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December 13, 2023: The Pulpit

I previously commented on the failure of the contemporary Church to recognize the sacredness of the Eucharist. The architectural symbol of that being the relocation of the altar to a lesser spot in favor of a band on stage. Worship is not our performance but our reverencing Almighty God recognizing His Holiness and submitting to Him in heart, mind, and soul. It is at the altar we find the body and blood of our Lord; therefore, it is at the altar where our focus attends.

The second architectural symbol of worship is the pulpit. The pulpit holds an integral place in Christian worship. It is true that the use of the pulpit is of later adoption, but it serves an ancient end. By the fourth century, church architecture included the ambo—a raised platform used for the reading of scripture. Beginning in the ninth century two ambos were utilized. The altar of a traditional Western church is on the east side of the building in the sanctuary (that raised area in our building behind the communion rail). The two ambos were located on the north and south side of the sanctuary. The Epistle was read from the southern side and the Gospel from the northern.

Beginning in the 13th century, the modern pulpit came into use. The pulpit is located on the Gospel side. The Epistle-side desk continues to be called the ambo or the lectern. The lay readers read the Old Testament and Epistle lessons from the ambo. The pulpit is used exclusively by the clergy and from which the sermon is preached. The pulpit is a sacred space reserved for the sacred word.

I stand at the pulpit to preach for a theological reason. For from it, I do not speak for myself for my purposes or for my acclaim. The pulpit is that sacred space in which to faithfully proclaim God’s word to His people for His glory. Immediately before the sermon we confess the creed—the faith once received. The sermon proclaims the scriptural word understood in accordance with that one faith. The preacher is always to be in service to the Lord in preaching never to serve self. At the pulpit, the preacher speaks not for himself but the proclamation of God. The preacher is held to strict accountability before God for his words (James 3:1).

The Church would do well to return the pulpit to its proper place. Symbols are important. But even more importantly, we must return to the sacredness of preaching. This means, first, making the pulpit the focus rather than the preacher. The word belongs to God not to our philosophies, our politics, or our psychologies. Preaching must never proclaim human words as the word of God.

Second, preaching since it is God’s word is creative. Throughout Genesis chapter one, we are told God said, and it “was.” Preaching is powerful not in the creative usage of our words or the skill of the preacher, but in the inherent power of God’s word uttered. Human words, no matter how eloquent or powerful, are uttered in vain.

Third, pray! Pray for the preacher to receive and hear God’s word in his heart and life. Pray for the preacher to be prepared in prayer and fasting. Pray for the preacher then to faithfully be a herald of God’s word. Pray for yourself that you may have ears to hear, a mind to understand, and a malleable heart to be formed. The Word of God is never inert but powerful.


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