Church seating arrangments for church officers (specifically elders)

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crossbearer89

Puritan Board Freshman
Hello, I wanted to know what was the reformed view regarding a raised platform with a designated area for preachers to sit during church services. Does a raised platform, a stage (usually where the pulpit is located), with seats for just the elders (and perhaps there wives) a biblically sensible thing to do? What is the reformed tradition on such a structure? I have heard a thing or two said about seating arrangments for elders and deacons, but not much. I ask because it seems important, and for other reasons. Thank you.

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OttoNeubauer

Puritan Board Freshman
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:1-12, ESV)

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:7-11, ESV)
IDK what the Reformed tradition is, but here are two verses that lead me to believe that elders should sit among the congregation.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
It makes practical sense for the preacher to sit near the pulpit, although I know of one well know pastor who used to sit on the second or third row with his wife. I've never run across a preacher's wife sitting up on the platform with him.
 

crossbearer89

Puritan Board Freshman
Matthew 23:1-12 pretty much settles it for me. I did not ask for scripture proof because I simply didn't think there was much on the issue. What if a pastor does this for reasons other than pride, which seems to be the reason why Jesus condemns this practice?

My pastor sits in the front row, usually on the pew to the right (there are three columns of rows). I assume he does this for practical reasons and to be out of the way by not sitting in the middle. I notice pastors wives (rarely) sitting with the pastors in black churches mainly, perhaps its a cultural thing.
 

Caroline

Puritan Board Sophomore
I think it is just being near the pulpit sometimes. In our church, the pastor and whichever elder is helping lead the service sit on a sort of bench to the side of the pulpit, taking turns approaching the pulpit at the appropriate time in the liturgy--until the sermon starts, then the elder returns to the seat in the congregation. It's nothing so ornate as the picture, though. It's just a bench with an orange cushion. I always say they look like somebody put them in time out.

Those really ornate chairs are common in Pentecostal churches, though. I saw one at a Reformed church at a special event, and it was all surrounded by flowers and looked so absurd that my husband and I convinced our pastor to run up there and sit in it while we took his picture (after the event was over, of course). I still have that pic somewhere. It's hilarious.

I think it kind of depends on why things are the way they are. I went to Presbytery and saw two other ornate chairs, and they were up there because they were the last remnants of the church's origins. It's very much a historical thing in some places, and although I think it is funny (in the same way that powdered wigs are hilarious in retrospect), I don't think I'd stir up trouble over it if it was just a history thing. If there was really some pastor-worshipping going on, that'd be different. But then that's the problem, not the chairs per se.
 

augustacarguy

Puritan Board Freshman
I think any special or reserved seating for the elders could promote envy in the congregation and perhaps an air of superiority among the elders. I can't see a valid reason to do this.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Seating for elders on the podium was a somewhat common practice in the Dutch-tradition (CRC) churches I knew in my childhood. I never took it to be about showing the elders honor, but rather about demonstrating that they were in charge of the service.

When my dad, a missionary, visited those churches and preached in them, he was often grilled by the elders ahead of time about his sermon. Then once he actually started preaching, he often felt like those elders sitting behind him were just waiting for him to say something not quite theologically correct so they could stand up and save the church from bad doctrine by correcting him on the spot. That never actually happened, but some of those elders did have the look of men who were ready for that. Needless to say, dad was not thrilled by the practice of having elders on the podium.
 

SolaSaint

Puritan Board Sophomore
You could always follow the Paul Crouch model and purchase a large fluffy maroon couch framed in gold with fancy tassels for 3 or 4 of your fellow pastors to sit and howl at your preaching..
 

GloriousBoaz

Puritan Board Freshman
or bean bag chairs

But seriously :

7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” ~Luke 14

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your [a]assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you [c]pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil [d]motives? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor [e]of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and [f]personally drag you into [g]court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name [h]by which you have been called?

