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The Forgotten Pulpit

UPDATE: For the first time in the existence of Parchment and Pen I am heavily moderating these posts. There seems to be quite a bit of emotion going on with this post along with a lot of misunderstanding. If you are going to comment, be calm, actually read the post, and don’t type in all caps…they don’t help. Thanks.

The pulpit is gone. Pulpit makers are going out of business. There is no wooden semi-circle of representative authority for today’s preacher. There is no longer an elevated status for the “man of God.” Therefore, there is no need for an elevated stand. Kids today may have to learn about pulpits from museums or pictures on the internet.

If the pulpit disappears, where shall we go for truth? Has the pulpit been forgotten? Oh pulpit, where art thou?

I was at one of my “stand-by” churches today. (These are the churches that we go to when a satanic tornado of confusion and disarray storm the Patton castle on Sunday morning and we don’t have time to drive 35 minutes to our normal church—or when we just have slept too late).  I have a love-hate relationship with my stand-by churches. They serve as a place where I can go and fellowship with other believers, but they also serve as a place where I put on my hyper-critical hat of unspirituality and critique every aspect of what happens, from the parking lot to the pew. Today, I was wearing more of a critical hat. While I should have been listening to the Easter sermon, I was critiquing the techniques of the performance service. More specifically, I was thinking about the pulpit, or lack thereof.

You may have noticed that most evangelical churches have abandoned the pulpit for a more seeker-friendly wooden stool. Why? It is the spirit of the age. Wait . . . that sounds too negative too quickly. It is an attempt to disarm people by making the pastor seem more authentic.

Getting ahead of myself . . . Let’s back up for a bit and look at what the pulpit is.

The word “pulpit” comes from the Latin  pulpitum meaning “scaffold”, “platform”, “stage.” The Latin word is used as a synonym for the Greek ambon. A dictionary definition might look something like this:

pul⋅pit  [pool-pit]
noun

A platform or raised structure in a church, from which the sermon is delivered or the service is conducted.

It also is used symbolically for the ministry in general or, more popularly, as any “stage” for your beliefs to be proclaimed. “From the pulpit” is a phrase that is often used to communicate the authority of the message.

In Protestantism the pulpit stands as the iconic symbol for the very foundations of the movement. Of course, Protestants did not invent the pulpit, but they popularized its use in a very unique way.

I teach a teacher training course. During this course we discuss the way that one communicates non-verbally during a presentation. For example, when one wishes to teach in a more Socratic method, they will ask questions of the audience. The goal is maximum participation. Here, the desire is to make your audience think critically, expecting them to carry some of the burden. This method is accomplished best when the teacher is walking among the audience (peripatetic). He or she should not be on a raised platform, for this communicates a level of authority that will hinder participation. One wants to communicate that they are leading the discussion, not autonomously telling people what to think. Therefore, being on level with the audience is the best method.

However, if one is to speak authoritatively, this is not the best method. In this case, one wants to be seen as the teacher, not merely a participant in the learning or a discussion guide leader. Here preparation, authority, and command of the subject are communicated in two ways: 1) Elevated height. When one is physically raised above the audience, this not only gives the speaker the ability to be seen and heard, it demonstrates their unique position as the teacher. 2) Pulpit or podium. The podium serves as a separation between you and the audience demonstrating the authority of that which you are teaching.

In traditional Protestantism, the pulpit has served to position the Scripture as the ultimate authority. After the Reformation, the pulpit was moved from the left hand side of the nave (sanctuary) to the center. It is even placed above the alter and/or communion table. This placement serves to illustrate how expositional preaching (preaching from the Scripture—not using the Scriptures and a spring-board to one’s own ideas) is the central foundation to spiritual life. As you may have noticed in the past, many pulpits have a picture of the Bible carved on it. The surface of the pulpit is designed to house the Bible and other study material. In every way it is meant to communicate that the Scripture alone is our final and only infallible authority for our faith and practice (sola Scriptura).

But things have changed for many reasons.

First and foremost, people don’t trust the figure behind the pulpit as they once did. Sociologically, the authority of the local pastor has become little more than that of a motivational speaker. When one assumes to communicate their interpretation of the Bible, many simply believe that it is just that—their interpretation of the Bible. Therefore, people are more likely to listen to someone share of their lives, experiences, and encouragements than they are to let someone speak on behalf of God by interpreting God’s word. You can share, walk around, and/or discuss, but don’t get behind the pulpit and preach. People are very suspicious of your motives and ability to tell them how things “really” are.

