Friday, March 11, 2011


Yes, I have been writing about worship more than discipleship lately. Fortunately, worship is part of the journey of discipleship. But don't worry, I am working on some posts about systematic discipleship. Stay tuned.

Today I am writing about pulpits. I am writing specifically about the pulpit I will be standing in Sunday. I preached from the pulpit on Ash Wednesday and decided to leave it out for a while. I normally preach from the chancel right in front of The Lord's Table. To talk about the "why," I need to talk about the theological and liturgical significance of the pulpit. The pulpit is not just a fancy lectern. The pulpit is a piece of liturgical furniture that represents something more than its function. We have a baptismal font that is more than just a place to keep water. It is a permanent part of our worship space to remind us that baptism is at the center of our life as Christians and the entry point into the community of faith. Ours is fairly significant but some churches have giant, permanent water features to allow for submersion and to keep the sacrament even more visible. We have an altar-table, The Lord's Table, a place to set the elements of Holy Communion but also to remind us of the centrality of that family meal we share as Christians.

We have an odd relationship with these pieces of furniture. They are just things. But they are things that we have set apart. When we use the world holy, we usually mean just that, set apart. These are things that we have set apart for the worship of the Lord. Which brings me to the last thing, the pulpit. We believe that Christ himself, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is present to us in the reading and proclaiming of the Holy Scriptures. It doesn't take a special place for that to happen, however "if the reading and preaching of God's word is understood as a fresh theophany each time the people of God gather, then we need physical testimony to that belief in the form of a pulpit." (James F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship, Nashville: Abingdon, 2000, p. 88) In other words, if this is important, it should be visibly important.

Often people think the pulpit to be about the preacher, but the pulpit is about the Word of God. The reason pulpits became so ornate (and often high off the ground) was to elevate, not the preacher, but the word of God, a central part of our worship and life of faith.

However, not everyone likes the use of the pulpit. I have heard countless stories of people who connected with a preacher "because he came out of the pulpit." Sometimes we feel a better connection with a preacher when she or he comes closer, when an apparent barrier is removed. I think connecting with the Word is important as well. I think we often need to connect with the preacher in order to connect with the Word. However, we always need to remember that it is about the Word.

This is sort of a liturgical experiment. Especially if you worship with us on the south campus, I would love to hear your thoughts on the use of the pulpit. Let me be so bold as to direct the comments. I am less interested in the "I like it" and the "I don't like it" and more interested in the "why?" Given the background of why we would use a pulpit in the first place, how does it enhance or detract from the hearing of God's Word to us?


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