The Pew And Balcony

The pew is perhaps the greatest inhibitor of face-to-face fellowship. It is a symbol of lethargy and passivity in the contemporary church and has made corporate worship a spectator sport.'

The word pew is derived from the Latin podium. It means a seat raised up above floor level or a "balcony."'" Pews were unknown to the church building for the first thousand years of Christian history. In the early basilicas, the congregation stood throughout the entire ser-vice.177 (This is still the practice among many Eastern Orthodox.)'"

IMiddleton, New Wine in Old Wineskins, 76. Clowney and Clowney, Exploring Churches, 26.

Frank C. Senn, Christian Worship and Its Cultural Setting (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 45.

Owen Chadwick, The Reformation (London: Penguin Books, 1964), 422. In the sixteenth century, the pulpit was combined with the reading desk or lectern) to make a single structure—the "two decker." The reading desk was the lower-level part of the pulpit (Middleton, New Wine in Old Wineskins, 77). Senn, Christian Worship and Its Cultural Setting, 45.

Scott Gabrielson, "All Eyes to the Front: A Look at Pulpits Past and Present," Your Church, January/February 2002, 44.

James F. White, The Worldliness of Worship (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 43.

Cross and Livingstone, Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1271; Smith, Going to the Root. 81.

Davies, Secular Use of Church Buildings, 138. Occasionally a few wooden or stone benches were provided for the aged and sick.

Middleton, New Wine in Old W/neskins, 73.

By the thirteenth century, backless benches were gradually introduced into English parish buildings.'" These benches were made of stone and placed against the walls. They were then moved into the body of the building (the area called the nave).'" At first, the benches were arranged in a semicircle around the pulpit. Later they were fixed to the floor.'"

The modern pew was introduced in the fourteenth century, though it was not commonly found in churches until the fifteenth century. 182 At that time, wooden benches supplanted the stone seats.'" By the eighteenth century, box pews became popular.'

Box pews have a comical history. They were furnished with cushioned seats, carpets, and other accessories. They were sold to families and considered private property.'" Box-pew owners set out to make them as comfortable as possible.

Some decorated them with curtains, cushions, padded armchairs, fireplaces—even special compartments for pet dogs. It was not uncommon for owners to keep their pews sealed with lock and key. After much criticism from the clergy, these embellished pews were replaced with open seats.'"

Because box pews often had high sides, the pulpits had to be elevated so as to be seen by the people. Thus the "wineglass" pulpit was born during colonial times.'" Eighteenth-century family box pews were replaced with slip pews so that all the people faced the newly erected high platform where the pastor conducted the service.'"

So what is the pew? The meaning of the word tells it all. It is a lowered "balcony"—detached seating from which to watch performances on a stage (the pulpit). It immobilizes the congregation of

(bid., 74. By the end of the Middle Ages, these pews were elaborately decorated with pictures of saints and fanciful animals.

Norrington, To Preach or Not, 31;J. G. Davies, The Westminster Dictionary of Worship (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972), 312.

Doug Adams, Meeting House to Camp Meeting (Austin: The Sharing Company, 1981), 14.

Clowney and Clowney, Exploring Churches, 28.

Senn, Christian Liturgy, 215; Clowney and Clowney, Exploring Churches, 28.

Davies, Secular Use of Church Buildings, 138.

White, Protestant Worship and Church Architecture, 101.

Clowney and Clowney, Exploring Churches, 28.

Ibid.; Davies, Secular Use of Church Buildings, 139. Some clergymen attacked the abuse of pew decorum. One preacher is noted for giving a sermon lamenting the pew, saying that the congregation "wants nothing but beds to hear the Word of God on."

Middleton, New Wine in Old Wineskins, 74.

Adams, Meeting House to Camp Meeting, 14.

the saints and renders them mute spectators. It hinders face-to-face fellowship and interaction.

Galleries (or church balconies) were invented by the Germans in the sixteenth century. They were popularized by the Puritans in the eighteenth century. Since then balconies have become the trademark of the Protestant church building. Their purpose is to bring the congregation closer to the pulpit. Again, ensuring that congregants will be able to clearly hear the preacher has always been the main consideration in Protestant church design.'"


Over the last two hundred years, the two dominating architectural patterns employed by Protestant churches are the divided chancel form (used in liturgical churches) and the concert stage form (used in evangelical churches).1" The chancel is the area where the clergy (and sometimes the choir) conduct the service.' In the chancel-style church, a rail or screen that separates the clergy from the laity still exists.

The concert-style church building was profoundly influenced by nineteenth-century revivalism.'' It is essentially an auditorium. The building is structured to emphasize the dramatic performance of the preacher and the choir.'" Its structure implicitly suggests that the choir (or worship team) performs for the congregation to stimulate their worship or entertain them.'" It also calls excessive attention to the preacher whether he is standing or sitting.

In the concert-style building, a small Communion table may appear on the floor below the pulpit. The Communion table is typically decorated with brass candlesticks, a cross, and flowers. Two candles on the Communion table have become the sign of orthodoxy in most Protestant churches today. As with so many parts of the church

White, Protestant Worship and Church Architecture, 85, 107. Clowney and Clowney, Exploring Churches, 74.

White, Protestant Worship and Church Architecture, 118.

Clowney and Clowney, Exploring Churches, 17.

White, Pmtestant Worship and Church Architecture, 121ff.

Turner, From Temple to Meetmg House, 237, 241.

White, Protestant Worship and Church Architecture, 140.

service, the presence of candles was borrowed from the ceremonial court of the Roman Empire."'

Yet despite these variations, all Protestant architecture produces the same sterile effects that were present in the Constantinian basilicas. They continue to maintain the unbiblical division between clergy and laity. And they encourage the congregation to assume a spectator role. The arrangement and mood of the building conditions the congregation toward passivity. The pulpit platform acts like a stage, and the congregation occupies the theater.'" In short, Christian architecture has stalemated the functioning of God's people since it was born in the fourth century.

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