As well, people have been burned. They have seen too many hypocrites behind the pulpit. Enough is enough when I allow someone authority over me who is out cheating on his wife, avoiding taxes, or involved in some type of embarrassing public scandal. Alleviate yourself of the pulpit and I will cut you some slack. Authentically share of yourself and I will listen, relate, and laugh.

It is as simple as this: pastors and church-goers alike are abandoning the pulpit for more “authentic” relationships. This may sound nice, but, in the end, I fear it is representative of something very tragic and dangerous—the abandoning of the authority of God’s word.

Pastors are conceding in many ways. Many don’t even bother going to seminary anymore, focusing on communication styles and the development of their own charisma. The pastor of the church I went to yesterday had the best of intentions, and, I am sure, loves the Lord dearly. But in his own desire to concede to the prevailing distrust and desire for authenticity it seems that he may have abandoned the only truly life changing source that is available. In the end, he is not a pastor who is leading his flock over which he has been placed, but he is a motivational speaker for the community. Sure, motivational speakers are great and God can use them, but they are not shepherds of the church of God.

With the pulpit comes preaching. Yes, preaching. There most certainly is a time to teach. There is a time to walk around soctratically engaging your audience. But there is a time to preach. There is a time to speak authoritatively. If you are too afraid to do this, it is noble for you to stay away from such. Not everyone is called to teach and shepherd the church of God. But please don’t replace the need to have the word of God preached with an artificial substitute. Don’t remove the pulpit and replace it with a stool. There is a power in the pulpit (preaching) that is much different from the power of teaching. There is a power in the Scriptures that is unique—more so than motivation speeches.

Of course, I am speaking a bit metaphorically here. I understand that one can have a pulpit and not preach the word. I also understand that one does not necessarily need a pulpit to faithfully exhort God’s people through the Scriptures. But I do think that the disappearance of the pulpit from the furnishings of the church today is a sign of the times that does not bode well for us.

Again, I am not here to necessarily argue for return of the pulpit per se, but to discuss how its absence might illustrate the Evangelical church’s shift compromise to a postmodern mindset. I understand and empathize with how this has come about, but in no way yield to its longings. Even with the possibility of abuse and ill-founded interpretation, the pulpit is necessary as preaching and authoritative guidance are necessary.

Removing the pulpit is not a humble relational escape from responsibility. One can be authentic and authoritative at the same time. If you have been called to shepherd the church of God—if you have been called to be behind the pulpit—you must realize the importance of not only authentically relating to the people, but also of authoritatively proclaiming God’s word. Being behind a pulpit does not mean that you are perfect or that you have it all figured out, but it does mean that you are taking seriously the responsibility of your leadership under God.

Next time, don’t forget the pulpit.

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” (2 Tim. 4:2-3)

“Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13)

“These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” (Titus 2:15)

“For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith.” (Titus 1:13)

Does your church use a pulpit? What do you think about their disappearance? Am I reading too much into this? (Now . . . look at me, getting Socratic at the end).

82 Responses to “The Forgotten Pulpit”

  1. To be frank, I couldn’t be happier that the pulpit is becoming a thing of the past in many churches. And, actually, I think it a supremely Protestant sort of move to make.

    The pulpit for me any most of my peers symbolizes not the authority of the Word but the authority of a man, the pastor. This authority seems too often to rely on his position, and not the nature of his teaching.

    If as Protestants we actually believe that the Scriptures are central… if we believe that we each have a right and responsibility to engage them for ourselves rather than just parroting an appointed authority figure…then it is fitting that we see the pastor as a fellow student tying his best to communicate God’s word, not an all authoritative interpreter.

    The church I am attended today is the first in my life that has not had a pulpit, and I do not miss the sight of them for a second.

  2. And lest we forget, Paul and the house church teachers in the first few centuries regularly used pulpits to establish the authority of their teaching.

    Authority in teaching should come from the known Christlike character of the speaker and the spiritual fruit of the preaching and the authoirty given the preacher by the congregation, and not from a physically elevated position. When the former is present, a pulpit is not necessary, when it is absent, a pulpit will not help.

    regards,
    John

  3. I am Eastern Orthodox and our priest uses a portable stand to give the sermon, the rest of the time he’s up by the altar leading the Liturgy.

  4. Where HAVE all the pulpits gone? I remember when the pulpit was removed from our church. I believe it’s removal coincided with the early stages of the seeker-friendly focus of evangelical churches… before ‘seeker-friendly’ was loaded with negative connotation…… after surveys revealed that non-churched people didn’t care much for organ music and pews and imposing wooden pulpits (where have all the organs gone, BTW?). Out with the pulpit went our church slogan at that time, which was “The Bible, The whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible”.

