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?

Nothing kills the original intent of the gathered assembly quicker than a pulpit. Nothing separates the assembly into us and them quicker or more effectively than a pulpit. Nothing says “keep your distance, I’m the trained professional Christian and you need to hear what I have to say” more effectively than the pulpit. Add to that, the raised platform and the priesthood of all believers vanishes and is replaced by the priesthood of one or a select few. Add the pulpit into the mix and active participation of the entire assembly turns into a lecture given to passive spectators by one who is assumed to be in control. This model has come to us via church history by those in supposed positions of power or control who perpetuate power and control by perpetuating power and control. It’s foreign to the New Testament and harmful to the ekklesia. The pulpit is not passive.

“Wherever the pulpit is going, that’s where the church is going” is an unfortunate reality in modern institutional church settings. In a community where Jesus said that kind of power and control wasn’t to exist, we encourage and perpetuate it. Whatever happened to the Holy Spirit leading the assembly? Whatever happened to Jesus being Lord of his ekklesia? Whatever happened to the priesthood of all believers instead of a select few? Tell me again, why is there a pulpit?

“But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie–just as it has taught you, abide in him.” 1 John 2:27

-Mike

Photo Credit: Alex Gorham

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Why Ekklesia?

I called this blog the ekklesia blog and my podcast the ekklesia podcast. But why “ekklesia”? That seems like a weird name. My intent was (and is) to take a close and honest look at how we “do church” in our modern evangelical settings and ask the questions I think need to be asked.

Ekklesia (pronounced ek-lay-SEE-a) is a transliteration of the New Testament Greek word meaning “assembly.”  It is the word used in the New Testament that is translated “church” in most modern English versions of the Bible. But does church convey the meaning and intent of ekklesia?

Church comes to us from an old English word meaning “a lord’s house” and carries with it the concept of a location where an important person lived. It still conveys that concept at its center. When we think of church, we think of a building or location where God is present and where he requires us to be regularly in order to encounter him. The fact that we think this way is revealed by how we talk about church. We say things like “see you at church,” “it’s time to go to church,” “look at that beautiful church,” “where do you go to church?” or “ we attend pastor John’s church” without giving it a second thought. Over two thousand years of religious tradition has handed this to us – many of us from an early age – and it’s so engrained in our thinking and such a part of what’s been instilled in us and assumed to be right, that we don’t stop to question its validity.

But is what we’ve been told about church an accurate reflection of the ekklesia? Is the ekklesia a weekly destination we attend where we stand on queue, sit on queue, sing on queue, give on queue, pray on queue, say hi to strangers on queue, listen to a lecture on queue, all the while staring at the back of someone’s head, calling it community, or feeling we’ve done our religious duty for the week and God likes us more because of our attendance and participation in the event? I don’t think so.

Join me on this journey from church to ekklesia and let’s ask the honest questions that need asked, challenge empty traditions and false assumptions, and see if we can’t gain a better understanding of what Jesus meant when he said, “I will build my ekklesia.”

Welcome to The Ekklesia Blog. Welcome to The Ekklesia Podcast.

-Mike

Rethinking Church: Pastors, Titles, Authority, Calling

ben-white-292680This is Part Two of my Rethinking Church Series. To see all the posts so far, click the Rethinking Church 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, guiding the ship. There are certain actions in the assembly that Ignatius 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.

But this idea is foreign to the New Testament 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:

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28, emphasis mine)

Jesus’ words, “It shall not be so among you” are a clear and concise warning against establishing any kind of authoritative hierarchy within the assembly that divides sheep from other sheep and sets up one sinner in charge of another. We either don’t believe Jesus’ words, choose to ignore them, or have spiritualized their intended meaning to the point that our top-down authority structures somehow fit into it without compromise.

We’ve been told through the years that because a pastor has a special calling unlike the rest of us, he or she has been given blanket authority over us. We’ve been told that so many times and for so long that we accept it without question. We believe it without blinking. But here’s the rub: tradition has given us this, not the New Testament, and we’ve been teaching this tradition as the commands of God for so long, that we’ve blurred the lines between the two and we can’t tell the difference. Let’s look closer.

What Does Scripture Say About a Pastor’s Calling and Authority?

One of the things I participated in on occasion as a pastor in institutional church settings, was ordination councils. Ordination councils vary from Continue reading

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 are the “preachers” in the institutional church and as such, they carry the burden of “preaching the word.” It continues to amaze me how we’ve taken a word (pastor) that appears once in the New Testament (apart from obvious references to Jesus) and institutionalized it. We’ve made Pastors the central figure of our institutional churches 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 center now. 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.

But there is nothing in the New Testament that would lead us to conclude Timothy was a pastor. Nothing. Tradition has given us that idea, not scripture. Top-heavy church tradition steeped in man-made top-down authority perpetuates that idea. It’s not in scripture. Think about it. If those with supposed authority want to keep that authority (and most do), what better way than to put poor Timothy in the same category as they view themselves and then insist verse-by-verse preaching of the Bible from the pastor is “biblical” because Paul told Timothy “preach the word,” meaning preach the Bible from a podium and tell the lowly laity what they need to be doing and believing, especially as it relates to the perpetuity of the institution and the preachers tight grip on their top-down authority. That’s what I did and what I thought was right, because I was trained to think it was right. I acknowledge there are exceptions but I’m being candid to make my point.

Preach The Word?

What did Paul mean when he told Timothy, one of his co-workers in the gospel, to preach the word? It couldn’t have meant Continue reading