Books and Pews

I’ll be back soon with another hermeneutics post.

In the meantime, those of you who are interested should go check out the Bargains page at They’ve got 70-80% discounts on individual volumes in a number of commentary sets (Interpretation, Continental Commentary, Old Testament Library, New Testament Library, and so forth). I took the opportunity to beef up my Old Testament holdings.


Now for something completely different. File this under “liturgical/spatial discussions we’ll never have but probably should.” I follow Macrina Walker’s “A vow of conversation” blog. It’s predominantly made up of substantive comment on her readings from the Fathers, as well as contemporary Orthodox theology (check out her series on John Zizoulas’ Being as Communion).

From a recent post comes this snippet:

A couple of months ago I thought of posting something that asked: What is it about Protestants and pews? By strange coincidence, in a fairly short course of time as I had been investigating some South African Christian blogs, I had come across three rather negative references to pews from Protestant Christians. And what struck me was that although they all used pews as a symbol for something negative, none of them seemed to question the inevitability of pews. From an evangelical-cum-conservative perspective pews seemed to symbolise routine and lack of commitment (those attending church were seen as simply “pew warmers”) while from a more liberal-cum-engaged in the world perspective, pews seemed to symbolise a “churchiness” that was separated from the world. And yet nobody seemed to see what to me would have been the obvious solution: if pews are such a problem, then why not get rid of them?

Indeed. Why not get rid of them? She goes on to link a couple of further discussions of this issue.  One comes from a Russian Orthodox periodical. There the writer draws a connection between worship and the body that’s really helpful, I think.

The other is an 1841 essay by John Mason Neale (you’ll recognize Neale from your hymnals; he’s responsible for “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” an English translation of the Latin “O Antiphons”) on the history of pews. Neale writes, “For what is the HISTORY OF PUES, but the history of the intrusion of human pride, and selfishness, and indolence, into the worship of GOD?”

This is interesting to me because it’s one of the implications of a certain view of the body. The body, that is, is involved in worship, not just the mouth or the mind. Worship, in other words, does not take place solely “in my heart.” Bringing this back around to a research interest of mine, I think this is what John T. Lewis is getting at (even if he doesn’t go to these lengths) with his concern about prayer posture and reverence in worship.


6 responses to “Books and Pews

  1. I’m kind of fond of the idea of theatre-style seating. Maybe with a fold up desk for taking notes. 🙂


    Let us keep the feast: Being plain chapters on the Lord’s Supper

    by Joseph Bryant Rotherham

    seasonal greetings

  3. Hi Jim,

    A quick search of some online book dealers (ABE, Alibris, Amazon) didn’t turn up anything for me. I got my personal copy by checking it out of a library (through interlibrary loan) and then xeroxing it. Not quite the same, I know, but in a pinch it’ll do.

    Good luck!

  4. Reminds me of the old Anglican instruction to kneel to pray, stand to sing and sit for everything else.

    • Yeah, I guess so. I’m not sure exactly what Neale wanted. Perhaps something like many Orthodox churches have: open space with benches around the walls for the elderly.

      Good to see you here, Ken. (Also pleased to see that my spam filter is not blocking your comments.) I was wondering if you were still around.

      • Yeah, I’m still around. I’ve left the Restoration Movement and have been confirmed in the Anglican Catholic Church. I still worship with my wife regularly at a local church of Christ (she’s still coC). However, I still still have some interest in RM history and doctrine.

        We’ve relocated to Virginia a year ago for a new job.

        Question for you: should the word order of the Greek in Col. 3:16 have any impact on the coC reason for excluding instruments in worship?

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