    The pulpit was replaced with a metal stand, but thankfully God’s word is still faithfully preached at our church. Personally, I love to listen to authoritative preaching from God’s word. Some are offended by MacArthur’s style, and Sproul (not me). If the word of God is preached, why shouldn’t it be proclaimed with strong assertions… with authority? As I heard Alistair Begg say, on the radio last week ” I LONG for God’s Word to burn within me when I hear it preached…. I LONG for this!” That comment moved me, because I desire the same. Begg was teaching from Luke 24, where Jesus was walking with the men on the road to Emmaus. Once Jesus identity was revealed to them, they said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while He was speaking with us on the road, while he was explaining the scriptures to us?”

  5. The early church did not use pulpits. They were not used until the time of Contantine when many pagan traditions infiltrated the church, such as calling the time of resurrection “Easter”, which has to do more with the pagan celebration of the fertility goddess, along with its symbols of fertility, the egg and the bunny.

    The pulpit, far from being a symbol of authority, in my opinion, is a symbol of the pagan influence, and getting rid of it may be the first move in purifying God’s church.

    In addition, go to I Corinthians 14, and you will find out that EVERYONE was to have a part in the service. It was not meant to be a monologue by the preacher. It was to be interactive. Let each one bring a prophecy, a revelation, a song, a hymn. Do we have that in today’s churches? I think not. It’s time that we get back.

  6. Next you are going to mention missing the large white chairs that are behind the pulpit (one pastor calls them “the holy man chair”) ;^)

    Doesn’t this really depend on the community one is speaking in, and to? Some may be better reached with a pulpit present, some better without it.

  7. Michael, I think you are dead on. I’ve gone to a “family integrated” church for over 10 years and while they have many pro’s, unfortunately one of the con’s is that there never seems to be a “Pro” behind the pulpit. The teaching normally came from church leadership (some seminary trained, most not) and then also from the “Men in the church.”
    There has been little over the years that can be referred to as “preaching with authority.” Lot’s of good words, bible study teaching etc. but none seemed to have authority unless we brought in outside trained Preachers. And then folks in the church would say “Wow, what a great message” but never realize WHY it was a great message or that the rest of the time the pulpit seemed to be very lacking in authority. Many just don’t see the difference between teaching and preaching.
    Does the physical pulpit have anything to do with it? Not really, but it’s the mental idea behind the Authority of the word and the one bringing the Word.

  8. Some churches still have them, ours does. But most often I have seen preachers walk around so much they don’t really use them. But I suppose if you are big like Joel Osteen, you don’t need one…all you need is your Bible (if only to hold it over your head and recite a quote). John Hagee still uses one, but he’s smart to use giant paintings of charts also.

    Oh my favorite has to be no longer using hymnbooks but screens with the powerpoint presentations…so now when you can’t hold your hymnbook anymore you can sing along with the praise leader…(just kidding there, most songs on powerpoint I do not know)

    Times have changed. Pulpits have lost meaning. When the altars went nobody blinked an eye. Churches are like motivational seminars now. At least Catholics still have those candle lighting ladies…don’t they?

  9. Thank you for this post. I have really enjoyed reading them lately – especially the one on the apostles.

    I preach each Lord’s Day behind a pulpit, and on Wednesday evenings as well. I see a day when the pulpit, in most every church, will be replaced with a music stand and stool perhaps. I think this will be sad. The authority, as you point out, is the Word, which we are commanded to preach.

    More than fearing the demise of the pulpit as furniture, I fear the loss of authority in evangelical churches — the demise of preaching (real, soul-stirring preaching mind you) of the Word of God.

    Even my seminary, which I recently visited again for a conference, has replaced the beautiful pulpit (designed kind of like Spurgeon’s) with a little metal stand, and the stage all cleared out for the praise/rock band.

    Slip, sliddin’ away . . .

  10. Jesus always used a pulpit.

    :)

  11. David, you are right in that he always taught with authority, but I don’t even think he would have used one when he taught in the synagogue in Nazareth.

    Ezra is the first person in the Bible to be mentioned as using a pulpit. It was primarily so that people could hear.

    In church history, Chrysostom was the first to fully utilize one in the modern sense. But this was because he was virtically challenged :)

  12. I’m proclaiming this while sitting down!:-)
    Let the Scriptures speak:

    The Sermon on the Mount; The Beatitudes
    Matt. 5:1 ​”​When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on ​b​the ​​mountain; and after He [note] sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 ​​He opened His mouth and began to [note] teach them… 7: 28 And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his doctrine, 29 for he taught them as having [note] authority, and not as their scribes.”
    Selah!

