- Rev. Oluwambe Toriola (firstname.lastname@example.org)
John Wycliffe (1320 – 1384) and William Tyndale (1494 – 1536) are two heroes of mine, among some others, that I passionately admire. Both of them were murdered, should I say, by the Church. Their common offence was daring to be different in a system that was ravaged by ignorance and incurable conservatism. Let me mention, for avoidance of factual error, that whereas Tyndale was burnt to death in 1536 A.D for daring to publish and smuggle English Bibles into England, Wycliffe was murdered posthumously for having the guts to translate and produce the first handwritten manuscripts of the entire Bible in English around 1381 – 1382 A.D. In both cases, the authorities considered translation of the Bible into English and other languages for proper understanding by the natives a serious heresy. With that, Hebrew, Greek and Latin, the languages in which the Bible had hitherto been written, would have been the only languages that God speaks. Thirty-one years after Wycliffe death, the Council of Constance charged him with more than 260 counts of heresy; and 44 years after his death, church officials dug up his bones, burnt them, and scattered the ashes on Swift River. All this mayhem centred around the controversy of translation. I know you want to exclaim, “What a depth of stupidity!” But nay, I’m not carried away by your judgment, reason being that if you lived in their time and age, you probably would have supported the establishment blind conservatism and its attendant murderous acts as a justifiable means of preserving the sanctity of the “Word of God” from “unwarranted desecration”, just the same way you are probably irritated by the incursion of technology into the realm of our faith and liturgy. Please pardon me if I’m mistaken about you.
Yes, talking about technological controversy; that seems to be the new controversy, at least in Nigeria, that is reminiscent of the 15th century translation controversy. Technology is obviously impacting practically on every religion globally. Even the Islamic myth about Arabic being the only language that God speaks has been debunked with the availability of English version of the Qur’an; even its Yoruba translation is available in MP3 for Android phones. And that is the same Qur’an I was nearly beheaded for in 1986, for innocently reading in the staff room of a school I was posted for my National Youth Service. It now available everywhere for whoever cares. Ignorance actually has a short tenure. Of course, one can only imagine how far technology would have gone with the Bible before it could even have time for the Qur’an. The cyberspace is awash with different versions of the Bible and thousands of thousands of Christian literature. Dependence on technological visual aids at church services is fast becoming the vogue. Even the avowed critics and opponents of technological adaptation, albeit the use of electronic Bible on technological devices like phones, pads, phablets, etc. inadvertently, or should I say hypocritically, make use of the same electronic Bible in their sermon presentations. Calling on the Media Control Room to beam scriptural verses on projector screens is commonplace in many churches. What a contradiction! Could it be that some of them do not actually know that such scriptures are beamed from electronic Bibles that are resident on computer systems?
There are arguments for and against technological adaptation and the church is acutely divided over it. While some priests, pastors and lay members are vehemently opposed to it, citing phones and pads as “evil’ devices that can double-host holy and unholy things, we see many church fathers, i.e. General Overseers and Bishops,confidently and dexterously use it for their sermon delivery. One question I cannot stop asking is why the antagonists do not pluck out their eyes that see “evil” and stab their hearts that process it. I think it is just like a bowl of African cuisine; you put aside the dangerous bones and offensive stuff and move ahead with your meal. Cutting off the head has never been a solution to headache. Some have even argued that holding the Bible electronically exposes one to the danger of lacking a weapon of defence in case of demonic attack, asking, “what will you hold to fight the devil?”. I find this excessively ludicrous, an unimaginable height of spiritual ignorance. What we invoke in such situation is the power in the word of God that indwells us. That was simply what Jesus did; He didn’t hold any scroll (I guess such people know that the Bible as a book was non-existent at Jesus’ time on earth; the Old Testament Books only existed in scrolls).
Besides the adaptation argument, there is a concern about whether it is appropriate or safe for the sanctity of the Scriptures, to preserve the Scriptures electronically. Well, those who exercise this fear may have a point, considering the various debilitating blows that Biblical researches and translations have dealt on Christianity. Thank God that Christianity, being a living faith, continues to prosper in spite of the attacks. A strong argument in its favour is that electronic storage helps the mission of the church which is evangelism. The days are gone when a Muslim millionaire can buy off the containers of Bible on trans-border shipment and sink them in the ocean. The worldwide web breaks through all manners of physical and trans-border barriers to deliver the Bible and tracts to the remotest person in China, Mali, Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan. In addition, the word of God is on-the-go. You can read and discuss as you go. Meditation has never been made so easy for busy people. Few minutes in the car or even at the lunch table can be utilized for spiritual impartation.Biblical study materials are available for inquisitive and probing minds to read or study, mostly free of charge. I keep saying this, if an enemy of Christianity takes my print Bible and sets it on fire, I should have no issue with that, all because he cannot set the web space on fire; and the word of God in me carries the power I need to continue in my faith walk with my God.
Whichever side we stand with regard to technological adaptation, we must eschew sentiments and face some realities. One of such realities is that the documentation and preservation of the Word of God (Scriptures) did not start with the print Bible that some of us hold more or less as “God in human hand”. No! The Bible is physically a book and by content the Word of God which must be held sacrosanct by all Christians. History however shows that this content is capable of being stored in diverse means or by different methods, depending on the subsisting civilization. I’m sorry if the use of the word civilization offends you, but that is the truth. Originally, the earliest Scriptures were handed down from generation to generation orally. The stone tablets of the Ten Commandments were given to Moses at Mount Sinai around 1500 – 1400B.C. and later stored in the Ark of the Covenant. Scriptural writings at a later age were placed and preserved on scrolls. The print Bible as we have it today did not come into existence until after the invention of the printing press in Germany; Johannes Gutenberg produced the first print Bible, the Gutenberg Bible, in the Latin Vulgate in the year 1455 A.D. If the Scriptures could over time and civilizations be preserved and transmitted from oral tradition through tablets of stone and paper scrolls to print, who says God will be angry if they are preserved and transmitted electronically?
It is not impossible that some may want to know the essence of this article. It is to the end that Christians are in the world and not of the world (John 17:15-16). Just as churches find it unreasonable and useless to slide backward by years to start building with mud bricks and roof with grass and weeds, so can she not afford to be left behind to the extent that she will find it hard to be relevant to the emergent generations who appear uncompromisingly ready to move with technology without necessarily compromising their faith, which is what I feel should be the domain of the church of today. God is the object of our faith and the owner and preserver of His church; He knows how to sustain the church and the sanctity of His word beyond generational existence and worldviews.
I have, with this article, expressed and shared my views on technological adaptation to the Christian faith, especially as it affects electronic storage, preservation and use of the Bible as the Word of God. I have indirectly said that there is nothing inherently sinful about electronic Bible, and that it is in the interest of continuity of the church from generation to generation, that no one creates any barrier to the perpetuation of the Christian faith and the church through blind conservatism and personal rigidity that care less about subsisting realities.
Considering the fact that my heroes were murdered for daring to be different and act on their convictions, I hope some of my readers will not see these simple opinions of mine as “heresies” that qualify me to go the way of my heroes. Even at that, my heroes were justified over time; so I know that time will make this issue clear to all; so we need not fight over it and weaken our bond of unity - One Church; One Faith; One Lord.