3.1 A Kingdom Of Priests
We read in Rev. 1:6 that we are, in Christ, a nation of king-priests,
a Kingdom of priests, just as He is now a king-priest after the order
of Melchizedek. Reading between the lines, much of the Old Testament denunciation
of Israel relates to the errors of the priesthood. " Like priest,
like people" is a saying which has a definite Old Testament basis.
The failure of the priesthood was a major reason for the apostasy of the
old Israel. We ought to at least be prepared for slight similarities with
the new Israel. There is little doubt that the early church went astray
because of " false teachers" - the equivalent of false
priests under the Old Covenant.
Of course, every Israelite was intended to be a priest; they
were to be " a Kingdom of priests" . The " covenant of
my peace" was with both Israel (Is. 54:10) and the priesthood (Mal.
2:5). The same is true of spiritual Israel; " a spiritual house,
an holy priesthood" (1 Pet. 2:5). The process of baptism recalls
the way in which the priests washed and then embarked on service to the
rest of Israel. Christ is the supreme priest; but because we are "
in Him" , we too have some part in the priesthood. Note how the priests
are described in language relevant to the Lord: " The law of truth
was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with
me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity" (Mal.
2:6). Thus we must " present (our) bodies a living sacrifice"
to God (Rom. 12:1); making the believer " the offering and the priest"
, as Christ was (and is). It is interesting to consider Christ's words
of Mt. 5:29,30 against this background. He invites the zealous saint to
cut off the various limbs of the body (for they all cause offence
at some time!), so that he might enter the Kingdom. To the Jewish
mind, imagining such a scene would have created the impression of priestly
action. Again, the sensitive reader is invited to see himself as "
the offering and the priest" .
The main priestly duty was to teach God's word to the people. A whole
string of texts make this point: Dt. 24:8; 2 Kings 17:27; 2 Chron. 15:3;
Neh. 8:9; Mic. 3:11. Note too the common partnership between priests and
prophets. Because of their role as teachers, it is understandable
that the anger of the first century priesthood was always associated with
Christ and the apostles teaching the people: Mt. 21:33; Lk. 19:47;
20:1; Acts 5:21. The priests felt that their role was being challenged.
As part of the priesthood, our duty is to all teach or communicate
the word of God to each other. It was God's intention that natural Israel
should obey the spirit of this, so that they would " teach every
man his neighbour and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord"
(Heb. 8:11). That was how God intended Israel of old to fulfil this idea
of being a priestly nation. The Gentile Israel has been chosen to bring
forth fruit where they failed; and so we must ask if this is how we really
are as a community. Where is our sense of real responsibility for each
other, our sensitivity to the effect we have upon each other? Where is
the enthusiasm of communication which Heb. 8:11 implies? Given
current communication possibilities, the current plethora of Christian
magazines is indeed quite right- so long as they are communicating the
real knowledge of the Lord rather than being political flagships. Discussion
after Bible class, the posing of profitable questions to each other, lively
correspondence columns- these are all part of it. It isn't something
just for the academically minded. If we truly " know the Lord"
, we will want to communicate that relationship to others, as a Kingdom
Yet it is evident that some will be able to publicly communicate this
knowledge of the Lord more fluently than others. For this reason, God
arranged for a group of individuals to have the specific duty of teaching
Israel in an organized fashion. What Israel failed to appreciate was that
those priests were intended to be a priesthood within a priesthood. The
early church made the same mistake; 'leave the Bible study to the priests/
ecclesial elders' has ever been the temptation of the average Israelite.
There is a like danger facing the present generation of believers, blessed
as our platforms presently are with some of the finest expositors and
encouragers our movement has yet produced. Yet in our reaction against
the 'priesthood' of the apostasy, we may have gone too far; so that in
some churches, there are few, if any, who have a real sense of spiritual
responsibility for their flock. And yet we all supposed to be part of
a Kingdom of priests. All too often brethren end up as church leaders
or Secretaries, simply because there is no one else to do the job. Any
who can pen push with reasonable efficiency, and maintain a steady attendance
over a period of years, normally fall into positions of church leadership
by default. Yet what is required is brethren who can broadly match the
'priesthood within a priesthood' of the Old Covenant; brethren who have
made a conscious commitment to oversee the spiritual welfare of others;
brethren who will analyze the needs of the ecclesia, and work long and
hard to prepare an exhortation relevant to needs; brethren to organize
transport rotas so that none are left at home who want to be
at a meeting.
I am not suggesting a 'full time' salaried ministry as the answer to
all problems; but rather, a conscious appreciation of the spirit
of priesthood. There are a number of New Testament indications that we
are to have some system of eldership within our churches; and to "
submit to" those who are in this position (1 Cor. 16:16), insofar
as we recognize that they have our spiritual well-being truly in their