  13. My father, a retired pastor, also bemoaned the loss of the pulpit. At first glance one is tempted to say “Out with the old, in with the new” But I think it speaks more to a sin of this present age…that is a total lack of respect for authority…police officers, univeristy professors, parents and pastors.

  14. Oh, BTW: One practical reason for exchanging a BIG, HEAVY pulpit for a smaller, lighter one is that it makes it easier to move it out of the way for the band & praise team – essential for today’s “worship” experience!

    Selah!

  15. In answer to your FINAL question,..YES.

    If you are going to make this strong a case for a pulpit, you probably should add the necessity of vestments. Particularly the ones with all sorts of chevrons and other velvetine markings, announcing the AUTHORITY of the one wearing them.

    I would prefer that a case simply be made for the proper exposition and exegisis of scripture and not worry about if it is done behind a box, sitting on a stool, or standing in a pair of Johnston-Murphys. Hey, if that part is done properly, I don’t even mind if it’s done in a pair of Sketchers, or Keens.

  16. Chuck, that is exactly right. And as I said, the post is not so much about the lack of the pulpit, but what it represents. If people are preaching the word of God without a pulpit, who cares? But the lack of a pulpit represent a value issue that is diminishing in today’s church.

  17. In other word, the vanishing pulpit is symbolic, I believe, of something more important. That is what I was asking about when I said have I overstated.

  18. I agree – to a point! I believe that it is the entertaining/motivational-type “preaching” without the element of “expository TEACHING” that has brought the church – generally speaking – to its spiritually diluted, biblically illiterate condition it is in today. Such “preaching” has ruined “the church.”

  19. Yes, we have reached the casual age. Some of us sit in pajamas as we answer these blog posts. I remember a time when women never went to church in pants but now some girls go to church in tee shirts and short shorts because they believe they should be allowed to dress the same as the secular world. That is because they are secular and have not been taught there should be a proper way to dress in general.

    There is no respect in society anymore for any authority but it is not new, we did not start this problem with our generation. Take it back to the time when people began to drift away from morality in this country. Oh wait, true morality never really had a foothold. There never was the good ole days. Charles Manson was symptomatic, he was not the root cause of the 1960s but he was a by product of years of lack of immorality in his own immediate family’s exodus from God.

    I believe it is like this, when a person has a close relationship with God but never teaches their children to have the same, the children are farther from God. And the farther removed one gets, twice as more distance are those who come after them. Till one day they show they have gone so far that God can’t even be seen anymore.Our relationship with God is manifested in our lives, and it is a testimony. But when we stray, God is no longer manifested and we have become an empty shell.

  20. Chuck beat me to the punch re: vestments.

    I am both a “yes” and “no” person on this topic. Personally, I see the pastor as an authority figure. And even though we herald Protestantism’s glorious achievement of allowing everyone to read and interpret scripture for themselves, these rogue interpretations have also had disastrous consequences. Interpreting scripture is not flimsy art, it involves science: archaeology, linguistics, history, culture, sociology, anthropology, etc. And in this sense, would go so far as to wear a vestment, myself!

    On the other hand, I also see that we need to be relevant to culture, and make changes as necessary. If culture won’t listen to you behind a pulpit, then for goodness sake, get rid of the pulpit! It may be a lamentable thing about our culture’s lack of respect for authority, but ultimately it is the preaching of the word and the Spirit of God that speaks to people’s hearts.

  21. Our church has a pulpit in the shape of a cross (manufactured of plate steel and glass), made by the pastor himself.

    Although the pastor does not stand behind it the entire time, it does show of his authority and knowledge and makes you certain that it is the Lord’s Word being taught.

    The shape also causes him not to be too ‘protected’ behind it. Only the preacing material etc is out of sight behind the horisontal section of the cross. It is also light enough to be moved for singing or other items being performed on the (250mm high) stage.

    Although I will not think less of him without the pulpit, it surely gives everybody a sense of focus during the service and I think it definitely has its place.

    PULPITS FOR PREACHING!

  22. If you see the pulpit as a symbol of authority, you may like our church’s approach.

    There is a pulpit (movable but it takes 2 men to move it) upon which the big church bible sits. The preacher/teacher doesn’t stand at it to deliver his sermon.

    If the pulpit is a symbol for authority for you, and you are evangelical, then you’ll appreciate the symbolic representation of where authority sits in this gathering.

  23. CMP –

    ‘One can be authentic and authoritative at the same time. If you have been called to shepherd the church of God—if you have been called to be behind the pulpit—you must realize the importance of not only authentically relating to the people, but also of authoritatively proclaiming God’s word.’

