Today's Scripture Reading (January 28, 2021): Acts 13
The bully pulpit. The term was coined by President Theodore Roosevelt, who used the term to describe his office. The bully pulpit combined the term "bully," an adjective by which Roosevelt meant "superb" or "wonderful," and "pulpit," the traditional place from which a pastor or priest speaks out the message of God to the people. In Roosevelt's mind, the President's office was a terrific platform for which the first or lead politician could advocate for the things that he believed were important. The bully pulpit has become a sacred place, treasured by Presidents and Prime Ministers of many nations over the past century. It is where they get to stand and advocate for the good things that can be achieved if the people will just get behind the ideas they are putting forward.
And the bully pulpit has become a jealously guarded place, reserved for the elected political leaders. So is the pastor's pulpit. In contemporary times, pastors and churches tend to carefully guard who it is that they allow to speak from the pulpit of the church. But that has not always been the tradition. In times past, the pulpit, or the Jewish bema, was a place that was offered to visiting pastors and teachers. I can't imagine that the experience was without trepidation or that it always worked out well. Sometimes, the visiting leaders spoke encouragement, but sometimes they advocated for things that went against the existing leadership's prominent teachings.
But this was precisely the standard practice in the first-century Jewish Synagogues. Especially in the Gentile world, leaders would take advantage of visiting dignitaries who might bring a word of teaching to the Jews and God-fearers who had gathered. Paul's upbringing and education made him a coveted speaker among the synagogues of the diaspora. He was brought up as a Hebrew, a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin. He was a Pharisee, a group that was esteemed by the people for their piety. He had also been educated at the school of Gamaliel, one of the most prominent rabbis of the era.
The synagogue leader invites Paul and Silas to come and speak; to bring encouragement to the congregation. The synagogue's bully pulpit or terrific platform was surrendered to Paul, and whatever it was on which he would like to speak.
For Paul, the subject was obvious. Once the platform had been surrendered, Paul would use the pulpit to advocate for Jesus and invite those listening to join him in his passion for following the Messiah who had come. And even though he had been crucified, the resurrected Christ still actively led the church into a glorious future.
Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: Acts 14