Church Bookstores

Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good.  You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out.  The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.  Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you.  You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.  Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.

  • Exodus 18:17-20

Hear this, you leaders of Jacob,
    you rulers of Israel,
who despise justice
    and distort all that is right;
who build Zion with bloodshed,
    and Jerusalem with wickedness.
Her leaders judge for a bribe,
    her priests teach for a price,
    and her prophets tell fortunes for money.
Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say,
    “Is not the Lord among us?
    No disaster will come upon us.”
Therefore because of you,
    Zion will be plowed like a field,
Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble,
    the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.

  • Micah 3:9-12

My wife has always had wanderlust.  She felt good the day before I wrote this (not afterward) and she wanted to do something – antsy to get out of the house on a non-dialysis day.  She went to a website on events in the area, and she found a used book sale at a church.  It was in part of the Pittsburgh area that my wife and I had never been.  Yes!  Why not!?  Let’s get lost together.

The cellphone got us from door to door with no problem, and the traffic cooperated.  When we went inside the church, I saw a bookstore to the right and went in, but I was redirected to two large rooms of the church where the used books were being sold.  I hesitated into front of the bookstore and the painting on the window clearly said that the bookstore was a bookstore.  The books inside were new books from popular authors.  This was not a “Christian” bookstore.  It was the same type of bookstore you might find in a large shopping area.  Sure, there may be a few more Christian authors, and the featured book of the month might have a Christian theme.  But the latest book from the thriller writer who curses worse than a sailor was sold right next to the featured book.

I did not know what to think.  Our ivy league schools were founded in order to teach pastors.  The churches wanted those who led them in worship to be well educated.  General education for all became the next order of business.  Why?  So that everyone in the church’s congregation would be able to read the Bible, and they could keep the well-educated pastor within the boundaries of what they learned from reading Scripture.  The entire congregation would become the watchdog against heresy, something that is lost today even though most people can read.

Thus, a bookstore in a church seemed to fit that general theme, but I felt a little off.  Maybe this feeling came from having been a member of a church where the locals (non-members) referred to the church as a “gymnasium with a church attached.”  Was this old building, once used as a hospital during the pandemic of roughly 100 years ago, now a “bookstore with a church attached?”

In the used books, the Bible reference section was nearly non-existent.  I was highly disappointed, but then in thinking it through, anyone who has a shelf or two of useful biblical reference books will hang onto such books for future reference.  I did find two books by Bonhoeffer and two by Nouwen along with a variety of others from authors that I did not recognize, for the most part.  At $15 per large shopping bag, I did not have to be too picky.  I did avoid several books that extolled the “virtues” of the liberal church and how conservative thought needed to be destroyed, in any way possible.  Now I knew why their bookstore was more eclectic than mere Christian books.

One of the two rooms full of books was devoted to fiction of all kinds.  There was practically no Christian fiction in the room, but I found a few Agatha Christie books, a couple of Ngaio Marsh books, a couple of Ed McBain books – all of which I had not perused in the past, but many more that I had already finished.  That was remarkable, but you really have no control over what you will find in a used book sale.

While I got several books that may be quoted in the future, my wife got books for the grandchildren and one devotional for herself.  When we had arrived, she suddenly got weak upon entering the building, but I held her arm until we were in the first of the two rooms.  By then, she was fine.  There were no chairs set up in the second room, but I found one stacked in a corner.  She would collect a few books and then go to the chair to flip through them and see if there should be any future interest given.

All in all, we had a grand time in an old musty church looking through used books.

But I am still not “sold” on the idea of a bookseller inside a church.  In the first Scripture, Jethro told Moses that he needed to teach the people, but the Lord, through the prophet Micah, in the second Scripture, curses the people in part due to the priests teaching for a price and the prophets telling fortunes for money.

When we decided to go to the church, we thought it a strange type of bazaar to raise money for the poor, but it seemed to be an offshoot of the bookstore.

Let us dedicate all the activities of our church to the worship, praise, and glorification of God, whether it be book reading or playing basketball.  And as for the money, just enough to cover expenses and the rest to help those in need.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

4 Comments

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  1. Bonhoeffer and Nouwen? At least you found some gold in the rubble!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Useful thoughts Mark. I get the impression you and your wife travelled quite a distance to this venue, and to a community that you don’t know (well). You don’t say whether you met church members or discussed the vision of the store with anyone. This makes it a challenge to evaluate the vision of the place. Here on the high street in the UK, there are few bookstores, and as the years have gone by, the size of shelf with any Christian literature has shrunk and (usually) disappeared. In reading your account, I wonder if this is one of the last places where not-yet believers might come in, wander round, see lots of things they are familiar with, and walk by, stopping to investigate material that you would hope they would engage with. I note that the job of converting folk is credited to God alone- Paul asks for prayerful support in preaching the message faithfully, but not for conversions as such: Isn’t that interesting?! So that ‘bookstore with church attached’ could be a 2021 way (intentional or maybe not so) for seekers to find some material for witness. But I think I agree with you- a more intentional vision that vetted the non Christian material so it did not conflict with such a vision, such as you discovered would be much more desirable. And a more engaging personal presence in the room to actually meet the browsers. We should not think that God would approve of charity at any cost.
    I like your coupling of these observations with the passages from Exodus and Micah, though it would be good to hear more about possible lessons for the church today. How do we live ‘in the world but not of it’? How can we ‘touch’ and ‘use’ the things around us in a manner compatible with being salt and light?

    Liked by 2 people

    • You have a very good point in that the Christian bookstores have nearly completely disappeared in the USA. The only remaining ones are small, mom-pop stores. We just got back from a chain bookstore and their Christian section looked well-stocked, but stocked with things I had no interest in getting. Thus, for that area of the greater Pittsburgh area, bordering on some rough neighborhoods, although right there was okay, it might be an outreach that might not otherwise be available. We talked to a few church members, but they were aloof. It was hard to get a read on their theology. Mostly short answers and their eyes darting elsewhere – sure, maybe just busy. But even when the theology being good, there is tremendous hesitation. People from that church would come to our church and find much of the same aloof people, unwilling to talk about Jesus. But I find that everywhere, not just at this church. The church creates ways of people coming in, but they forget about ministering to people’s souls when they enter. Not a condemnation on one church or another, but while you may face more hostility toward Christianity, we in the USA are getting to that point, but the fear factor is already present. Thank you so much for your insight.

      Liked by 1 person

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