synagogue rembrandt

Hmmm… some strong feedback from the last ‘Gather Around the Glory’ post…

“are you asking us to tear down our churches?”… (nope)

“we like the layout we have, it works for us… why change it?”… (well, what’s the Lord saying to your Church…?)

A good friend messaged, “… it will challenge some, and turn away many…” (Ouch!)

Question: The possibility that modern church layout works against the People of God coming into the Presence of God… what’s your response??


<<>>Questions… and some responses…

^^Q: Having a platform and congregation… is it a bad thing??

A: No, it is not a bad thing – in and of itself. However, the issue of layout is not value-neutral, even though ‘it’s been like that since we were born’.

The question is always, in being the Church and in ministry… “what is the Spirit saying to the Churches?” (see Rev Ch. 1-4).

Just like the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, and like St. Paul in Romans Ch. 14, dealing with the influences and pressures of the prevailing culture requires Godly leadership to pray and wade thru the complexities.

Would it be ‘blasphemy’ to ask pastors and leaders to inquire of the Lord…

“…Lord, is our building/facility/format/layout… especially the platform/congregation thing… is it facilitating Kingdom community and Your Presence, or…?”

raked stage

^^Q: Don’t modern churches use home-groups and small study groups in a ‘gather around’ format to bring this element into their ‘Body life’??

A: Yes, they do. Having pastored home groups in a medium-sized mid-western church, and studied this area of church life… yes.

home churchmt

It is interesting how the relationship-dynamics switch when the home-group people walk into the larger service and sit in a congregation, facing a platform.

People told me so… quite regularly.

^^Q: In this discussion of church layout, did you consider the layout of Synagogues at the time of Jesus?

A: That is a very interesting area to look at, and actually informs some of this topic.

I spent a great deal of time digging through historical scholars, both of Christian and Jewish backgrounds. A good site to look at is:

The Synagogues of Jesus’ time were the sacred gathering places throughout Israel and Judea for the Jewish people, as well as locations through the ancient world where clusters of Jews lived (referred to as the Jewish Diaspora) .

table in middle

Synagogues were small, usually built the same way the local housing was constructed. They were typically a room built with three doors, with benches around those three walls for the Elders and the elderly. Most people stood, or sat on the floor. There was a table or lectern, usually ‘somewhat out in the room’ where the scrolls of Scripture were rolled open and read. Most recorded notes say that the readers, as well as the resident Pharisee or Scribe giving explanation of the Passage or points of Mosaic Law would be speaking ‘in the round’, surrounded by people.

Apparently, no platform and a ‘congregation’ that thrived ‘in the round’.

jesus synagouge2

^^Q: Were there differences in the layout of Synagogues and the Temple in Jerusalem?

A: Yes, and this is where it gets very interesting.

During the time of Jesus, there was a very bitter political divide within the Priests, Levites and teachers of the Law.

The Pharisees were considered the ‘country-bumkin preachers’, managing the Synagogues in the little villages and towns. They were looked down upon by the religious establishment of Jerusalem, called the Sadducees, for many reasons of practice and belief.

The Sadducees of Jesus’ time controlling the re-built Temple in Jerusalem, and all their religious functions. Believing they exclusively held ‘pure’ Jewish teachings, they only recognized the Torah (the five books of Moses) as ‘authoritative Scripture’, and tightly controlled all things ‘worship’ in their Temple.

The original Temple layout built by Solomon around 960 BCE included a large room called the ‘Inner Court’, for people to enter and give God honor. At the end of the inner court hung a large curtain over the ‘Holy of Holies’ section, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.

You could get real, real close to the physical artifact that God said His Manifest Presence would inhabit.

Here is where it gets interesting. It appears that, by the time of Jesus, the Sadducees had built a particularly-elevated pulpit against the front wall of the Inner Court, near the ‘Holy of Holies’. They would ascend to read and preach about the Torah, and other (oddly) political topics.

The Sadducees called this location the ‘seat of Moses’.


Most scholars note that this ‘seat of Moses’ was never commanded to be built in the structure of the Temple by Kings David or Solomon. It cannot be found in the Old Testament as a ‘commanded element’.


This ‘First and Holy Temple’ of King Solomon (בֵּית־הַמִּקְדָּשׁ: Beit HaMikdash in Hebrew) was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II in his military campaign in 587 BCE.

The ‘Second Temple’ was a re-build in Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah. The ‘seat of Moses’ historically appeared sometime after this rebuild. In that big-room Inner Court that was supposed to be a breath away from the Holy of Holies, it essentially created a ‘platform/congregation’.

One commentator pointed out that building this ‘seat of Moses’ next to the Holy of Holies would create a ‘bully pulpit’, inferring that all messages preached were endorsed by the Lord of the Holy of Holies.

This is what Jesus spoke to (“…you who sit in the ‘seat of Moses’…”) when He rebuked the religious establishment in Matthew Ch. 23. Apparently, this ‘seat’ was both a manufactured status-symbol by the Sadducees, as well as a physical intrusion in the inner layout of the Temple that was not in the initial, God-inspired layout.

Could it also be that Jesus, who was all about ‘gathering around’, was not pleased with the ‘seat of Moses’ set-up that took the active environment of communal worship in-the-round in the Inner Court, and the awe of being next to THE Holy of Holies… and turned it into a lecture hall to exert ‘religious power’??



Here is a provocative question: has the practice of the ‘seat of Moses’ been revived in our present day?


written by crisbaj

© 2017-18 by crisbaj/  All rights reserved.

All Scripture references from New International Version unless otherwise indicated.

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