On Tuesday we looked at the use of the pulpit in a church service. At the end I asked this question: Should pulpits be discarded? Or do they carry a symbolism that ought to be preserved within our churches? My friend David responded with this comment:
My opinion, for what its worth, is that we should not abandon the pulpit. There is a great amount of symbolism wrapped up in its very presence in our churches. Unfortunately, I think that a lot of people in our churches are ignorant of why it is there. They probably just think that it is an over-large fancy lectern, rather than symbolizing the centrality of the preached Word in the formation and sustaining of a true church.
David’s comment will serve as the outline for this post.
The symbolism of the Pulpit
“There is a great amount of symbolism wrapped up in its very presence in our churches”
What is that symbolism and where did it come from? David is correct that it symbolizes the centrality of the preached Word in the formation and sustaining of a true church”. At least that is what it symbolized after the Reformation period.
The term pulpit was used in the early church by Cyprian. But the “pulpit” that he mentions was not used necessarily for preaching. It was more of a raised platform that was more apt to symbolize the difference between clergy and laity than the task of preaching.
During the Middles Ages the pulpit was moved away from center and often elevated. The more liturgical elements of worship took center stage. They also slowly became more ornate. But this all changed during the Reformation. With the renewed emphasis on the Word of God the pulpit once again took center stage.
The Wittenburg Door points out the symbolism behind the pulpit. It is central, raised, and solid. The article continues:
Overall, the pulpit represents what the church service is to be primarily about—God’s people coming together to worship Him, and, as mentioned, God addressing His people through the preached word.
But is this what the average person thinks when he/she views a pulpit? Apparently David doesn’t think so…
“Unfortunately, I think that a lot of people in our churches are ignorant of why it is there. They probably just think that it is an over-large fancy lectern,”
What happens when the symbol no longer signifies?
If the point of the pulpit is to be a symbol—and the symbol is no longer known or important—what is the point of having it?
Consider the holy kiss. 4 times in the New Testament we are encouraged to “Greet one another with a holy kiss”. Yet we now settle for a handshake or a hug. Is this because we are not following the Bible? Or is it because the holy kiss was a cultural symbol that is no longer used?
Because kissing means something different in our culture we preserve this injunction by handshakes and hugs rather than kissing. Why? Because the symbolism has changed. So if the symbolism of the pulpit has changed or been lost do we still need to preserve it?
Perhaps we should teach on what the pulpit is and the symbolism behind it. Undoubtedly we need to do everything we can to preserve the centrality and sufficiency of the Word to present the all-sufficient Christ. But will this preserve the symbol? Is it even necessary to preserve the symbol? Is it possible that there are other ways—those more in touch with our culture—to convey the centrality of the Word?
I’m not saying burn your pulpit. I’m simply saying don’t burn those that use a music stand. We should labor to preserve the centrality of the Word. But I find it unnecessary to fight for something that is not found in Scripture. In fact I think that may be closer to Reformational principles than ensuring that our churches have pulpits.
But then again, I could be wrong…