Many people feel that the pulpit is a place for authoritative proclamation. However many people also believe that the pulpit gives a man that authority and allowing someone into the “pulpit” who isn’t allowed to exercise authority over the sheep, an authority that the pulpit gives them, is seen as a great sin.
There are several problems with this view. The first problem is an obvious one, in that there is no such thing as a pulpit in the Scriptures. Christianity Today says this about the pulpit:
Pulpits, which are associated with traditional churches today, haven’t always been included in churches. In the earliest days of the church, Christians met in homes. In the Middle Ages, pulpits were installed in churches, but sermons rarely were preached out of them…The pulpit became more prominent during the Protestant Reformation, when the preaching of God’s Word became the primary ingredient of worship. The pulpit became more than a place to stand or a structure on which to place notes and a Bible. It became a symbol of the authority of the Bible, the church, and the preacher.
So the pulpit as a symbol of authority is a modern invention not found in the Bible at all. Many years into the church age what originally was just a piece of furniture convenient to hold one’s notes, has become the symbol of the authority of the speaker. Somewhere along the way, it appears that the authority of the Word of God which held preeminence during the Protestant Reformation, has been transferred to the messenger. In our day the word “pulpit” is synonymous for church authority:
(The term) From the pulpit is often used metaphorically for something which is said with official church authority.
This taking of authority to the man instead of the authority remaining on the Scriptures is a repeat of a very old problem.
Jeremiah 5:31 The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule on their own authority; And My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?
The word here in the Hebrew translated as “rule” is the Hebrew word #7287 and means:
bear rule, or take into their hands. A verb meaning to rule, to have dominion, to subjugate. This Hebrew word conveys the notion of exercising domain, whether legitimate or not, over those who are powerless or otherwise under one’s control. It is related as the exercise of authority by the priesthood (Jer 5:31); by slave owners over their slaves (Lev 25:43); by supervisors over their workers (1Kings 9:23); and by a king over his kingdom (1Ki 4:24 [5:4]). Theologically significant is the use of this word to identify people’s God-ordained relationship to the created world around them (Gen 1:26, Gen 1:28).
Note that the “rule” as originally given to the man and the woman was over the created world and it was not given as a rule over people. Yet now authority is being used to “rule” the people and taking authority over others is expected.
Is this what the Scriptures teach? Is there a mandate for men to take authority over other Christians in the church? Jesus said:
Matthew 20:25-27 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;”
Jesus turns the whole authority issue completely on its head by forbidding the leadership in the church from exercising authority over the sheep. Instead of exercising authority, true leaders are to exercise a sacrificial servant heart.
How is authority that resides in the Word to be exercised? We have received authority to employ, exercise and use our own gift for the benefit of the body of Christ.
1 Peter 4:10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
1 Peter 4:11 Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Whoever has been gifted in speaking is to speak as speaking the very utterances or oracles of God. The one who has been gifted to minister or pastor is to serve by the strength and empowering that God supplies. The authority is in the Word of God and the authority a person possesses from the Word is the authority to use their gift for the glory of God. There is nothing in these passages that tells one to take authority over another believer.
The issue of authority in the church is not meant to be authority in the person. The authority is to be in the Word of God which gives us authority to use our gifts.
Because authority is not exercised over another believer, the body of Christ is now free to exercise their obligation to test all things and to hold fast to what is good. 1 Thess. 5:21
The pulpit doesn’t give one the authorization to give out authoritative proclamations – God’s word does. God’s gifts are not hindered nor does the authority lie in the hand of man. No human authority can remove a person’s God-given gift or their ability to use that gift for the glory of God.
The Baptist Press quotes Carolyn Hale Cubbedge:
“We answer to a higher power, a higher authority than the local association … and I think God will hold us responsible for how we face our opponents, and how we represent the God we say is calling us.”
Men and women of God are authorized to give out the message of the Gospel and to bring Jesus glory by ministering in his name. It is time that we set aside the issue of man-made authority and its focus on the pulpit and instead turn away from the world’s system to see authority God’s way.
I like the way that Anne Graham Lotz ministers in her gift as an evangelist. She takes the authority God has given her to speak forth the oracles of God by saying “Just give me Jesus”. The podium she stands behind is in the shape of a cross with a small holder for her notes.
It symbolizes the power of the cross and the authority of the message. It is time that we come back to the way of the Master by seeing the authority in the message and in the Giver of the gifts.
When we see authority God’s way, we will never again take authority upon ourselves to stop a woman from using the gift and the authority that God has given her to speak forth the Word of God.