What is a pulpit?

A pulpit is a raised platform, podium, or lectern in a church from which a pastor or clergy member preaches the sermon or homily. Speaking God's Word in front of a congregation from a raised platform is a practice dating back to Old Testament times. Nehemiah 8:4–5 records, "Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. … And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people." Standing on a raised platform helps the voice carry farther through a large crowd. It also represents the authority with which the words are spoken, that those words are coming from God Himself who is above the listeners.

In the Christian tradition, many pulpits have been ornate wooden platforms raised far above the congregation and even included a canopy overhead to help the sound project down to the assembled people below. The ornateness was meant to highlight the importance of the words being spoken in contrast to the humbleness of the human speaking them. In evangelical churches, the pulpit is often in the center of the stage, highlighting the centrality of teaching Scripture during their services. In Catholic churches, where the pulpit is called an ambo, the pulpit is often to the side because the altar, or Eucharist table, is the focus of the service. In some churches, like Quaker meetinghouses, there are no pulpits at all because the congregants are all supposed to minister to one another. In Jewish synagogues, this place of Scripture reading and teaching is called the bema (or bimah). In Islamic mosques, it is the minbar. Many religious traditions use a raised platform along with a surface upon which to place scripture or teaching notes.

Whether there is a plain or ornate pulpit, whether it is off to the side or center stage, or even if there is no pulpit at all, is all a matter of preference. The Bible does not command nor prohibit the use of a pulpit during worship. It does call for believers to meet together (Hebrews 10:25), for them to pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17), for them to examine Scripture (Acts 17:11; 2 Timothy 2:1–2, 15; 3:16–17; 4:2), and for them to encourage one another with spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19). Whether a church or its minister uses a pulpit is a matter of choice.

Much more important than a pulpit is whether the church is studying and obeying God's Word. Ephesians 4:11–16 says, in part, that God "gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God … Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." Paul exhorted Timothy to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2). Paul also explained that all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Of much greater importance than the physical pulpit is the content of the teaching and its effects in the lives of people. James 1:22 says, "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves."

Another way the word pulpit is used is to refer to the power, influence, or authority of the teaching spoken from there or the preachers, collectively, who stand behind one. So one might say, "The pulpit should not be used to peddle political influence," meaning pastors should not share their personal political opinions while preaching. Or one might hear, "Pastors should step out from behind the pulpit," meaning the pastor should be out in the community serving and sharing in the experiences of his congregation. Horace Greeley said, "Printer's ink is the great apostle of progress, whose pulpit is the press," meaning progress uses the press as a way to influence people the way preachers influence the hearts and minds of their congregations.

In sum, the word pulpit can refer figuratively to the authority of preachers and the influence of their sermons, or literally to the physical stand or lectern or entire raised platform or stage from which ministers preach. The important thing about our churches is not whether or how we use a physical pulpit, but rather the content of our worship and the attitudes of our hearts when we come (Isaiah 29:13; Deuteronomy 6:5; 1 Corinthians 11:28; 13:1–3). We are to worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:23–24). Whether the pastor speaking from a pulpit or any believer in daily life, we should always seek to know and speak the truth about God, be built up in Him, and love others (Ephesians 4:15; Acts 2:42; John 13:34–35).

Related Truth:

What does it mean to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2)?

What qualifications does the Bible give for elders and deacons?

Is the office of pastor taught in the Bible?

What is an altar?

What was God's purpose in establishing the church?

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