    I am not sure shepherd unequivocally equals being ‘behind the pulpit’. No doubt shepherds teach and feed. But shepherds enjoy being with the sheep, wherever that is. I know you know this, but just highlighting that a shepherd is a carer of the sheep in a more holistic manner of which teaching/preaching is one area that they can care for the sheep.

    In comment #18, you stated – ‘In other word, the vanishing pulpit is symbolic, I believe, of something more important. That is what I was asking about when I said have I overstated.’

    I think this is going too far down the slippery slope path. You are equating the removal of the pulpit with the removal of healthy preaching of the Scripture text. I know you have stated you don’t think we have to have the pulpit. Yet, you insist that the removal of it is symbolic. Again, I think you are trying to unequivocally equate two things that should not be. You know there was probably know pulpit for Jesus, no pulpit in house churches, not pulpit for all preaching in Acts, etc.

    Therefore, let us encourage our pastors and teachers to be faithful to teach God’s word. And we will let the Spirit (not pulpit) in His power doing a work with the Word that no wooden lectern, musical stand, or four-legged stool could ever do.

  24. Dan Kimball discussed many of the things mentioned here (includes pulpits, preaching, and attire) in a post about “the church”. He does stress the need to look at the context of the community. However, his concern is that with too much reliance on a pastor, and the seeming separation/barriers between the pastor and laity, limit what the church is about.

    He writes:

    “But there are things we do and don’t even question because we have been doing them a long time – which I believe can hinder “church” from really being “church” biblically and we produce people who “go to church” rather than “be the church”. ”

    The full post can be found here:

    http://www.dankimball.com/vintage_faith/2006/10/pews_pulpits_pa.html

  25. Rick –

    Good thoughts. It reminds me of 1 Cor 14:26:

    What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

    Of course, not every one is going to share these things on a Sunday. But it’s a beautiful opportunity for the body of Christ to grow as the step out in these things and grow as they are edified through these things, the goal mentioned in vs26.

    Good Bible exposition is good and healthy, but not at the expense of the church not growing up.

  26. We use a pulpit, a 55 gallon wine cask on wheels studded with horse hoes and horse shoe nails. Mind you, I preach to a cowboy crowd and we use rented facilities so the pulpit must be mobile.

    Is a physical pulpit necessary? Of course not. If by the pulpit you mean the authoritative preaching of God’s infallible, inerrent, inspired word then the pulpit is of course mandatory.

    The authority of God’s word remains central to us whether we are preaching over our barrell pulpit, doing outreach at an acreage, or anyplace else we go.

  27. I think too many contemporary believers are confusing “casual” with “authentic/transparent”. If a congregation has more than 120 people it is nearly impossible for congregants to observe enough of the preacher’s life to really be convinced if he is speaking from the authority of a holy life or the authority of a position. Having served in churches on both sides of that size barrier I know that people only see as much of the real me as I am willing to show them. I would propose that if you don’t personally observe your pastor interact with his family and his community apart from church-related activities at least weekly, then you really don’t know if he has earned the right to use relational influence as the basis for his persuasion.

    It is too easy to assume that if the speaker is casual then he is being transparent or if he is formal he is being guarded. I have seen both casual and formal preaching genuinely come from the overflow of a consistent abiding in Christ.

    I concur with Michael’s original thoughts–sometimes I teach/preach socratically and draw upon the influence of my reputation among the people. Sometimes I teach/preach authoritatively and draw upon the authority of being consistent with the Apostles teaching (Acts 2:42). 2 weeks ago I spoke at a church where the congregation had no chance to observe my personal life and I spoke behind a pulpit (using implied authority). The last time I preached at my home church where people get a chance to observe my life and reputation I spoke without a pulpit (using relational influence).

  28. If a pastor’s authority is dependant on a piece of wood (or acrylic or whatever) the church body has been poorly instructed.

  29. To Selah who wrote: “Such ‘preaching’ has ruined ‘the church.'”
    Um… here’s what one popular speaker had to say about my church – “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it”

    I’m sorry someone has ruined your church with “preaching.”

  30. Dave, I think you missed the point of the post. The pulpit is a representative symbol for the diminishing authoritative preaching. One does not need the pulpit.

  31. theirishpreacher April 14, 2009 at 10:55 am

    There are also some practical considerations to bear in mind in the debate of the pulpit vs. the musical stand. I preach every week. The bane of my life is the metal musical stand! Here are my points of contention:

    1. Musical stands are never set for my height, which means I have to find a place to put my Bible whilst I wrestle with the stand; which makes me look like a clumbering idiot as the congregation sits watching and waiting for the bumbling preacher to begin (not a very good start to say the least!). Also, the angle at which musical stands are set for a worship team member will usually result in my Bible falling off on to the floor, which is not helpful at all, or good for my Bible.

