The complaint from within the Church of England that it’s hard to find a Bible in an Anglican church strikes me as odd, Henry VIII’s decree of having one in every church notwithstanding.
Since the complaint originated with Tim Cox, from Blackpool, one of England’s more visited resorts, it’s fitting to respond with a reminiscence from another resort area, namely South Florida.
Back at the home church, Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, there were only two around: one for the use of the lay readers and the other, an antique Bible, in a glass case in the narthex, shown below.
The only time the lay readers had use for one was for Morning and Evening Prayer, and with Holy Communion becoming the normative service (an issue I bandied back and forth with Robert Easter a few months back,) that usage has become rare, since the Scripture readings are generally printed in the prayer book.
Given that Anglican/Episcopal pew racks are already filled with prayer books and hymnals, many churches might find themselves hard pressed to find room for one! But that illustrates the central problem of Anglican churches and the Bible. With worship governed by a prayer book (I hesitate to capitalise because of the 1979 book,) in one sense the Bible has been literally crowded out of church. But before non-Anglican Evangelicals become self-righteous on this subject, there are a few things that need to be considered.
The first is that, if Morning and Evening Prayer were to be restored to their rightful place in Anglican worship, the need for a Bible in the pew rack would make practical sense. There are a lot of pluses to that, and it’s something that, in my estimation, needs to be done. Simply complaining that there aren’t enough Bibles in Anglican churches isn’t enough without realistic steps to make them something the parishioners need to reach for.
The second is that, if we really want the Bible to be rooted in people’s hearts and minds, we need to properly incorporate the teaching of the Word in whatever Christian education and discipleship programme we happen to have. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” (Psalms 119:11) It’s good to hear God’s Word recited and referred to in church, but true understanding comes with extended study, and that’s something that needs to be done away from the worship setting.
The third is that the use of the Word in “Bible-believing” churches sometimes leaves a lot to be desired of. This manifests itself in two forms: a) when a passage is read at the start of the sermon but is really just a prop for what the preacher wants to say, and b) the Word is preached superficially and without regard for its actual meaning. In such contexts the Word’s presence can be scanty, which leads to the strange phenomenon where some liturgical worship has more directly Biblical content than its non-liturgical counterpart.
Fourth, those screens where the worship choruses go are also the home for the Bible readings and references, which means that the pew Bibles end up gathering dust.
If Mr. Cox wants to make some real progress on making the Church of England more Biblical, he can start by organising and carrying out efforts to properly evangelise and disciple those who go “up the ‘Pool.” For those of us who do have pew Bibles in our churches, it’s good but it’s not enough.