The fashionable thing to do in churches now is to remove the old wooden pulpits and pews and replace them with modern looking podiums and chairs. But should the church be concerned with what is fashionable or with proclaiming the truth? I have to wonder if we are losing more than pulpits and pews. Are we also forsaking the doctrines and traditions that for so long have been associated with them? Are we forgetting our godly heritage?
I can hear some say, “You’re being legalistic. After all, there are no commands in the Bible to use pulpits and pews.” That’s true, but it might be helpful to look back a few hundred years to when pews became commonplace in churches.
Pews are very much associated with the Protestant Reformation. Protestants emphasized the sermon in worship instead of the liturgy of the Catholic Church. Thus, there’s a symbolic link between the pulpit and pews and the authority of the Word. In fact in some churches, an absence of pews was seen as loyalty to Rome. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that so many Protestant churches currently seem to returning to the great harlot. However, it must be said that the use of pews in Catholic churches is now commonplace.
As churches abandon pews and pulpits, they often embrace worldly music and put less emphasis on the Word. The sanctuary’s main lights are dimmed, and stage lights and colored backdrops illuminate the stage. It becomes much more about performance and entertainment than worship and the Word. And churches that follow the world’s styles may soon follow the world’s doctrines.
In my experience, these modern changes to worship style and furnishings are often forced upon congregations for the sake of being hip and cool in order to appeal to the world. Bible believing Christians in these churches are not listened to by the leadership. They are often made to feel like they are in the wrong and that they are being selfish for desiring to keep their traditions.
“Let all things be done decently and in order.” 1 Cor. 14:40
These church leaders often frame worship style as a matter of taste when it should be framed as a matter of biblical fidelity. Hebrews 12:28 speaks about serving God “acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” Instead, modern day church leaders often use marketing schemes and worldly business models to push these bad ideas about worship upon those who want to rightly keep their godly traditions.
Is it a coincidence that pulpits in America lack boldness in their preaching? It seems that preachers have surrendered their God-given authority to proclaim the Word and have allowed godless ideologies and diversions to take over the worship services. I was recently in a service where a guest preacher quoted Paul’s admonition in Ephesians for wives to submit to their husbands. When the preacher quoted the passage, he used the word support instead of submit. Now, we can discuss what it means for the wife to submit to her husband and how the husband is to love his wife like Christ loved the Church, but clearly the preacher should be using the Biblical word submit and not watering it down to be less offensive. In another example, an interim preacher whom I knew preached a sermon on homosexuality. He preached it from a Biblical perspective, but he didn’t want to put it on the church’s website because he knew it would be unpopular. We need bold pastors who are unafraid to preach the Word and won’t apologize for it.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Obviously, I’m not saying that pulpits and pews somehow automatically give authority to a preacher or guarantee a church’s orthodoxy. I’m simply commenting on the symbolic nature of the situation–that at the same time churches are watering their services down so as not to offend anyone, they are also adopting more worldly styles, music, and furnishings. The jettison of pews and pulpits is not the cause of the decline in gravitas of the services; it is the result of it.
“Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”
I Timothy 4:16 NKJV
I know a lot of Christians who feel alienated at church. In the past several years, there has been a disconnect in denominations between the people in the pew and the leaders at the national level, no pun intended. But now this is becoming more widespread and localized. Many leaders seem to be out of touch with their flocks. Some of them seem to be more concerned with what unbelievers want than what their own church members believe is scriptural. Congregants are sometimes made to feel like something is wrong with them for simply wanting to be faithful. It might be wise for pastors to recognize that during this time of great moral and societal upheaval, the members in their flocks earnestly long for churches to be the one place where reassuring traditions will remain in place.