    2. When I finally get the thing adjusted there is no where to place my small cup of water (I’ve had a terrible cold for weeks now and am prone to coughing, even during preaching!).

    3. There is not enough room to have my Bible fully open (I love my big NET Bible) and there is no room for additional notes etc. If one manages to find enough space then usually something ends up on the floor at sometime.

    4. One cannot pound a musical stand or thin air when making a specific and important theological point! Hey, I’m a genuine Irish man. God has hardwired us to be feisty and emotive, especially when passionately preaching the truth of our Lord from his Word! Pounding is an occupational necessity which works best with a pulpit.

    5. Have you ever tried to sit in a small wooden stool, which is made for taller people (yes, yes, yes, I am short!) whilst trying to hold your Bible in one hand and a microphone in the other? It is a right inconvenience, I’ll tell you. And everybody knows that the bigger the preacher’s Bible, the more spiritual he is and the better his sermons are. (Joke!)

    So, for practical reasons, as an expository preacher, I deem the pulpit to be a tool of the trade. And if the pulpit is too tall, heck, I can always stand on a box and you’ll never know!

    But joking and all practicalities to one side. I do agree with the posters that the removal of the pulpit is endemic of the diminishing authority of the proclamation of God’s Word through expository preaching. My experience has been over the past number of years that when congregations are re-exposed to this type of preaching they begin to realize what they have missed and long for more of it. For good proclamation of the Word brings growth and maturity as the Spirit works mightily in the hearts of the hearers. I see a return to biblical expository preaching as a key element in the coming reformation within the evangelical church. By this I mean the predicted demise of evangelicalism as we know it and what will arise from the ashes.

  32. Scott, I don’t think it is possible to remove the Spirit from any effective ministry whether it is from the pulpit or the pew. He is behind all of those who are gifted in whatever way and energizes as he wills. Whether it is relational teaching, authoritative preaching, or encouraging at a coffee shop, if people are changed for the better, it is the Spirit.

  33. Several thoughts here…
    The issue of slavery was preached from the pulpit..some for, some against.
    The issue of prohibition was preached from the pulpit…same as above.
    The issue of wars was preached from the pulpit…again, same.

    So in these major issues in American politics the pulpits formed opinions and led congregations to follow a certain trend.There must then be some power connected to the pulpit. The Bible does clearly say the furnishings in the temple were holy so the pulpit should also been seen as such. But like the furnishings of the temple, they disappeared into history because of people who did not recognize what they were took them and profaned them. Belshazzar was hosting a dinner party with the sacred things when the hand came and wrote on the wall.

    To Dave up there…not all preaching is righteous teaching. But many are cloaking their words and sermons not from God Himself but what opinions they learned. When a preacher says “This is what it means” look really quick at your Bible and study what he is saying. If there is something prompting your mind and reminding you of another scripture, look it up. This is what is means may only be one view of it, but is limiting those listening to that one view.

  34. Peter, I am afraid that you are being series about the “pagan” influence stuff. I suppose that pews, robes, baptismals, lights, and PowerPoint screens are all of pagan influence too?

  35. C Michael,
    Not all ministers are called of God. But they preach anyway. The Spirit does not give authority what is outside of God’s will.

  36. Boy, there are but a few who are getting this. I am sure that it is my fault for trying to be clever with the symbol of the pulpit (which I do believe it true).

    Folks, it has nothing to do with inherent authority of the preacher, the possible abuse of the preacher, or whether or not it is the Holy Spirit who is ultimately behind it.

    The Bible clearly says that the Gospel should be proclaimed. Sometimes this is going to include correction. Sometimes encouragement. Sometimes instruction. The Bible is also clear that some people have been gifted to do this within the church. I know that shepherding is more than just preaching, but shepherding cannot happen without it.

    Ultimately, it is the word of God proclaimed with power and conviction and its inherent authority will be displayed. No, you don’t need a pulpit to do this!

  37. ROFL
    powerpoint is pagan…that is too funny.

    I think unless the pastor is casting runes, thumping, getting messages from ouija boards or dancing around a cut chicken then he’s probably pretty clear of paganism.

  38. C Michael
    You are right, we don’t necessarily need a pulpit. But then I supposed we could go to synagogue and remove from them their giant armoirs they keep the torah scroll in.

    It is a symbol. But the symbol is a powerful message. We don’t need it, and neither do we need Christian flags in the corner. The pulpit has stood a thousand years as the symbol of authority.

