f The Wittenberg Door: The Loss of Symbolism

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Loss of Symbolism

One of the things I love about the Reformed church is the symbolism, especially the symbolism involving the pulpit. The pulpit comprises a lectern standing upon a raised platform. Being the most important piece of “furniture” in the church, it is positioned in front of the congregation, with all pews facing it. Its symbolic importance can be summarized as follows:

  • It’s central—The pulpit’s central placement is important because it is from there that God addresses His people via the preached word. Therefore, it commands the most prominent place in the church.

  • It’s raised—The pulpit is elevated because it is upon the lectern that the minister’s bible rests, symbolizing the word of God being over the people.

  • It’s solid—The lectern is made of solid wood, symbolizing the sure foundation upon which God’s word stands. Moreover, it’s large enough to obscure most of the minister’s body, thus keeping the focus on the word. For this reason, Reformed ministers stay behind the lectern, so as to stay behind the word of God.

So Goes the Pulpit, So Goes the Glory of God

Overall, the pulpit represents what the church service is to be primarily about—God’s people coming together to worship Him, and, as mentioned, God addressing His people through the preached word.

Things have changed, though. Pulpits are considered outdated, and even stifling. Like nature, the church abhors a vacuum. In the pulpit’s place sprung the Plexiglas stand, allowing the “minister” to be seen in all of his glory. But this too is seen by some as cumbersome. Why let anything stand in front of the minister, hindering his ability to work the crowd like a Vegas lounge lizard?

Too harsh? Perhaps. But the transition from the pulpit to more modern elements is symptomatic of a greater problem: a shift from the glory of God to the glory of man; a shift from the minister as an empty vessel placarding Christ, to the minister as a personality and centerpiece; a shift from the preached word as a Means of Grace to the advent of a new sacrament—the minister himself.



Blogger Jay Mumper said...

Have you considered the symbolism of a simple man, unadorned by the mass of a pulpit, talking to his peers -- brothers, sisters, and fellow sinners? To me, that symbolism is "this is just a fallen man like me who depends on God for grace and salvation." To me, symbols like a pulpit can have negative connotations that also overly promote the glory of man - that the preacher is somehow "better" than everyone to whom he/she speaks. So which is more important to communicate? That God wants everyone, regardless of their station or sin, to approach the throne through the blood of Jesus or that only the "chosen few" know what is best and that to attain the pulpit is to be somehow superior in the eyes of God?

4:34 PM  
Blogger The Wittenberg Door said...

Greetings, Jay. Here’s what I think happened: You read the title of my post and then, instead of reading it, assumed the content. I believe that because your comments concern only the title and not what I wrote. How about reading the post, and then engaging my arguments? Who knows, since you sound like a man interested in the glory of God and not of man, you just might agree with me.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Ralph M. Petersen-Always Right; Sometimes Wrong! said...

Good Post. Here are just a couple more thoughts. As I was reading this, I thought about the symbolism of the laver as the Word of God (just after the altar) placed prominently in the outer court of the tabernacle. That was where the priests were to wash themselves before entering into the holy place.

I once had a pastor who often referred to the pulpit as "a sacred desk." He had a small plaque installed on it that reminded him every time he stood behind it, "Sir, we would see Jesus." And that is the purpose of the "sacred desk." The central focus is the place where the Word of God is opened and where Jesus is revealed.

10:20 PM  
Blogger Ralph M. Petersen-Always Right; Sometimes Wrong! said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:23 PM  
Blogger Ralph M. Petersen-Always Right; Sometimes Wrong! said...

I wonder if you would mind sharing how you created the background graphic behind your blog.

10:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also to be considered it the dress of the preacher and his demeanor .

A suit or robe says this is serious, I am presenting Gods word to you.

A prancing preacher in a sport shirt or a tee shirt says "i am one of the guys.." It does not say "This is a sacred time"

I grow weary of modernism, and long for Gods word having the center stage and preached as if just maybe God has something to say

11:10 AM  

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