Divided Pulpits and Divided Churches

EDITORIAL KEYNOTES: Divided Pulpits and Divided Churches

History and usage of the Pulpit

This journal has, on previous occasions, frankly set forth the architectural significance and historical origin of the divided pulpit—that is, the pulpit on one side and the lectern on the other, with the altar in the center. This definitely springs from Catholic parentage, where this concept predominates—with the altar and the ritual of the mass exalted, and the pulpit and the sermon, or the preaching of the Word, subordinated and pushed to the side. And those Protestant communions that most nearly simulate Catholic form and ceremony, the Anglican and the Lutheran, are usually to be found perpetuating or emphasizing this concept and trend. Sometimes in Protestant churches the communion table has been substituted for the altar, but usually it is the altar that is central.

And in the distinctly Romeward trend in certain other sections of distinctly evangelical Protestantism the swing to altar-centered, di vided-pulpit architecture is one of the characteristic current steps away from rugged, historical Protestantism, with its pulpit-centered architecture and Bible-preaching emphasis. This following-after-Rome movement is subtle, and the arguments are alluring at first glance— aesthetic beauty of architecture and symmetry, and superiority of worship, and the example of all the great and grand cathedrals. Catholic and Anglican have this form of construction. Pro- Catholic church architects are persistently pushing the idea, as their books reveal, and are finding willing Protestant ears and action. The idea is gaining definite ground among Protestant churches that have lost their evangelistic mission and message, and are turning as a substitute to the "enriching" and "beautifying" of their own worship for personal edification, to hold and enthrall the people with form and ritual. It is an effective line of reasoning and action, and distinctive Protestantism is sub merged in the current.

Curiously but logically enough, a more ornate, cold, stately music normally goes along with the divided pulpit as its handmaiden. This too is patterned after those ritualistic churches that press for aesthetics, with messageless music that matches the architecture and the form. Beautiful but devoid of moving power, it fits perfectly into the picture. But it leaves the heart without a glow and the spirit without life. And, most serious of all, a new type of preaching—erudite, ornate, but detached from the throbbing heart of the everlasting gospel that saves—tends to follow along with the architecture and the music.

Patterning after formalisjn's architecture and formalism's music, the almost unconscious tendency is to ape formalism's sermon emphasis and the dominant note of the popular churches. Even distinctive Adventism is being touched in the process. Not only is a portion of Protestant ism definitely and deliberately reaching hands across the gulf in these less flagrant compromises and departures, but occasionally some of our own churches feel the alluring pull of the undertow, and are attracted in that direction. This is plainly recognized and is resisted by some, both in the pew and in the choir.

Hence it follows that the divided pulpit tends to be followed by a divided church and a divided choir, or, more accurately, a division over the choir and the music. Partisanship becomes intense. Adherents to the proritual concept, of the Anglican and Lutheran type, are ardent in their support of this "superior" worship. On the other hand, conscientious adherents to the principles of the simple, Bible-centered, spiritual, saving, Protestant gospel and its attendant music and preaching, deplore and resist such compromises and encroachments. Partisan feelings and alignments follow, and divided congregations result. This very aftermath should indicate the peril of the trend. We are to press together in unity, not to pull apart.

This recital is not a happy picture. Fortunately the situation is not widespread. Nevertheless, it is a distinct trend that is not always sensed by the congregation, or even by the preacher. This journal would be derelict to its duty were it to neglect to point out the significance of it all, and to warn against these first steps in architecture, music, and message that lead away from the founding spirit and essence of this message, which arose in the providence of God to call men and women out, among other things, from the very spirit and form that now seeks to entice some of our own ministers and musicians away from our clear founding plat form, and the true Protestant position concerning Rome and all her accouterments, as well as from those Protestants who pattern most nearly after her.

 

 


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February 1950

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