Many modern preachers have discontinued the use of a pulpit, preferring instead to roam the stage freely sporting headset mics and using slide presentations. Fundamentalists, however, remain big fans of the old-fashioned pulpit and continue to put flowers in front of it and bestow upon it the title of the “sacred desk.”
The pulpit itself is no mere common piece of furniture for it has countless uses to the fundamentalist preacher. Among these are…
- Holder for the microphone for those churches where holding the mic in one’s hands is forbidden as a Freudian no-no.
- Resting spot for the ubiquitous cup of water that sits on it in testament to the fact that the preacher is no lightweight who will only be preaching for twenty minutes. He plans to preach until he is dry then preach some more.
- Place for the speaker to set his wide margin preaching Bible (KJV), his watch (a completely pointless gesture), his ream of sermon notes (if he is of the note-using school), and all of his source material (consisting of a single volume of Sword of the Lord illustrations and a book of Great Poems For Sermons.)
- Solid surface on which to pound while making dubious points. The rule is the thinner the argument the louder the preacher must yell and pound.
- Line of demarcation between an official speaker and someone just giving a talk. Women or divorced men, for example may be asked to speak from the floor instead of from the place of authority lest they profane that hallowed spot.
So synonymous is this wooden box with the pastor himself that the search for a new pastor is carried out by a “pulpit committee.” Beware to those who would handle it carelessly lest they be struck down.
Fundamentalists evangelists wear many different hats — not the least of which is the position of showman and entertainer. Most evangelists have some kind of hook, and act that is their signature. Ventriloquism, art, magic shows, karate (but the good kind not the evil eastern mysticism kind) demonstrations are par for the course. Many evangelists also sing and play instruments.
Now while some speakers will stick with guitar, piano, or trumpet others get a bit more…creative. You’ve never lived until you’ve been serenaded for 15 minutes by an accordion or heard How Great Thou Art scraped out on a muscial saw. But the prize for uniqueness goes to those few (including evangelist Hal Webb) who have mastered the art of playing the theremin.
For those of you who have never had the privilege of seeing one of these in action, the theremin is an instrument that has two antennas that adjust volume and pitch based on how far or close the players hands are to the antennas. So the evangelist literally moves his hands through the air in front of the instrument to produce the music. It’s the sort of thing that would have had you burned at the stake during the middle ages but makes for a great performance during special services. You can check out some video of one being played here
Once or twice a year, a fundamentalist church will hold a series of revival services. An evangelist or special speaker who is specially trained to give spiritual CPR will come into town and spend a few nights trying to get the church’s pulse going again. The fact that they are apparently so feeble that they needs periodic five-day-long jolts from a biblical defibrillator to keep them alive does not appear to bother fundies at all. They rather seem to enjoy it.
Revivals are a great time to combine a lot of fundy favorites: hard preaching, old fashioned altars, evangelist fish stories, and coming up with new things to feel guilty about. Throw in some special music and a few covered dish suppers and it’s a great time for everybody.
Another emphasis of revival services is bringing out lost people to hear the messages. This may strike some as odd since it would seem to be a contradiction in terms to try to ‘revive’ something that’s never been ‘vived’ in the first place. But the philosophy goes that if there’s preaching on sin going on, it’s a good idea to get a bunch of genuine sinners in to hear it. And there’s a reward Bible with your name on it if you can bring in the most.
Oh, Revive us again (and again, and again, and again).
Good fundamentalists would not be caught dead listening to Steven Curtis Chapman or Amy Grant (the most recent artists most of them have heard of) because of their evil beats and wicked contemporary associations. No matter how much Satan tempts them to enjoy the fleshly pleasures of CCM, the fundy will resist.
However, since good music is in short supply, fundies are willing to concede that the songs themselves might just be redeemable if one can sanctify the music by removing the drums, rewriting lyrics to remove heresy, and letting a male quartet sing it very, very slowly. God is most please with worship that nobody is enjoying.
This is hardly a new phenomenon. Dottie Rambo and Bill Gaither are now in the hymnbook. No doubt, Steve Green’s music will show up in Soul Stirring Songs and Hymns one day as if the songs had been there all along.
The three steps to redeeming worldly music are these:
1. Remove the beat. Not only must the actual percussion be removed but also the syncopation must be smoothed out. The canny fundamentalist can spot where the drums are “supposed to be” and still worry that the listener will be tempted into worldliness.
2. Flatten out the voice. No slipping, sliding, or scooping must be allowed to ruin the texture of the music. Scooping and sliding voices are the doorway to the relativistic clutches of jazz music and sin lies at that door.
3. Re-write the lyrics. Study the words with caution to identify any possible doctrinal misstep. Also replace “you” with “thee” and “thou” for that special fundy flavor.
Following these simple steps will open the doors to thousands of songs that were once the music of the very devil but now can enter into the worship service having been washed, cleaned and sanctified.