    I think the area around the pulpit is like holy ground. Not everyone has the right to step into it. I am sure as all people here who have delivered sermons (I have, believe it or not) know that the minute they step behind that pulpit there is an awesome feeling of responsibility that comes over, and knowing that we must preach the Word of God with conviction, that place becomes sacred. The preacher then becomes the conduit and the Word goes forth. It is powerful, and to diminish it would do a disservice to the meaning.

    It is a symbol, but the most powerful one we have because it is at the place where heaven meets earth. Symbolically speaking of course (well not so symbolic for us others).

  39. LOL Kara, yes it is a symbol. I would not say that it is quite as important as you, but my argument is that its removal is very symbolic of our culture’s move away from the authority of the word of God preached.

    We have moved to a point where we use the word of God, here and there, to back up what we are saying.

    There is a time to teach, a time to encourage, a time to weep, and a time to preach.

    Sometimes the preaching God’s word from the pulpit is like the wounds of a friend. Pastors have an obligation over their flock to speak authoritatively, when the Bible speaks such. They have to “correct” people in their preaching. The thing the pastor needs to realize is that his “correcting” does not imply that he is perfect. He can make that clear.

    All this post boils down to is that the whole council of God need to be taught with conviction. That is expository preaching.

    (Now someone is going to say that the pagans used the word “expository” first, so it is a pagan concept.) :)

  40. Interesting topic. Church hierarchy was my senior thesis topic (how the modern church structure domesticated Jesus). Call me PoMo…but here’s what I think:

    1. I’m not quite sure it’s healthy for anyone to have the title of pastor. I don’t think Jesus came to create clergy and laity, the ministers and the ministered (after all, sheep don’t grow into shepherds). It kind of turns the body of christ from a body to one big mouth with tons of teeny little ears. Each person is to share their gifts and insights. Pulpits are simply not conducive to this.
    2. We are not to be people of honorific title and status. “You are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Mt 23:10).”
    3. Why don’t we spend more time honoring the woman who came out of prostitution or the guy who turned from drugs instead of honoring the man who got a MDiv (after all, isn’t that, to some extent, sociopolitically determined)? Jesus honored the shamed and shamed the honored, perhaps we should follow in those footsteps (”On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential, and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our unpresentable members are clothed with dignity, but our presentable members do not need this.”) Our PhD’s and MDivs don’t need titles or barriers to separate them from everyone else.
    4. Jesus desacralized worship (Jn 4:31-24). The whole world is holy ground, not merely church property. Authority comes from the Word of God, not a little altar we build before it. Sacraments lose their edge when covered in sacerdotalism and ritualism. Jesus died to tear the curtain…we don’t need a mediator anymore, we need community.
    5. I’m pretty sure the title of pastor is somewhat unhealthy to the pastor figure as well. One person, or even a few, were not made to have that much power and that much responsibility. It’s efficient, yes, but that does not make it orthodox. Why does one person stand behind a pulpit?
    6. However, I do believe certain people are obviously gifted in leadership, and through their lives of service, they EARN the authority to speak to others. Not from above them behind a platform, but while washing others feet. Pastor is a relational title, not one earned through educational and charismatic requirements. We need pastors and elders (relationally) to disciple and mentor younger believers, not to run our church business.

  41. Kate, I agree with you, but your criticism seems limited to Rome or certain celebrity churches. However, even with the celebrity churches, I would be careful since people are “well-known” and respected because of their leadership abilities even in the New Testament. Reputations help people establish others responsibly.

  42. Hey Kara, plenty of Baptist churches have cut chickens…at every pot-luck. But…well, I guess they’re not dancing around them, or dancing at all. So I guess they’re still OK.

  43. CMP, no, I got the point, but perhaps that was not clear in my post. Our church staff has recently had the pulpit discussion as it relates to the symbol of authority, and we ended up using a pulpit in our traditional service but not in the contemporary, but even that is flexible. So I stand by my point about solid scriptural teaching being the source of authority.

    I guess part of my issue is that statements about the “diminishing authority of the proclamation of God’s Word through expository preaching” do not fit my experience or the experience of those I typically interact with. (I’m also not sure about exactly how you’re using “expository.” Does it mean verse-by-verse, or just scripturally based? Does it rule out topical? If so, I think I disagree. After all, systematic theology is basically topical.)

    Do I think the problem is real? Sure, but from what I am seeing, it’s not to the extent that some would see it. In other words, I wonder if things are being painted with a pretty broad brush. Maybe my experience and associations are just too limited. Or it could be regional – I’m in a fairly conservative, somewhat traditional area.

