Recently, my good friend Lew wrote an interesting post called “Words Not Found in Scripture – Pulpit.” (By the way, this post is part of a series in which he traces words/concepts that are not found in Scripture. If you haven’t read it yet, then you should.)
Lew begins his post like this:
What is said and done behind a pulpit is serious business to the average churcher. Sometimes you might hear someone say, â€œCan you believe what he said behind the pulpit?â€ Another may believe that the pulpit is a ministry that is â€œabsolutely essential to the vitality and health of the church as a whole. â€ Some even believe that a pulpit shows our dependence on God and his Scriptures. I could go on and on about what people see the pulpit as; or believe what the pulpit means.
Lew then points out that the term “pulpit” is not found in the New Testament at all. Because of Lew’s post, I started thinking about things that are started for good reasons, but end up harming the church… or, if not harming, at least hindering the church’s maturity.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Are you saying that ‘the pulpit’ may harm the church or hinder the church’s maturity?” Well, yeah, that’s what I’m saying. Let me explain.
Now the pulpit is ancient. It originally referred to a stage for actors, then eventually began to refer to a podium used by speakers. In the Reformation, the pulpit took on a different significance… not a different purpose, but a different significance. Pulpits and podiums had been standard furniture in church buildings for centuries, and people stood behind those podiums to read from Scripture and to present sermons. But, the Reformers decided to de-emphasize the Eucharist and emphasize the Scriptures. Thus, they began to put more and more significance on “the pulpit” and less and less significance on “the altar.”
Good motives, right? I mean, it’s good for people to think about the importance of Scripture. But, something began to happen.
People began to lose sight of the fact that “the pulpit” was meant to point to the Scriptures, and began to see “the pulpit” as something that almost stands on its own. Christians began to argue about what kind of language could be used “in the pulpit” (and they still argue this point), completely missing the fact that the passages of Scripture used to argue against coarse language “in pulpit” actually said nothing about “the pulpit.”
Similarly, others began to find authority “in the pulpit” such that only certain people were allowed to speak from “behind the pulpit.” Once again, the passages of Scripture used to defend this line of thinking did not mention a pulpit or any type of furniture. “The pulpit” became so important for some that the thought (and God-forbid the practice) of removing the pulpit meant a slide toward atheism.
Soon, “the pulpit” began to replace the Scriptures instead of pointing to the Scriptures. (Obviously, this didn’t happen for all believers.) Even the fact that pulpits seem to be irreplaceable and necessary to our understanding of the church shows just how far this line of thinking has progressed. “The pulpit” no longer points to the Scriptures, but has replaced the Scriptures.
When the reformers began to focus attention on “the pulpit,” they had good motives, but I think the outcome has actually worked to harm the church by hindering the church’s growth and discipleship.
The same thing could be said of church buildings, pews (or chairs) in rows, choirs, baptistries, etc. As with the pulpit (the piece of furniture), none of these things are evil in and of themselves. However, without recognizing it, things that we use for good reasons can actually work against the edification of the church.
So, should we stop using podiums? Maybe, maybe not. Should we stop sitting in pews or chairs lined up in rows? Maybe, maybe not. Should we stop using baptistries? Maybe, maybe not.
How do people view these things? Are they distracting the church? Are they causing believers to misunderstand who they are in Christ and their responsibilities in Christ? Are we willing to take a close look at the things that we consider to be indispensable? Are we willing to change if we find these things are actually hampering the church in their life together?