Why Is There a Pulpit?

“Wherever the pulpit is going, that’s where the church is going.”

That’s a tweet that recently appeared in my twitter feed. I cringed when I saw it. But then I thought, it’s true. Sad, but oh so true. Needless to say, it got my mind going about pulpits and power, honorific titles and top-down authority, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. It doesn’t take much to get me going, does it? I hear endless debates about whether women should be allowed behind the pulpit but in each conversation I hear, the most obvious question is missing: Why is anyone scrambling to get behind the pulpit and why is there a pulpit in the first place?

In my opinion, nothing kills the original Continue reading

Rethinking Religion, Part 2: Pastors, Titles, Authority, Calling

This is part 2 of a multi-part series I’ve called Rethinking Religion. To see all the posts so far, click the Rethinking Religion category in the sidebar.

We talked last time about how in his zeal to detour divisions in the church, Ignatius set in place a false structure of authoritative leadership designed to dole out punishments for non-compliance and rewards for compliance. This hierarchy of authority that Ignatius implemented, centered around pastors and in particular, the one pastor model, was firmly in place by the mid-third century and is still with us in most institutional churches today, where there is a top-down authority structure in place and one person at the top, steering the ship. There are certain functions within the assembly that Ignatius arbitrarily decided can only be performed by the church’s sole lead pastor which is why he could say,

“Let no one do anything in the church apart from the bishop. Holy communion is valid when celebrated by the bishop or someone the bishop authorizes. Where the bishop is present, there let the congregation gather, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the church.” Letter to Smyrna (ca. AD 110)

But this idea is foreign to the New Testament, man-made, and comes to us via tradition alone. There is no biblical reason for such thinking. Note Jesus’ words that we alluded to at the end of Part One in this series:

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Preach the Word?

Paul instructed Timothy to “Preach the word” (2 Tim 4:2). In the institutional church model, this is usually assumed to mean expository, verse-by-verse teaching through the Bible, or some variant of expository preaching. But is that what Paul meant? Let’s back up the cart for a minute and take a second look.

Was Timothy a Pastor?

This is an important question to ask as we begin to broach this subject for a couple of reasons. 1) Pastors have become central in most modern church settings. They have become the “preachers” in the institutional church and as such, they carry the burden of “preaching the word” meaning proclaim the Bible, usually from a pulpit. It continues to amaze me how we’ve taken a word (pastor) that appears once in the New Testament (with reference to the body of Christ) and institutionalized it. We’ve made pastors the central figure of our religious institutions without questioning why. We’re told the pastor preaches and our job is to hear and obey. It’s almost like we don’t need Jesus because the pastor is there to tell us what we need to hear. 2) Because it’s assumed Timothy was one of those pastors, we call the letters bearing his name, along with the letter to Titus “pastoral epistles.” We view them as pastoring handbooks and manuals for doing church.

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