8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the [j]law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole [k]law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. ~ James 2
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Seriously, it depends on the reasons for the practice and the hearts of the elders. The elders do have positions of authority and it's okay, often good, for this to be visibly recognized in many ways. To do so is not the same thing as grabbing honor for oneself. Don't automatically interpret it as such.

However, even good recognition can very easily turn into honor-grabbing sin. A man can be given a seat in front of the congregation and remain humble, but it isn't easy. If it were me, I think I'd rather sit with the rest of the congregation.
 

Cymro

Puritan Board Junior
Not knowing the American practice but only the Scottish and Welsh
form, I would condone the seating of Elders around the Pulpit. The
positioning of the oversight in what we call the 'big seat,'(a semi circle
around the base of the pulpit) visibly demonstrates their identifying
with the Minister; identifying with the authority of the Word; their subjection
to that Word, and presenting a solid phalanx of their faith and service to the
Head of the Church before the congregation.
I think this has a biblical foundation in Nehemiah8:4-13. They made a pulpit of wood
for Ezra to stand on, he opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above
the people. Thus the word was over and above the people. But he was accompanied
on his right and left hand with officers of the church. We are told that they also caused
the people to understand the law, and to understand the reading. An elder is apt to teach.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
To go a bit further afield in a couple of directions, the seating arrangements aren't the biggest problem that I see. Is that a 'picture of Jesus' hanging on the wall?

And in the other direction, the esthetics of the room could use some work. The stage is too crowded. If they want 4 chairs up there, move out the thrones in favor of something smaller (they'd probably work well in the church parlor), or keep a couple of the chairs (for the preacher and the person assisting with the service, and move the other two off the stage to floor level. Given the rail fencing the table, it does look like it is more practical to have seating on the stage than for the pastor to come up from a pew. And is that a large mirror over the organ console? It needs to be relegated to the bride's room (or whatever is used for that purpose) with a much smaller parabolic mirror installed to assist the organist.

Having said that, these kinds of changes are very difficult for a pastor to implement.
 

Bill The Baptist

Puritan Board Graduate
I don't mind the chairs up on the platform so much, but what I truly hate is the new trend of pastors preaching while sitting in a chair. David Platt does this and it drives me nuts.
 

py3ak

They're stalling and plotting against me
Staff member
I don't mind the chairs up on the platform so much, but what I truly hate is the new trend of pastors preaching while sitting in a chair. David Platt does this and it drives me nuts.
Would it help if he were in a boat?
 

Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
I prefer to sit with my wife and son. The times I've needed to go up to the pulpit (for praying), I simply walk up there. It takes all of 20 seconds.
 

crossbearer89

Puritan Board Freshman
Yeah, in the churches where I have seen this happen it seemed helpful to me. I think it bothers me more when I see it done with extravagance, like you would see on tbn, where you KNOW the elders of that church want to display their superiority over the congregation. I guess you're reasons can be practical, prideful, or didactic and you don't have to necessary charge godly elders with pride for doing it.

Edward, this isn't my church I just found a picture online. I don't agree with having images of Christ either.
 

crossbearer89

Puritan Board Freshman
I don't mind the chairs up on the platform so much, but what I truly hate is the new trend of pastors preaching while sitting in a chair. David Platt does this and it drives me nuts.
Lol, yeah I'm not sure why someone as young as David Platt would do that.. but i know Charles Stanley does it. I always assumed he did it because he had weak knees or something of the sort, idk.
 

Bill The Baptist

Puritan Board Graduate
I don't mind the chairs up on the platform so much, but what I truly hate is the new trend of pastors preaching while sitting in a chair. David Platt does this and it drives me nuts.
Lol, yeah I'm not sure why someone as young as David Platt would do that.. but i know Charles Stanley does it. I always assumed he did it because he had weak knees or something of the sort, idk.
Stanley might have gotten the idea from his son, who also does it, but Charles Stanley will at least stand up for most of the sermon, so I think you are right that it probably has to do with his advanced age.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
Some of y'all taking the "we're all equals here" approach might be surprised to consider that many of the New England Puritan churches had the entire congregation seated by rank in the community, with the pastor's wife front, center, and sometimes facing the congregation. While I'm not comfortable with community ranking being reflected in the church, I see no reason to infer pride from the way leaders are seated. When I see men seated up front as they lead worship, I see "responsibility," "accountability before God," and other scary things -- never pride, unless a man's personal life dictates otherwise; I suppose I've been blessed to be in churches where that was never the case.
 

