Sunday preaching – from a raised pulpit

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.

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3 thoughts on “Sunday preaching – from a raised pulpit

  1. This was useful for me because one of my pet hates in church was not so much the pulpit, but the communion table. It would get on our (the musician’s) way. People would vaguely appeal to tradition, but no-one ever articulately contradicted me before.

    However, if the pulpit is raised to symbolise the centrality of the Word of God (by which I assume they mean “the Bible”, rather than Christ, who is the RISEN and LIVING word of God. Hallelujah. When did “the Bible” become the centre of Christianity?), then presumably the communion table represents Christ. If it was me, I might have put Christ at the centre. But I suppose a ten-foot high table would be impractical.

    I always had a slightly less than Presbyterian understanding of communion as well. I think it’s far too ritualised and has lost any sense of fellowship. Folks usually eat in silence, close off other people and “think” about Jesus. I’d have them around a table singing Psalms and hymns and songs of praise together, rich and poor, young nd old, male and female. Celebrating. Feasting and drinking wine.

    Yes, real wine.

    I think I grew up in the wrong church. Ha!

    1. My own early background was in the Brethren where the Lord’s Supper is observed every Sunday (as it is in Baptist churches). In many Gospel Halls, the Sunday morning seating arrangements for the Lord’s Supper include placing the table, with the bread and wine. at the centre of the room with the seats arranged around it. For some, this is an important symbolic gesture related to Matthew 18:20 which refers to Jesus being in the middle of those who come together in his name.

      I tend to think that pretty much all church traditions have formalised/ceremonialised the Lord’s Supper – no one has a corner on that. It appears to have started in NT days as part of a meal. That seems to have been the background in Corinth (although things had gone wrong there).

      I think there are ways that churches could highlight the fellowship aspect – for example, each person serves their neighbour with the words “the body of Christ, broken for you”; or where everyone waits to eat their portion of bread at the same time. And it can be done with songs, as you suggest.

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