There is an interesting piece of research that featured in the Sydney Morning Herald recently. The central finding is that our brains have a limited capacity to store information in working memory (similar to the RAM in a computer), i.e., there are only so many memory-tasks that we can perform simultaneously. Since, reading, listening, verbalising, all require some of this working memory, if we are engaging in too many of these activities at the same time we become less effective at any particular one of them.
[This] questions the wisdom of centuries-old habits, such as reading along with Bible passages, at the same time they are being read aloud in church. More of the passages would be understood and retained, the researchers suggest, if heard or read separately.
Sydney Morning Herald
I was particularly interested in the application by the application of this research to the Christian practice of reading along with the Scripture passage being read out in a Church service. It struck true with me – my experience is that either listening or reading the Bible is likely to be more effective for absorbing what I’m studying than doing both at once.
Which makes me think that next time we do Bible study, I might suggest that one person read while the rest of the group simply listens. Perhaps we could discuss together whether this is more effective for absorbing the meaning of the text.
However, while I think that it’s appropriate for us to try this out at Bible study, I won’t be going down the same path at Church.
You see, reading along with the passage in Church is not simply about seeking to absorb the passage. There is the rest of the sermon for explanation and checking over the text (if the sermon is any good). The whole point of a good sermon should be to explain and encourage us to absorb the meaning of the text.
Even if reading along with the passage isn’t the quick absorbtion method for Bible understanding, I’d be worried if we stopped this practice. Not least because it might lead us to stop bringing our Bibles to Church.
Reading along with the passage is a crucial means of holding the Minister accountable for his words.
People like William Tyndale struggled and were killed so that men and women would have free access to God’s word in their own language. Their fight was not solely motivated by the belief that God speaks to each of us directly through Scripture.
Tyndale and others believed that the Church was best guarded against heresy when the members of a congregation are able to check the words of the preacher against the words of the text.
On 6th May 1536, King Henry VIII of England ordered that a copy of the newly translated English Bible be placed in every Church throughout the country. The people of each parish were to have free access to this Bible at any time of the week for their own reading.
This is the piece of history that lies behind those great big old Church Bibles you can still see around in older Churches. It was possibly the greatest piece of legislation ever passed.
So I’m all in favour of anything that helps us to absorb and understand the Bible better. But keep taking your Bibles to Church. Check the reading against the text, hold the preacher accountable for his words.
If the people stop taking their Bibles to Church, the Church will fall.
Do Tyndale proud…
I defie the Pope and all his lawes. If God spare my life, ere many yeares I wyl cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture, than he doust.
As quoted in the Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Days, touching Matters of the Church (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs) by John Foxe