A church is not just a building.
It is special.
I am a fan of traditional church architecture and its traditional uses. More on that in a moment.
Traditional white steepled churches dotted the New England landscape wherever I went as a kid growing up in that part of the country. Some had bells atop the steeple, which I liked very much. There was something comforting about the ever-present visual of the white church steeple against a blue sky ringing out peals of music or the sound of bells, echoing across the foliage laden hills.
However, I was unfamiliar with what went on inside a church. The flip side of the comforting feeling I felt when looking at the outside of a church or of hearing its bells was changed to one of forbidding mystery and deep disquiet if I ever dared to go inside. I wasn’t saved and never attended church services, even as a kid.
Above, Trinity Episcopal, Newport RI, 1920s postcard
I did visit churches sometimes. I was interested in them from a historical aspect. For example, Trinity Church in Newport Rhode Island was established in 1698, and it is reported that George Washington attended services there. This is not the typical “George Washington slept here” stuff of legend. Washington was heavily present in Rhode Island during the Revolutionary War and Newport was the one among the state’s rotating capitals. Trinity is a gorgeous church, a New England traditional church building for sure.
I was married in a church. That seemed proper.
My mother took me to several churches as a kid, very occasionally when her conscience got too prickly to ignore. I remember the Unitarian Church, sunlight and people sitting on the floor in a circle singing along with a hippie holding a guitar in his lap. That seemed wrong. Although I didn’t like churches much when I went in one, I thought that there should be rows of pews be arranged in such a way that they faced a pulpit. If there was going to be a speaker and a message (some mysterious and incomprehensible message people kept reappearing week after week to hear) then it seemed logical that people would sit in such a way as to give attention to the message that indicated its singular importance.
I was at once attracted and repelled by the church building, its unstated message given through its appearance enough to unsettle my spirit. Church people perturbed me. I watched the church people emerge from the building week after week, but I did not dare join. It was like those folks in Acts:
Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. (Acts 5:12-13).
Churches look the way they do for a reason. And I am of the strong opinion that they should remain looking like they look. The people inside are a set apart people, the pastor inside is set apart and called to preach the true words of heaven. I’m not suggesting churches are holy ground. However, but their existence, looks, architecture, and what goes on inside has meaning and import distinct from any other building and any other activity. Churches should look and act the part.
The church building should be used exclusively for worship, religious education, leader training, and ecclesiastical meetings.
Sadly today, many inside think little of giving over their building and/or their pulpit for profane purposes.
In 2010, a porn star and a pastor held a debate about pornography, the porn star on the “for” side. This “debate” was held in a San Diego church.
In 2014 the very Protestant church built to honor Martin Luther in Speyer Germany was host to an interfaith, ecumenical concert in which an Imam made the call to Muslim prayer.
In 2017, pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas spent 15 minutes of the Sunday service interviewing Roman Catholic television political pundit Sean Hannity at his pulpit.
The pulpit is the most sacred and exalted place in the church. He who occupies this position stands as the representative of Christ. This is the minister’s first line of offense. From this honored and dedicated place he boldly denounces sin and courageously challenges the devil. From the sacred desk are heard the truths of God, which cut as a two-edged sword, bringing both conviction and contrition to the worshiper. Words of life and death flow from this fount. To this vantage point the penitent looks for the heavenly balm of Gilead. Is it not important then that one’s comportment in the desk give no cause for needless offense and bring no reproach against the name of Christ?
Phil Johnson of Grace Community Church’s stance on using the pulpit follows:
The reason we don’t have debates and dialogues with unbelievers in the worship center at Grace Community Church is the same reason we don’t use the facility for drama, secular music concerts, comedy routines, political rallies, variety shows, Amway meetings, or a host of other activities where an auditorium like that would be useful. Namely, the facility is dedicated to the proclamation of God’s Word and the corporate worship of God’s people. That was a purposeful decision made years ago. The point is not that the physical building itself is a shrine or an idol, but this is one of the ways we keep a sharp focus on what we as a church are most committed to. In other words, our unwillingness to use our pulpit for non-worship events is a strategy, not a superstition.
BTW, although people often use the word _pulpit_ to refer to the lectern on which a preacher places the Bible and his notes, the actual _pulpit_ is the raised platform on which that lectern rests. Remove the lectern and replace it with a table or a stage set, and whatever takes place on that platform is still being done “in the pulpit.”
Just some food for thought for you today. How is your pulpit used?