Traditionally Christians stood to worship God. This has been the historic practice of the Christian Church. This began to change during the 1200s when backless stone benches appeared in English churches. Then in the 1300s and 1400s they were replaced with wooden benches.
Churches were not commonly furnished with permanent pews prior to the Protestant Reformation. With the rise of the sermon as the high point of the Sunday morning worship pews became a standard part of Protestant architecture. What many Protestants and Evangelicals are not aware of is the fact that there was a time when pews were rented out to families, and that some church pews became inheritable family property! That is how the Free Methodist church got their name. In addition to being opposed to slavery, they were also in favor of free pews!
Another interesting fact to consider is that churches that claim to hew to the regulative principle of worship, e.g., Reformed churches, have pews in their sanctuaries despite the fact that there is no biblical warrant for pews in places of worship!
Pews are more than trivial adiaphora, they shape our worship significantly. Pews bolted to the floor in neat rows create a lecture hall atmosphere where the lecture is the principle activity. The practice of having pulpits, often two pulpits, underscored the importance of the teaching aspects of worship. Protestant worship is very concerned with facilitating information transfer and cognitive teaching. One has to wonder if any of these churches ever attempted to go back to the more historic style of worship where people stood in the Liturgy.
Protestant worship is quite different from historic Christian worship where the Liturgy of the Word (the Scripture reading followed by the homily) was preparatory to the Eucharist. In the Orthodox Church the priest reads the Gospel, not from the pulpit on the side, but at the entrance to the Altar area. This symbolizes the New Law (Gospel) going forth from Mount Zion in the last days to all nations (Isaiah 2:2-5) Following that, in the Eucharist the Christian goes up to commune with Christ, to receive His Body and His Blood “for the remission of sins and everlasting life.”
Converts to Orthodoxy often find themselves adjusting to a “new” style of worship, standing throughout the entire Liturgy. This “new” style is actually the worship style of the ancient Church. Some Orthodox jurisdictions allow for pews, while others prefer the more traditional practice of no pews with exceptions made for the infirm and elderly. When I first started attending the Orthodox Church on a regular basis I found that standing in the Liturgy made a lot of sense. Standing for extended periods of time facilitated a state of attentiveness and inner stillness. I also learned how to deal with the discomfort of standing for extended periods.
As a former Protestant I know that Protestants do not sit throughout the entire worship service. Instead, there is a constant shifting from sitting to standing back to sitting. This is not bad, but I found that it gave the worship service a certain kinetic quality. I noticed this kinetic quality in both ‘traditional’ Protestant services and contemporary praise services. Orthodox worship, on the other hand, inculcates an inner stillness that allows one to reflect on the words being sung or chanted. This inner stillness also allows for the Holy Spirit to speak to my heart.
So when I read how recent article “Standing During Meetings Could Lead To Better Work” about how secular research found that standing during meetings can boost attentiveness and group productivity, I was reminded of the similar benefits of standing during the Divine Liturgy. This makes sense in light of the fact that the word “Liturgy” comes from the Greek “leitourgeia” which means “work of the people.”
Will there be pews in heaven? Consider the passage from Revelation 7:9:After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. (NIV)