I can remember the first time I stood at a pulpit. Fear gripped my heart, my hands were sweating, and the pressure of “getting it right was almost unbearable.” I latched on to the upper platform with all my might so the congregation wouldn’t see my hands shaking. “Breathe Miguel, Breathe” I thought to myself without realizing that I was saying it out loud. They laughed, I laughed, it all seemed surreal, especially since I was only up there to give the church announcements.
The pulpit, regardless of size, is an intimidating apparatus. But what is its biblical origin?
“And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose.” Nehemiah 8:1-4
Some have emphatically said that there are no pulpits in the bible. I think this verse somewhat alludes to at least one. Even in the synagogues there is no evidence that Jesus, Paul or the rabbis would have used anything approaching our contemporary conception of a pulpit (Hoppe, 1). Of course the early church met primarily in homes. It was not until the third century AD that Christian congregations began to build and furnish structures intended to house the worship of a local congregation (White, 19).
Whether or not we can justify the use of a pulpit biblically is secondary to the implications of its use. Some of those implications might be:
The thought that it is the place where real preaching occurs.
That those who use it are to be specially qualified.
That it, and the person using it are “symbols of authority.”
Conversely, “coming out from behind the pulpit,” implies:
A step towards being more relational with the people.
A willingness to engage by action those things preached from the pulpit
That preaching is to take place everywhere feet are placed. Romans 10:15
The church has put a lot of stock in its pulpits. Along with the sometimes ornate carvings come an ordination of sorts. A few questions about this piece of furniture:
What scripture’s, other than the ones used above, would justify the use pulpits?
What are pluses (+’s) and negatives (-‘s) of pulpit use?
Can discipleship happen from behind pulpits?
Hoppe, Leslie J. The Synagogues and Churches of Ancient Palestine. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1994
White, L. Michael. “The Social Origins of Christian Architecture.” Harvard Theological Studies 42. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International/Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990.