One of the questions we deal with this evening was submitted by a person who is bothered by seeing members, during worship, not focused on God and his word. I have also heard complaints from others over the years as the number of people bringing smart phones into the assemblies has increased. Sometimes it does make us wonder when we see people staring down at their iPads or smart phones, while others are looking intently at the preacher or teacher. We wonder, what are they doing? Are they worshipping and listening to the word, or are they busy on Facebook?
On one hand, we all need to remember that there are many helpful tools available on our computers which assist us in reading the Bible, checking cross references and other translations, and getting more out of sermons and Bible classes. Many of our members are now carrying a smart phone or iPad in lieu of a hardcopy Bible. I am not going to say this is wrong, but I think we need to consider a few things since the question has come up.
One thing we need to consider is the example we are setting for others. Do they understand that we are reading the Bible when we stare at our smart phone during the Bible class? Is it encouraging to the teacher or preacher? What do our children or other young people think? Each of us is going to have to answer these questions for himself or herself. Deciding what we will do requires us to consider principles similar to what we consider when we decide how to dress, where to sit, what posture to assume, etc. Remember that in these areas, one of the main considerations is our influence upon others, especially the weak or newer members.
But there is another aspect we need to be considering. When we get out of the habit of carrying and turning to the passages in our Bible, there is a danger that we will lose an important familiarity we need in Bible study. When we physically and methodically turn through the pages of a book, we are being reminded of the order of the Bible books, where they appear in the Old or New Testament, which books precede and which follow them. These benefits are very subtle, but they are usually completely absent when we access a digital format.
Again, I am not saying that the digital devices are wrong, but I do think it is important that we consider what we are doing, and make an informed decision. Do you know the order of the books of the Bible? How did you learn this? Is it possible that you will get rusty if you do not reinforce this regularly? What about your children? Are we depriving them of any benefits by not using the Bible in book form during assemblies?
I am also concerned about the temptation to do other things with our smart phones during worship, because so many other apps and digital tools are readily available. When we use our smart phone to look up the Bible passages in class, we are using only one app out of many on our phone. Some of these other apps may be very inviting, and we may be tempted to use them while we are there. Unfortunately, such distractions are more and more plentiful on our phones, and it is difficult to completely disregard them during worship. If messages pop up or advertisements, are we not going to look at them?
We may be better off to silence our phones for the worship hour, and put them away. It won’t kill us to lay Facebook aside for that long. Likewise, unless they are of the most emergent nature, emailing and texting will wait too.
The other concern some are correctly raising about the use of computer devices in worship in lieu of the Bible in book form, is where these trends are going to lead. As new apps and other technologies become available, we may find that we have opened a Pandora’s box. It is difficult to imagine, much less describe the possibilities, but I think all of us can understand the dangers involved. The “big tech” companies are not overly concerned about your worship.
I don’t plan to “fall out” with anyone over this, but I still recommend that we carry our Bibles, that we open them to the Scriptures being considered, that we mark in them and take appropriate notes to which we can refer again and again. The more familiarity we can gain with God’s word, the better. And seeing it over and over in the same written format, reviewing it together with our personal notes, seems to me to be a great benefit—at risk of being lost.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.