Monday, February 25, 2008

The Value of Church Libraries

A few years ago I preached at a congregation that had existed for over 100 years. One of the things that I asked this congregation was to see the church library thinking it would have some very interesting books. I was saddened to find only a couple of old pew Bibles and a torn up incomplete set of Adam Clarke’s commentaries. When I returned home, I immediately requested permission to purchase books for the church library. When I approached the leadership of the congregation about the proposal of expanding the library it was enthusiastically supported. Even though the funds were limited, the main hindrance was someone willing to make the effort. We were convinced that even purchasing a book a month is a step in the right direction. That was over three years and far more than thirty-six volumes ago. Interest in the library by those seeking to study, but either not having the resources or lack of knowledge of sound biblical reference materials, grew. The library grew incrementally as did the interest of others in utilizing the library. Today, there are resources available on many bible subjects in the library. One of the results of the library program we found is that people’s enthusiasm blossomed to where they purchased the same books for their personal library that were put in the church library.

There are a few things to keep in mind relating to the church library. First, no book made by man is perfect. As my father was told by the senior Tom W. Butterfield in reference to the use of religious books, “You must have the sense of a chicken--to pick out what is food and what is not.” The book called a “commentary” is not necessarily as bad as some think. I have seen negative attitudes against commentaries as if they were equivalent to creeds. Why some would think it is any different to go ask a preacher a question rather than look in a commentary for an answer puzzles me. When you consult a commentary you are consulting the study of the one who wrote the commentary. The commentary is no better than the one who prepared it. Not all of us can get doctorates in every field of religious study. Why not study from those who have specialized in an area? Second, emphasis is on the term “church” library. This reflects the fact that it does not include the books of the preacher’s library. A preacher’s books are his tools and are needful to him. We must respect the preacher’s personal property as we would our own (Luke 6:31). Also, we should be careful that what is the “church’s” library does not become part of “our” library. It is sad that such would need to be said, but problems in these areas have been known to occur. Third, just because the books may be purchased out of the church’s treasury does not mean you cannot purchase a book for the library, provided the leaders of the congregation approve it. Consider purchasing a book for the library in honor or in memory of someone. It is a simple gesture, but a high honor. Fourth, not all works in a library necessarily have to teach the truth. Some books may be from a false teaching (Book of Mormon). No one who is true to the Bible can be true to the Book of Mormon, but it may be in a church library for reference.

Since I am procurer of books for the library, under the oversight of the elders, I have certain goals for the church library. The first is to provide an adult-level reference center. Second is the purchase of religious books of value. Third is to provide a reference source on a variety of topics. Many books exist on any given subject, and some are better than others are. Guy N. Woods estimated that there are over 3,000 books on Romans alone. We want a flexible and strong library. Fourth is to get the input of the congregation. The church can buy a book and put it in the library, but if you do not feel the need for it you may not read it. Fifth is to get the congregation to read and study for themselves. You will never learn all there is to know from a preacher and teacher, no matter how good they are. Consider this appropriate thought from Leaves of Gold:

A reading church is an informed church.
An informed church is an interested church.
An interested church is an acting church.
An acting church is a serving church.
A serving church is a Christian church.

No column such as this would be complete without recommending the Book of books - The Holy Bible. The Bible is the only book I can recommend without reservation (provided a good translation is being used). It is complete, authoritative, and furnishes us unto every good work (Jude 3; 2 Peter 1:3; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Bible will be the test of the truthfulness of every other book. Read Psalm 119 for the correct attitude we should have toward this wondrous book, its timeless themes, and its eternal message.

Originally printed in West Virginia Christian, Vol. 7, No. 2, February 2000, p. 8. Reprinted by permission..

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