In the early chapters of Herman Melville’s classic novel, Moby Dick, Ishmael visits a worship service before joining a ship’s crew and heading out on his whaling expedition. The architecture of the church building he enters has a nautical theme and the pulpit is fashioned to resemble the bow of a ship. Ishmael comments on the propriety of this design:
For the pulpit is ever this earth’s foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God’s quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favourable winds. Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.
Certainly Melville wrote that passage in an age where both the man behind the pulpit and the message preached from it were considered much more necessary and relevant to the concerns of the “real world” than they are today. However, the truth of this commentary has not changed. The pulpit still leads the world. If the whole world has gone to Hell, it is the pulpit that has lead it there.
God has placed His Church in a position of leadership over the world and has ordered things in such a way that the Church is set at the vanguard of culture and society. The world sits down-stream from the Church so that whatever we pour in the water up here flows out into the world way down there, for better or for worse. It is easy to see how this worked under the Old Covenant. Yahweh commanded Israel to sacrifice seventy bulls at the Feast of Tabernacles, presumably one bull for each of the nations of the world (Genesis 10). In doing this, Yahweh established Israel to intercede and worship on behalf of the whole earth. Whenever Israel obeyed, the world was blessed. But when Israel rebelled, the world suffered tyranny and famine.
The Church holds this position today. A friend of mine has commented that women were in pulpits long before they were in the seats of fighter jets. It was the Church that first got the roles of men and women confused and despised God’s good order. It is the world that now suffers from gender dysphoria. It was the Church that first proclaimed that the sky was falling. It is the world that now is gripped in the anxiety of environmental collapse and the zombie apocalypse. The pulpit is at the earth’s foremost part, all the rest comes in its rear.
When the Church takes seriously what Jesus has done and follows Him in doing what He said, the world is blessed. Remember in the confrontation with the priests of Baal, Elijah poured water on the altar and on the ground all around it. God responded later by sending rain on the entire land. What we do obediently in worship later blesses the whole earth. Remember Gideon’s fleece was first soaked with dew and the floor around it was dry. The second day, the fleece was dry and the floor around it was wet. The blessing and anointing first rests upon the sheep, but eventually the whole world.
So rather than clicking our tongues at how disgusting sitcoms and shopping malls have become, we ought to realize that we are actually looking in a mirror. This is the culture that the Church has created, and judgment begins at the house of God.
— Originally published on Highland Ministries Blog on May 25, 2017.
About Duane Garner
Duane Garner is the pastor of Christ Church in Cary, NC. He and his wife Sarah have two children. View more posts from Duane Garner on the Highland Ministries Blog / Duane Garner.