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July 28, 2009

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Just saw this article yesterday: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13772_3-10295801-52.html?tag=mncol

Had very mixed feelings. Especially this statement towards the end:
"The American church can't measure its success now only by who...comes on Sunday," Boyd said. "Our message is being broadcast more and more through digital means, and they may not ever come to our building, they may never sit in a chair in our church.

A Church's measure of success is in the transformation of the people. Not who listens or how many listen. No wonder the American Church continues to grow into these mega-theatres, self-absorbed and diminished. The people who attend poll no different from the secular world in divorce, abortions, giving, etc. No one talks about dying to this world or dying to Christ and carrying the burden of the cross. No message about losing self and depending on God for all things.

There are millions who have never heard the Gospel. And the Church in the US spends $100K on a 70 foot high def screen. To do what? Magnify scripture? No, magnify the pastor and the worship team.

I suspect God's megachurch is somewhere in China or India or Africa - a Church that is a tin roof where people gather in sweltering heat to praise God amidst intense persecution. Where people cry out to God to protected the brothers who are taking the Gospel to dangerous areas. Where people don't know how they'll get their next meal, but who hunger and thirst not for food but for his word.

Hey kpolo,

Two questions re: "A Church's measure of success is in the transformation of the people"

1) which people?
2) what lead you to that criterion?

1) The congregation of believers.

2) The Church exists for two purposes - 1) to facilitate the sanctification of believers through worship, word and fellowship and 2) to proclaim the Gospel.

My point is simply that the issue confronting the Church is not lack of reach or communication. Churches are not in the "communication business" as the article quotes. Transforming lives, making dead people alive is not communication business. Reflecting the love of Christ is not a communication problem. For all the Christian radio, literature, magazines, books, sermons, the Church at large is not very different from secular America.

Hence my motivation to state that perhaps a return to a radical lifestyle - one of dying to the things of this world and complete surrender to Christ is of greater necessity than the theater we create.

And lest I convey that I am living the radical life - I'm not, but that is what I strive to and that is what I hoped to be challenged to.

The picture in the article of a sanctuary looking more like a rock concert - the lights, the big screens - those create emotion, not movement of the Spirit.

While I agree that form matters in worship, the interpretation of the pulpit lowering as a lowering of the Word of God is a stretch. The pastor is not the Word of God. He is under the Word of God just like everyone else. Perhaps lowering him is a symbolic effort to portray the Word of God over all men? In many churches, Scripture is put on an electronic screen that is way above everyone else. I'm no fan of the electronic screen, but I suppose it would satisfy the author's stated desire for symbolic elevated placement.

If part of the problem with lowering the pulpit is that it gives rise to a focus on the pastor's personality, what does it mean when we raise the pastor up above everyone else? I don't object to a large, raised up pulpit, but I don't find a symbolic problem in lowering it.

Sometimes its just a matter of not being able to see the pastor, too.

Hi, there, Doug Groothuis' piece is great!

And, maybe this is co-incidental, but Fr Robert Barron has had some interesting thoughts on this issue in the past couple of days, too, in a very different, yet parallel situation.

I hope you don't mind me posting a link...

http://tinyurl.com/knbewh

Oops!

Sorry. I forgot to mention. It's the video called: "Fr Barron comments on the Willis Tower."

"Yet, the pulpit itself speaks." - per Douglas Groothius

But what it says is subject to interpretation. The language of symbolism is suggestive and indefinite. But the language of the speaker conveys the substance of their message - not the external forms with which they surround themselves.

What symbolism is intended by a lowered pulpit? I do not know, though I surmise from conversations with a pastor friend that he would say it is a rejection of artifice, Pharisaic ostentation, and the aggrandizing of a mere man (though in his own words). Does not this symbolism carry as authentic a Scriptural basis as the exaltation of the authority of the Word?

I think it is valuable to remember that every form communicates some significance, culturally and personally (or I might say religiously and aesthetically). A common error is in saying that the forms in any room are semantically neutral, and convey no meaning at all.

Groothius' error is that he judges the forms which other believers employ as being somehow less holy than the forms he himself prefers. This is a disputable matter - Christians ought not to judge, but determine in our own hearts before God what is the proper way to obey where the Bible is not explicit (Romans 14). Our conclusion does not become normative, even though the principles underlying our application may be Scripturally sound.

