Question and Answer

Position of Pulpit and Communion Table

Question:

There is a minor debate in my congregation about the arrangement of the furniture in the front of the sanctuary. The communion table is in the center, and the pulpit off to the side. The pastor wants the deacons to move the pulpit to the center and the communion table over to the side. He did give us some literature to support his position. My point is, debate over such matters as where the furniture is does, at first glance, sound rather trivial. What do you think?

Answer:

Since you're asking what I think, I can tell you:

(1) The arrangement of furniture in a place of worship is altogether a secondary matter and should not be allowed to create division in a church which is otherwise united in its devotion to Jesus Christ and adherence to His Word. In the Old Testament, God ordained a place of worship and strictly directed its architecture (both the tabernacle whose design was revealed by God to Moses and the temple whose plan was revealed to David). But in the new era, Christ told us that the hour is coming when place (and therefore buildings) will not be important, but worshiping in spirit and in truth. In the apostolic era congregations met in homes and rented halls, wherever it was convenient (and therefore adapted to the architecture available to them). There is no command to build church structures and certainly no revealed design for them. Churches are therefore free to use or not use such buildings as suits their resources and ministries.

(2) However, even in secondary matters we should seek to glorify God and submit ourselves to His Word to the best of our ability. The Westminster Confession, Chapter 1 (Of Holy Scripture), paragraph 6, says that "The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture, unto which nothing at any time is to be added ... and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed."

It would seem to me that such things as the architecture and furniture of the building in which a church meets for worship come under the heading of things "ordered by the light of nature," "Christian prudence," and "the general rules of the Word." As to the latter, the church must do all things decently and in order, that is arrive at a decision in an orderly manner. This does not mean a "democratic" free-for-all, but - perhaps after all interested persons have had the opportunity to express themselves decently and in order - a vote either of the congregation or of its board of elders or of a committee assigned with the task, and THEN everyone agrees to live with the decision in peace. Because the honor of Christ is more important than getting my way with the furniture.

Are there any other "general rules of the Word" that might apply? No doubt the books that were recommended talk about church history, the Reformation, the shift in public worship from the centrality of the sacrament of the Supper to the centrality of the reading and preaching of the Word. It is fitting for that to be reflected by the design of the place of worship (i.e., pulpit in the center, communion table - NOT altar - below the pulpit or to the side). That is fitting, I say, but not commanded. What is commanded is that the Word be truly central in the ministries of the church and in the life and hearts of the people of the church. If the Word is being soundly proclaimed by the minister(s), believed and obeyed by the people, I don't care if the pulpit is half way down a side aisle. And if all the architecture conforms to the ideal symbolism of Reformed Architecture (whatever that is), but the Word is not truly central in the heart and life of the church, of what use is that?

So, if the congregation can peacefully determine to realign its design for a Word-centered arrangement, well and good. But if the cost of struggling over that question is that Christ is lost in a quarrel over furniture, tragedy! Give serious thought to Galatians 5:13-15, and pray for the fruit of the Spirit to manifest itself in this discussion and its outcome.

I will pray for your congregation, that Christ will be exalted in this process.


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