Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Pathology of the Pulpit

The Pathology of the Pulpit 1
Don Atkin   

Have you ever heard of “the sacred desk?” In some circles, “the sacred desk” has truly become “a sacred cow!” This is one of the principal diseases stunting the growth of the body of Christ.

In it original intent, the pulpit (or table or stand) was simply used for Bibles, notes, etc., for the ministry of God’s word. The sickness comes in to play when people begin to worship the pulpit itself as having some direct connection to deity. Religious ignorance, superstition, often plays into the devil’s hand by giving sacred status and credibility to pulpits, pews, buildings and properties that have no power for life or for death within them. Religious zeal vigorously defends their status, and the same religious zeal—on the other side of the coin—opposes giving them such status with the same vigor.

“Don’t take the godless nations as your models. Don’t be impressed by their glamour and glitz, no matter how much they are impressed.

The religion of these people is nothing but smoke. An idol is nothing but a tree chopped down, then shaped by a woodsman’s ax. They trim it with tinsel and balls, use hammer and nails to keep it upright.

It’s like a scarecrow in a cabbage patch—can’t talk! Deadwood that has to be carried—can’t walk! Don’t be impressed by such stuff. It’s useless for either good or evil.” 2

These verses put pulpits and Christmas trees under the same scrutiny. Neither has any power for good or for evil. Why do Christian people, and with significant kingdom opportunities and responsibilities, get so distracted and waste their lives in such irrelevant arguments? As a good friend often says, “I don’t have a dog in this fight!”

“This may step on a lot of toes but a performance with preaching on Sunday mornings (or
Saturday for some) is not conducive to a changed life or a responsive body. If the body wants to have a gathering where they praise, preach and pass the plate, fine, but if that is your sole model of church and where you think the most important work is done, then you have a bankrupt model of church. Our society today is reflective of that bankruptcy, and we must make some changes now. It is the fourth quarter and we are down by twenty…it is time for a shift. I believe that organic church is not a model but a mindset that can work in any model…but will work better in some models than others.” 3

“The organic church is not a model but a mindset that can work in any model…but will work better in some models than others.”

We would need to remove many passages from New Covenant Scripture to biblically defend the body of Christ as anything other than organic. We are organs of Christ’s many-membered body. Structure and organization are necessary for the proper functioning of its members, much like bones, sinews, etc., are necessary for the functioning of the human body.

Ezekiel’s vision helps our understanding:

I prophesied just as I’d been commanded. As I prophesied, there was a sound and, oh, rustling!

The bones moved and came together, bone to bone. I kept watching. Sinews formed, then muscles on the bones, then skin stretched over them. But they had no breath in them.

He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man. Tell the breath, ‘God, the Master, says, Come from the four winds. Come, breath. Breathe on these slain bodies. Breathe life!’”

So I prophesied, just as He commanded me. The breath entered them and they came alive! They stood up on their feet, a huge army. 4

So many bones today are crying out for the breath of God, but do not yet understand, or are not yet willing to come together with other bones so that we may provide the skeletal basis for new sinews, muscle, skin and breath.

  • The sinews that connect and knit us together are the relational provisions of brotherhood supplied by our Father.
  • The muscles on the bones represent the power of the Holy Spirit enabling each part to do its share.
  • The (one) skin is the glory of God that increases as our many human identities decrease.

It is our insistence upon denominating titles, positions and structures that keep us divided and keep the breath of God from fully engaging us, in His life, in His body. That kind of hot breath that purifies us and orders our steps comes only as we embrace one another on the basis of God’s love shed abroad in our hearts. 5

Oh, to simply be parts—members—of Jesus’ body, relationally knit together in love, 6 strengthened by the power of His might, 7 and privileged to glorify Him in the earth! 8

No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for imposters. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth, and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow though us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love. 9

This is new creation language! I submit to you that Jesus did not equip His disciples from a pulpit. We will not see God’s prophetic kingdom and purpose for His church unless we come to grips with the pathology—study and diagnosis of the disease—caused by worshiping pulpits, buildings or any such thing.

There is nothing wrong with the practical use of pulpits, properties, homes or halls. There is nothing wrong with having leaders who serve us under the headship of Christ. It is error to give these things undue status, and, all the more, to put undue and unrealistic expectations upon them.

As Neil Cole so aptly wrote:

“A performance with preaching on Sunday mornings (or Saturday for some) is not conducive to a changed life or a responsive body.”

David Shirkey coined this clarification:

  • Teaching focuses on the subject and increases knowledge.
  • Training focuses on the task and increases skill.
  • Equipping focuses upon the person and increases capacity.

Teaching can come from behind a pulpit. But, knowledge alone does not automatically translate into skill, nor does it expand one’s capacity in Christ. Training can begin from behind a pulpit, but needs to quickly move into the laboratories of life for the increase and proving of skills. Equipping is all about increasing believers’ capacity to live as a new creation in the power of the Spirit.

Like Christmas trees, pulpits and homes and halls have only the life we give them. They have no life or power on their own. We can give them undue life and power by demanding them. We can also give them undue life and power by opposing them. Either extreme represents a pathological illness that is not a part of or party to a new creation.

1 Chapter 6 from “A Desperate World in the Hands of a New Creation” – available later this year.
2 Jeremiah 10:2-5 TM
3 Neil Cole
4 Ezekiel 37:7-10 TM
5 Romans 5:5
6 Ephesians 4:15-16
7 Acts 1:8
8 Numbers 14:21
9 Ephesians 4:14-16 TM

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