    Now, my real issue with the whole topic is that it implies that God is not really in control of the situation – that the health of the church is subject to the style of preachers/teachers or the content of sermons. I just think that God will do what God will do – regardless. It’s HIS church and neither the gates of Hell NOR bad preaching/teaching will prevail against it. It’s a sovereignty of God issue. And hey, I’m not even a hard-line Calvinist.

  44. I haven’t been able to read through the rest of the responses today, so forgive me if I repeat anything already said. While taking the “Intro to Theology” class with you, Michael, I finally understood what the emerging church is for the first time. This happens to coincide with my changing church homes. We just left a VERY charismatic one with a large pulpit that was recently changed to a round wooden table and upholstered stool with a back. The pastor stopped wearing ties and publicly announced that he wanted to present more of a paternal image than a teacherly one. That’s not why we left…the place was off the hook in the crazy department. Our current church calls it self “charismatic with seat belts on,” and the pastor uses a music stand for a pulpit. He dresses in business casual clothes and never sits. On Easter Sunday, he wore a tie and light-colored suit and actually brought out a pulpit for the first time. Now, I think I understand why.

    I believe we need to be able to reach out to the postmodern world in whatever way they will be able to respond to the good news…provided we do not compromise the integrity of God’s Word. I believe you can show authority and hold up scripture’s authority from behind a music stand in short sleeves as well as any other way if you are truly a man of God who has his priorities straight. I believe our current pastor is one such an…at least from what I’ve seen so far.

    And, I really felt you when you said that most pastors don’t even bother to go to seminary today. That is outrageous and I have first hand experience with that kind of pastor. There’s the real rub. How can you stand with authority on a Word you have not taken the time to properly devote yourself to? Having only completed the Intro course of TTP, I KNOW I already have more theological wherewithall than some pastors I have crossed paths with. So, I’m not concerned about the pulpit as much as I am the man behind it or without it.

  45. Dave,
    I didn’t associate Baptists with Voodoo…that’s a pretty good leap of imagery there.

    People did forget the brush arbor meetings and impromptu preaching in cornfields and such. One does not need a pulpit for that. But isn’t it comforting to go into a building and can identify it as a church because you recognize the pulpit. No matter where you go in the world you will always recognize it.

    Baptists and cut up chickens…Dave, you’re too funny.

  46. I find Kate’s comments pretty much applicable to all churches.

    regards,
    John

  47. I don’t think it is a particulary “current” problem that “We have moved to a point where we use the word of God, here and there, to back up what we are saying. ” (comment of CMP). I think it’s endemic and continual. Pre-civil war, and even after, preachers behind pulpits were using the Bible to back up their beliefs about American style slavery. Culturally, I don’t see that the pulpit has anything to do with the authority of God’s word (I don’t see it used that way in movies or in literature or in art or in jokes or other references), but has to do with the authority of the person and the institution. What the removal of the pulpit symbolizes to me, is the removal of barriers between me and the pastor, and the elimination of an “I say, you do, and I’m the final authority” perception of the preaching pastor’s role.

    regards,
    John

  48. One comment: Bravo!!!!

    I find those that use pulpits use reference materials and the Bible rather than just winging something. Being exact in the Biblicial things is very important, you can’t just paraphrase it.

  49. I may have to “leave Dodge” after making this comment (although I don’t intend to offend anyone), but I find the foregoing discussion an intriguing insight into 21st century American evangelical thinking. I’m not an American, but I suspect that the ideal of American individualism is a silent lens through which many of the preceding comments have been focused. I don’t know whether this is bad or good (or neither), but I’m not sure this sort of discussion would take place in any other nation.

  50. Warren, thanks much for the comments. Can you explain more what you mean?.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. ‘Removing the pulpit is not a humble relational escape for anyone’s responsibility. One can be authentic and authoritative at the same time.’ : Church Leader Links - April 13, 2009

    […] ‘Removing the pulpit is not a humble relational escape for anyone’s responsibility. One can be authentic and authoritative at the same time.’ C. Michael Patton comments on ‘The Forgotten Pulpit‘ […]

  2. Who Forgot the Pulpit? « When the Church Hurts - April 14, 2009

    […] Forgot the Pulpit? C. Michael Patton is bemoaning the lack of pulpits these days (click here). To be fair, he is actually bemoaning the lack of pastoral authority and dedication to the […]

  3. To pulpit or not to pulpit – that IS the question… : Think Theology - June 15, 2009

    […] recently posed a similar question in his thoughts & questions on the forgotten pulpit. As with many of Patton’s posts, I appreciate his balanced approach. And Patton certainly […]

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