Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Church Full Not of Pastors but Priests

True church renewal will require a change of thinking and attitude about several different issues. We have spoken to a couple of these already. Let's review. The church building is not the church, and therefore we cannot allow a building to be our primary visibility in our community. The people of our community must see Christ, and they will only see Christ in the worship and service of Christians. I do not mean primarily worship and service that take place at the address of the church building. I mean worship and service that take place throughout the week. What happens at the church building should only promote and encourage week-long worship and service. Tragically, we often fall into a kind of thinking that when the worship service and church activities that take place in the church building are concluded, then the worship and service of the people cease. This cannot be.
Also, since not only the Temple has been replaced, but also Temple activities, then we cannot continue to use "sacrifices" as a way to appease God or gain His favor. The wonder of the Gospel is that Christ has completely appeased God, and that, in Christ, we have all the favor of God that we need or could ever want. Our efforts in worship and service are not performed in order to gain forgiveness or favor, but they are instead responses to what God has graciously done for us, and what He has promised to do for us.
Now we need to think about who it is that worships and serves. The Biblical answer is: priests. But the startling revolution that has taken place with Christ is that all followers of Christ are priests. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are a priest, and you thus have the privileges and responsibilities of worship and service that were reserved for only Aaron and his sons in the Old Testament. Yes, the specific tasks have changed since there is now no central location and sacrifices are no longer offered. But that does not mean that worship and service have ceased. And you, believer and disciple, are a part of the priesthood.
We have to back up on our thinking about "full-time ministry." In our tradition, we usually think of pastors and missionaries. They are said to be "called" in a special sense, different from the way in which all Christians are called to follow Christ and serve him. One problem. This runs counter to the teaching of the New Testament on the priesthood of all believers. Let me instead say it this way: there is one calling for all Christians. There are different roles in which we may serve. But we are all priests, and "full-time" ministers are no more priests than are you.
One of the problems with this "full-time" phrase is that it implies that all other Christians are "part-time" priests. When would that be? When you are at the church building? That can't be. You are priests every day, and all the time. You are priests when you are with your families, and with your co-workers or fellow students. There is no time of the day when a priest is not a priest, just as there are no activities in which we engage that are not to be characterized by worship and service.
Now there are some particular qualifications for particular roles. Christians who serve as elders and deacons are subject to the character and skill qualifications spelled out in the Pastoral Epistles. But when a person is assigned to a role of pastor/elder, deacon or missionary, they are not all of a sudden elevated to the role of priest. They were priests all along, or else they were not Christians at all.
An implication of this is that pastors/elders, deacons, and missionaries should not be doing your priestly activities for you. When we do so, we are stealing aspects of your privilege and responsibility that are key aspects of your enjoyment of God and of your life that He has graced. The pastor should not pray your prayers for you, do your Bible study for you, worship God or fellowship with believers for you, witness to your neighbors for you, etc. He has a role, to teach God's Word and to provide loving spiritual oversight. But if he in any way inserts himself into your relationship as a priests, he is sinning in his role, and robbing you of your role.
This is a humbling statement for me. I've spent a long time in one place, doing whatever needs to be done. But often, "what needed to be done" needed to be done by a wide range of people, not an individual who desired to be indispensable and appreciated. I recognize that I, many times over, have done the easy thing: doing it myself, rather than leading individuals into the joy of priestly participation. I told you that this church renewal thing would be difficult. I'm afraid that it will be most difficult for me.
The painfully ironic point is that there is a special accountability for those who teach (James 3:1). But when a teacher behaves in a way that contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture (in this case, that all followers of Christ are priests, not just the pastor), then the teacher is actually guilty of false teaching. Perhaps he has not been guilty in what he has said. But we teach more loudly with our actions than with our words.
So, back to you, the priests. How will you worship and serve as a priest today? If I could use a template from the consecration of Aaron and his sons back in Exodus 29, I think we get some good starters to that question. Just remember, we are not re-establishing the old priesthood. But there are some points that carry over.
First, they were washed (Exodus 29:4). When Jesus washed the disciples feet (John 13), he distinguished two washings. Followers of Christ are already fundamentally clean by virtue of their relationship with him, the only, truly Righteous One. We are clean because of His cleanness. But there is also a maintenance washing, the washing of feet. Daily confession of sin and delighting in forgiveness is important preparation for priestly ministry. Again, this does not happen once. We benefit from checking ourselves in the mirror of the character of Christ over and over again.
Second, they were clothed in priestly garments (Exodus 29:5-6). And you must be clothed in Christ. This happens by faith in Christ, that you are covered and completed in him. It is not something that you do for yourself, but it is something that you need to remember and to think about. Note two things. First, being clothed in Christ means that your sins and your faults are covered. They are not invisible, but they are covered. So you need not wait to be perfect in order to serve. Priests are not former sinners. They are forgiven saints who are still sinners. Second, when you present yourself to your world, your are not presenting yourself so much as you are presenting Christ. You are not to win them with your words or your winsome personality, but with Christ and the character of Christ. Yes, this will include gracious words and personal warmth. But it is because you are clothed and covered with Christ.
Third, they were anointed with oil (Exodus 29:7). Priests are all those who make up the Body of Christ, and there are no members of the Body who have not received the Holy Spirit. We are to seek to be filled with this Spirit, to be oiled and greased by Him, that we can accomplish, not our work, but God's. Specifically ask God that He would so guide you by His Spirit that you would say what needs to be said, and that you would refrain from saying what should not be said. Ask the your attitude and your facial expressions would communicate what God wants, not what you feel. And remember, while this anointing was applied only to Aaron and his sons, every believer, young and old, male and female, without regard for race or education level or place in society - all minister by the Spirit as priests.
What a privilege, to live and interact with people as priests of the living God under the Headship of our loving Savior, our High Priest, Jesus Christ, and with the help and protection and enabling of His Spirit, who is with us at all times.

1 comment:

Ben said...

So I'll become your only commenter again - I do not have anything original to add to this, but I wanted to say thank you! I have not really thought of our roles as priests much, and it was really refreshing to read your thoughts on what you have learned through your studies. I lost the link to your blog and just found it again today - I see I have a lot of reading/catching up to do! You've posted more in the last 3 months than perhaps the entire previous year! :-)