Words Not Found in Scripture – Pulpit

What is said and done behind a pulpit is serious business to the average churcher. Sometimes you might hear someone say, “Can you believe what he said behind the pulpit?” [1] Another may believe that the pulpit is a ministry that is “absolutely essential to the vitality and health of the church as a whole. ” [2] Some even believe that a pulpit shows our dependence on God and his Scriptures. [3, 4] I could go on and on about what people see the pulpit as; or believe what the pulpit means.

Usually at this point on this series, I would discuss the various mistranslations from the Hebrew or Greek Scriptures or the obvious transliterations. However, I cannot do this for the word “pulpit.” Why? Because there is no word in Scripture, whether old or new, that equates to pulpit. Not a single word, either translated or transliterated, will bring you to our current practice of using a pulpit.

Believe it or not, I have actually heard a “biblical” defense of the pulpit before. There is a single verse in  Scripture, Nehemiah 8:4-8, which reads:

Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. . . . Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. . . . Then Ezra blessed the LORD the great God. And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the LORD with {their} faces to the ground. . . . They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.

I do not believe this is a biblical defense for pulpits though… that’s like saying that we should all use nets because in scripture John used a net.

I’m going to ask you; how did a piece of furniture get so highly elevated in our faith that we frown upon people who misuse (or don’t use) it?

Comments

  1. To answer your question, I think many of the Reformers emphasized the pulpit instead of the “altar” where mass (communion) was served. They emphasized the pulpit in order to emphasize Scripture.

    However, I think there is a danger in emphasizing a certain piece of furniture, even if your motives are good. I’ve heard people make a distinction between the type of speech (i.e., cursing) that can be used out of the pulpit, but not in the pulpit. I’ve heard others suggest that what is said from “behind the pulpit” carries greater authority than what is said when not behind the pulpit.

    In each of these instances, we see that the pulpit has become the center of attention, and we’ve lost focus on the Scriptures.

    I think you’ve inspired me to write a blog post…

    -Alan

    • Alan,

      Thanks for the comment. I agree, there is nothing inherently wrong with a piece of furniture called a pulpit. But with many things we do, we start to think the tools we use are as important as the one we follow. I look forward to reading your post :).

      God Speed,
      Lew

  2. The issue is much larger than pulpits. Rather, it is the human tendency to want form and rituals. The simplicity of the New Testament is replaced with increasingly ritualistic forms.

    The pulpit is one of many examples, as is Sunday morning dress codes (formal or even informal), order of service (episcopal ritualism and southern baptist informalism–and everything in between), etc.

    I had my own issue with the pulpit when I dared to use a smaller pulpit (that the church already owned). We actually had a couple leave over that issue (among other things), but not after yelling at me in the foyer for “mocking the living God” by using a smaller pulpit. Another minister in town (the church where this couple ended up going) actually used me as a sermon illustration. Something along the lines that most pulpits have crosses on them, and the reason I (and other young ministers) want to remove the pulpit is because we secretly wish to remove the message of the Cross (though, coincidently, the large pulpit didn’t have a cross but the smaller one did). Still, he got a lot of hearty ‘Amens’ and I am now apparantly black-listed. LOL

    But then again, a buddy of mine in a contemporary (somewhat seeker-sensitive) church recently had a revolt because he decided to put in a small pulpit (they had been using a music stand for several years). So, it appears the seeker-sensitive crowd has their own forms and ritualism too! :o)

  3. Josh,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I agree the issue is much larger than pulpits. In a way this series is intended to reveal the larger issues. Your stories are very interesting. I appreciate you sharing them with me. I don’t think I’ve personally ever been blacklisted… although I probably should be.

    God Speed,
    Lew