I preached yesterday morning in Waringstown Presbyterian Church. It was the shortest commute I have had to preach this year as the village of Waringstown is not far from where we live.
The congregation (and its predecessors) have worshipped in the village for over 160 years: the church has trebled in size in the last 50 years and today is a welcoming, vibrant, Bible-centred church.
While the first part of the service was conducted from floor level, I preached from a raised pulpit. Wits will want to say that such a pulpit puts a preacher six feet above contradiction! However – something that free church or newer denominations are less aware of – older church architecture carries symbolic significance. In the Reformed tradition the pulpit is the central point of focus, symbolising the authority and centrality place of the Word of God. The table and the baptismal font are set beneath it. On the reading desk in the pulpit is a large, old reading Bible.
Quite a different layout different from some more modern buildings, such as Glenabbey Church where I preached last Sunday: their meeting room is actually called The Warehouse. There is a raised platform at the front and a modern, moveable, metal lectern from which the preacher preaches.
Some people don’t like these modern touches believing that the layout of the building should make a statement about what goes on in the building: what message is communicated by a plexiglas pulpit off to the side with a drumkit and an array of music stands front and centre? Some take the view that when you dumb down the pulpit, the inevitable consequence will be that you dumb down the preaching.
I think the Bible is ambivalent on the issue of church architecture. There were certainly plenty of instructions for the construction of sacred buildings in the Old Testament. Moses had to make sure that he followed God’s instructions accurately: it mattered. However there is no New Testament theology of church buildings. Early Jewish Christians met in the Temple and it appears that there were several ‘house churches’ at the time of the New Testament. New Testament theology emphasises the theme of the church as a spiritual temple. There certainly does not appear to be any stipulated form of church architecture, but neither is there a New Testament ban on carefully planned buildings for the glory of God.
The important thing – whether a church meets on plastic chairs in a warehouse or gathers on wooden pews under a raised pulpit – is that the ministry of that church values the place of the Word of God. You can do that (as they do in Glenabbey) from a trendy-looking metal lectern; and you can do that (as they do in Waringstown Presbyterian) from a raised 19th century pulpit.
And here is that raised pulpit.