Scottish Lass

Puritan Board Doctor
I prefer to sit with my wife and son. The times I've needed to go up to the pulpit (for praying), I simply walk up there. It takes all of 20 seconds.
This is what our elders do, too, whether it's for scripture reading, the offering, serving the Lord's Supper, etc.
 

py3ak

They're stalling and plotting against me
Staff member
And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.
 

Bill The Baptist

Puritan Board Graduate
And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.
Ok, I got you. But I think that was for a far more practical reason, such as not falling out of the boat. Sitting down while preaching just seems to me to project an air of casualness that does not befit the importance of the message. When I say casualness, I am not talking about style of dress, I am talking about the urgency and seriousness of the message. As Paul Washer says, we should preach like dying men to dying people.
 

Mr. Bultitude

Puritan Board Freshman
Ok, I got you. But I think that was for a far more practical reason, such as not falling out of the boat. Sitting down while preaching just seems to me to project an air of casualness that does not befit the importance of the message. When I say casualness, I am not talking about style of dress, I am talking about the urgency and seriousness of the message. As Paul Washer says, we should preach like dying men to dying people.
It was also the old synagogue practice to sit down to deliver a message. See Luke 4 where Jesus does this, for example.
 

py3ak

They're stalling and plotting against me
Staff member
And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.
Ok, I got you. But I think that was for a far more practical reason, such as not falling out of the boat. Sitting down while preaching just seems to me to project an air of casualness that does not befit the importance of the message. When I say casualness, I am not talking about style of dress, I am talking about the urgency and seriousness of the message. As Paul Washer says, we should preach like dying men to dying people.
I would consult Matthew 5:1 before making this a principle.

Paul Washer gets that from Richard Baxter, incidentally, though whether directly or through one of many mediators I don't know.
 

reaganmarsh

Puritan Board Senior
A few thoughts:

1 - regarding the mirror, the choir director most likely stands behind the organist. It's at an angle so the organist may watch the choir director's cues. (Obviously this is a non-RPW congregation!)
2 - I've read somewhere early Baptists in America often had their elders seated before the congregation as a matter of accountability and "knowing them that labor among you."
3 - I've also read that Spurgeon's deacons followed him out in a procession of sorts at the beginning of the service, and sat in a row facing the congregation, though I can't remember whether they were behind him or on the floor in front of him.

I know that none of these comments add to a biblical understanding of the practice, but they may help give some practical and historical context.

At our church, from "day one," the deacons asked me to sit on a very short pew on the stage as the minister overseeing the worship service. (Apparently this had been a significant source of contention with a previous pastor.) It is one of the sweet moments of my week to look at our congregation as we sing and honor the Lord together.
 

Unoriginalname

Puritan Board Junior
I know the point has been made by many different writers of varying degrees of orthodoxy but there is truth to the notion that the way we arrange a sanctuary reflects our view of worship. A Catholic Church has the Altar in the center for a reason. Likewise having the entire session in eye shot sends some type of message.
 

Clark-Tillian

Puritan Board Freshman
The church I serve was established in 1799 and the current building was hand-built in 1842, with remodeling along the way. It has a raised platform and split chancel. The platform isn't very high--two steps. It makes sense for my chair to be directly behind the pulpit for access. The slight raise allows for better eye contact while preaching and leading worship, which is imperative. As for the Ruling Elders they are with their families. They sit in the first pew only during the Lord's Supper portion of the service, which is 10x per annum.
 
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