The pulpit usage, placement, and content is largely cultural and denominationally dependent. Yet in all cases, one should be mindful of the scripture that says all things are lawful for me but not all things are expedient (best) for me. One should also be mindful of the biblical principle that a little leaven leavens the whole lump.
The pulpit (physical or virtual, raised or floor level, called a platform or not) is as symbol of spiritual authority within the assembly of believers The pulpit is well understood to be used by ordained ministers and non-ordained licensed ministers. Some people use the term clergy to refer to ordained ministers. Unlicensed ministers should not be allowed to occupy the pulpit. Unlicensed ministers should be given training in pulpit etiquette and other matters as part of the licensing process before occupying the pulpit for the protection and sake of the church leadership, unlicensed minister, and congregation and good order and discipline.
In this day and time, people have varying and profoundly different understandings of who biblically may be present in the pulpit. This includes whether clergy-only, laity, females, deacons, and non-preacher dignitaries such as politicians should be allowed to occupy the pulpit singularly or in conjunction with others. Some denominations and/or local churches permit females to occupy the pulpit. Some if not all Catholic and United Methodist Churches treat Deacons as part of clergy and allow them to occupy the pulpit; but, they do so as recognized preaching-deacons. Also in the Jewish tradition the laity may conduct worship services even if no Rabbi is present where a Rabbi is considered clergy. Indeed, it is generally acceptable for associate ministers to occupy the pulpit even though they generally are perceived as not having any rulership authority although they may be in training for eldership.
In 2 Kings 11:14 and 2 Kings 23:1-3, the King stands by a pillar and reads the book of the Law. In Nehemiah 9:4 the priests are stated as standing upon stairs calling unto the Lord. However the model for the modern day pulpit is largely as found in Nehemiah 8:1-4, 5-8, where the only use of the word pulpit (Nehemiah 8:4) occurs in the KJV. In these scriptures Ezra the scribe and priest (Nehemiah 8:1, 2) and his associates (Nehemiah 8:4, 7) spoke before the congregation both of men and women (Nehemiah 8:2); this occurred in the street rather than in a building (Nehemiah 8:3). Ezra stood on a pulpit of wood above the people along with a number of associates and spoke to the people which stood up to hear (Nehemiah 8:4-5). These associates (Nehemiah 8:4, 7) are viewed largely as priests since some of the same names (Nehemiah 8:7) are listed in Nehemiah 9:4. This elevated pulpit provided bidirectional enhanced visibility to the clergy and congregation.
Indeed Jesus went into the synagogue and stood up to read the scroll/book of Isaiah and then set down to expound on what he had read (Luke 4:16-21). Here, it does not say whether he used a pulpit or not.
It is intuitively and scripturally obvious that one does not need a pulpit to preach or teach. Indeed, the early church met in homes where one would not expect a pulpit to be used or necessary, certainly not an elevated one. Moreover, Jesus often preached to people outside; one certainly would not have expected him to have a mobile physical pulpit which he or his disciples carried from place to place.
One should also be mindful that where one sits relative to another does not determine the measure of authority one has over another. For example, a person sitting in the “pulpit” does not mean that person has authority over a person sitting in the “pew”. Similarly, a person sitting in the front row does not necessarily mean that person has authority over a person sitting in the back row. Ministers should be confident and comfortable in their position/authority/calling in Christ Jesus and employ that position/authority/calling only when essential to do so. Proper demonstration of love, meekness and humility are always appropriate.
So then the question is if one has a pulpit, is there a biblical mandate that certain restrictions be placed on the use of the pulpit or are certain restrictions completely up to the assembly authorities?
The Bible does not seem to prescribe a commandment as to how to employ a pulpit. Therefore, its form, usage and method of usage is best viewed as up to assembly authorities within the constraints of biblical principles. This means it may be elevated or non-elevated although usually elevated. This means different assembly authorities may choose to allow Bishops as well as Deacons in the pulpit when Deacons are considered part of the clergy since the pulpit concept is designed for the clergy in contrast to laity. They may do so and yet be doctrinally sound.
For the sake of good order and discipline the senior minister who called the assembly should determine the policy consistent with biblical principles not solely personal or family member (e.g., mother, wife, sister, daughter) or other persons preferences as to who occupies the pulpit. Respect for his decision should be heavily weighed by all other ministers and attendees. If a rebuke is considered, one should weigh whether the circumstance is best corrected through private rather than public rebuke.
In all cases, the pulpit should represent an emphasis, focus, honoring, and/or authority of the Word of God in contrast to emphasizing, focusing on, honoring, and/or authority of persons, preachers, positions, etc.
Note that whether one is inside or outside the pulpit one is still required to abide by clear biblical doctrinal principles.
The provisions herein apply to the pulpit proper as well as extensions thereof, e.g., pews set aside for special seatings in the assembly.
Having said the above let me briefly address the special case of females in the pulpit. In so doing, let us remember that above I mentioned that the Bible does not seem to prescribe a commandment as to how to employ a pulpit. Therefore, its form, usage and method of usage is best viewed as up to assembly authorities within the constraints of biblical principles. The key is within the constraints of biblical principles. As I said the pulpit (physical or virtual, raised or floor level, called a platform or not) is a symbol of spiritual authority in the assembly of believers. The Holy Bible establishes that females are not to have spiritual authority over males in the home and church assembly (Gen 2:18-25; 1 Peter 3:1-11; Ephesians 5:1-10, 21-33; 1 Timothy 2:9-15; 1 Cor 11:1-16); yet, they are given the very important role of ministering to women concerning family matters (Titus 2:3-5). Therefore, any female who is in the pulpit is out of biblical order, whether her husband is present in the pulpit or not. Female presence in the pulpit will undoubtedly sometimes give such females and congregations (present one and/or other congregations) the notion that it is biblically proper for females to head local churches and other spiritual assemblies. Females have the God assigned important role of being godly wives and teaching other females to be the same (Titus 2:3-5).None of the above prevents a female from being a witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in other biblically prescribed/permitted capacities. None of the above applies to a business activity whose focus is not preaching/teaching spiritual matters (e.g., Proverbs 31:10-31) though such activities like all activities at times involve the application of spiritual principles Likewise, any male who supports a violation of this male headship principle is out of biblical order.
For information on women in the ministry see Of Male Headship and Women in Ministry
For an example of a pulpit arrangement of which one might not be familiar see Pulpit Example
For information on pulpits in the Jewish Synagogue see Pulpit entry in the Jewish Encyclopedia
For information on the pulpit as a function rather than a physical place see The Pulpit It’s Place and Function,
To God Be the Glory!