweets” onTwitter.com to allow audience questions and observations during thesermon.
But while the technological revolution doesn’t bother him, Jim doesvoice concern about one thing. He sees fewer swords in the pews —traditional or otherwise — than he once did.
“Putting the text on the screen, I think, has taken away a little from people bringing their Bibles,” he said.
If I might make a request on Jim’s behalf, please don’t forget yoursword next Sunday — and if it’s the electronic kind, try to remember toturn off the ringer.

Bobby Ross Jr. is Managing Editor of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

  • Feedback
    As Lois stated I too will stick with my bible in book form. We have powerpoint and I think that it is good also, but I also look up bible verses as wel and they do seem to stay in my mind better.
    vandykechurchof christ
    Paris, TN
    September, 10 2009

    I will stick with my leather cover bible, thank you!! theres something to be said for learning to find the books and verses from flipping thru your bible, and highlighting or underlining important verses so they stick to your mind better.
    winfield, ks
    September, 2 2009

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