60—pulpit and stage
NOTE: I originally wrote a segment for each of the 61 points Frank Viola and George Barna make in their book, Pagan Christianity, about traditions in the institutional church not based on scripture. After writing it, I chose to not include this segment merely as I felt that in wouldn’t be an interesting radio commentary.
My name is Tom; this is Simple Church Minute
The word “pulpit,” as used to describe structures in a church building, is derived from a word that means “stage.” When church buildings were first introduced, sermons were delivered from what was called the bishop’s chair. Later, sermonizing was moved to the ambo, a structure derived from Jewish synagogues. The speaker was on a raised stage so the speaker could be seen, as the people has no seats. Later yet, came a pulpit, in the sense of being a podium-like structure from which to speak behind and to potentially hold books and notes for the speaker. Prior to the Reformation, the altar, from which the Eucharist was performed, was the central focus of the church. With the Reformation, the pulpit took center position on the stage, as reformers like Calvin considered the sermon to be the centerpiece of the worship service. At this point, there was a symbolic division, the pastor on the stage, and the laypeople off the stage. The 18th century brought about pulpits being placed high in the air as a result of a trend of people buying and decorating personal box seats to watch a sermon, with the elevated pulpit so others could see the preacher above the decoration. Recent years, along with social trends toward greater informality and technology, have brought about smaller stands like a schoolteacher might use, and the clear acrylic stand, which implies transparency, clarity and being contemporary. In all post-Reformation cases, it and the person using it, become the focal point of the room.
First Thessalonians 5 verse 11 tells us to comfort one another and edify one another. The pulpit reinforces a clergy-laity division and an audience-performer dynamic, antithetical to this verse’s directive, as the most highly trained leader and the newest believer can only edify by the work of the Holy Spirit.