Romans 14 teaches against judging fellow believers on the basis of disputable matters, not thoughtfully judging the matters themselves. In fact, the Roman church was told to "judge" the will of God with a (singular) renewed mind in chp. 12.

We need to evaluate (judge, discern, etc) what our use of space communicates and if it is in line with our best understandings of God, the church, worship. I just won't judge the condition of someone's soul if they happen to disagree with me.

"...a rejection of artifice, Pharisaic ostentation, and the aggrandizing of a mere man."

Perhaps if we were discussing a marble throne from which the pastor presided over the entire service, I'd agree with you. But since the pastor only enters the pulpit to preach the Word of God, its elevation speaks only to the specific activity that occurs from within it. When faithfully engaged in his task of proclamation, he speaks with God's authority, and the pulpit is an extremely helpful way to visually depict and confess that reality.

MijkV,

Yes and no. We ought to weigh everything against Scripture as our authority for true belief and rightful practice. However, in disputable matters, we ought not to judge what others do as less holy, less Biblical, in a normative fashion. Paul says we each ought to wrestle with these areas of application and settle them in our hearts, but we ought NOT to pass judgment on the differing conclusions other believers reach on such matters. This is a key distinction in the text of Romans 14. If I conclude not to eat meat, I cannot declare others less godly who do eat meat.
Verse 5: "One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." Opposite conclusions; each person fully persuaded. And v. 10, "Why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother?" Here's the brilliance of this chapter - each mutually exclusive conclusion is equally valid when it is chosen unto the Lord.

God presents us with these unanswerable scenarios (Which is better - high pulpits or low pulpits - the honoring of Scripture or the humbling of man before it?) so that we will have to work out our convictions before God. It builds fortitude to take a personal stand on these matters. But as soon as I make "my" conclusion "The Conclusion," I judge my brother by my standard.

Derek,

I agree with the validity of your position, and I was advocating the other side just to champion its validity as well. I believe you should be fully convinced of the merit of your conviction before God. I also believe that someone who eschews the symbolism of a decorated, elevated, formalized pulpit should be fully convinced before God of their conviction.

We ought to believe fully that our position holds water. On issues where the Bible is not explicit, and which require thoughtful practical application, we err when we see our conviction as the norm for everyone. The gift of a conscience addresses oneself individually; the word of God addresses us all absolutely. We need to keep the two distinct.

Sage S,

I appreciate your comments on this topic so far, but I actually think we're talking about two different things.

Let me explain first what I'm not saying, so there's no confusion. I'm in no way suggesting there's any "Thus saith the Lord" on pulpit height, as if the holiness of one's worship practice were somehow directly proportional to the number of inches between the pulpit top and the floor. This detail is, scripturally speaking, clearly a matter of indifference. God is no more or less pleased with one pulpit height over another.

That said, not all church practices are of equal value. Some confess more clearly than others the spiritual realities they are designed to express. But note that my assertion is in reference to what the parishioners learn from the practice, not what God thinks of it. The value of these man-made practices (and into this category I'd include church architecture, rituals, ceremonies, dress, etc.) is primarily pedagogical--adiophora in terms of Scripture, but better or worse in terms of it's ability to communicate Spiritual truths. And discussions like these are valuable because they can evaluate whether or not a certain practice is succeeding in its intended purpose.

Now one could certainly argue, as you and Naturallawyer have, that the symbolism of the elevated pulpit could be flipped on its head to elevate the man and his personality, instead of the Word of God, over the congregation. And there's an extent to which you're correct that symbols are by definition subject to interpretation. But what I'm interested in is whether the symbol is, in reality, actually conveying the interpretation you've suggested. One of the points of Groothuis's piece was that there's a clear correlation between churches that have abandoned the large, elevated pulpit, and the rise of personality-driven pastors. And although not all de-elevated pulpit churches fall victim to this pastoral aggrandizement, the churches that are personality-driven are almost exclusively from that category.

". . . the gospel of Christ: for it is the miracle of God to salvation to everyone that believes . . . ." -- Romans 1:16.

". . . Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." -- John 1:13.

". . . pastors-teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, . . ." -- Epheisians 4:11, 12.

". . . if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost . . . ." -- 2 Corinthians 4:3.

So unless the pastor of the congregation of believes are instructing believers on how to shine forth the gospel to the lost that church regardless of form is not doing as Christ commanded. (Matthtew 28:19.20.)

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