Friday, July 5, 2013

Universal Priesthood and the Green Berets

I have had the blessing to fellowship together with Reality, a church in Olympia WA since returning to the States last fall. In spite of being in different churhes most Sunday mornings I am able to attend their evening service--which has allowed me to have a sense of continuity and community.

Late last year the Holy Spirit moved on the community at Reality in a gentle but powerful way. The result was changed lives, broken strongholds, saved marriages and new commitments of faith! It was quite powerful to observe Revival in person--although I felt like a bit of a fly on the wall as I was new to the church at that time.

One of strong emphasis of this period of sweet renewal was the desire of people to hear from God and to work from the gifting that He had given them. It even resulted in changes in the way that the Elders of the church understood their rolls in relationship to each-other.

From my perspective as a wallflower, I got to thinking a lot about Spiritual gifting and what those different gifts look like in the ways that the church functions practically. One unexpected result was a change in my understanding of the Priesthood of all Believers (also called Universal Priesthood)--something that I thought I had a grasp on previously.

Egalitarian vs. Complimentary Priesthood

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9

One misunderstanding I had of the Priesthood of All Believers, a central tenant of the Protestant Reformation is the idea that all priests are the same--New Covenant priesthood is much like the Trinity--there is a unity in substance, attributes and power, but with different rolls and responsibilities dependent on the persons. Likewise, a study of priesthood in the Old Testament shows that there are many kinds of priests in the temple worship of Israel.

The Spiritual Gift of carrying stuff.
The Levites, one of the twelve tribes of Israel were appointed to maintain the Tabernacle of God and to direct the worship of the people of Israel towards their God. They did not have a portion with the other eleven tribes, but their portion was from God. Each male member of the tribe of Israel took it in turn to serve in the Tabernacle, and later the Temple.

Even though every male among the Levites was a priest, not all of them had the same duty or responsibility--nor did their identity as a priest mean that they neglected seemingly secular pursuits like marriage, parenting, farming, business etc. Although they could not own land outright, they would lease land from the other twelve tribes.

When they were called to the tabernacle for their allotted period of service they served with all their heart, but once again, not all in the same way. There were men who worked in administrative positions, ones that handled the sacrifices, others that excelled in playing musical instruments. Each man served according to his gifting and allotted position--looking at passages like 1 Chronicles 9 helps us to understand the multitude of ways in which these Levite priests served in the temple:

Some of them were in charge of the articles used in the temple service; they counted them when they were brought in and when they were taken out. Others were assigned to take care of the furnishings and all the other articles of the sanctuary, as well as the special flour and wine, and the olive oil, incense and spices. But some of the priests took care of mixing the spices. A Levite named Mattithiah, the firstborn son of Shallum the Korahite, was entrusted with the responsibility for baking the offering bread. Some of the Kohathites, their fellow Levites, were in charge of preparing for every Sabbath the bread set out on the table. Those who were musicians, heads of Levite families, stayed in the rooms of the temple and were exempt from other duties because they were responsible for the work day and night. (1 Chronicles 9:28-33)

These men's gifts and rolls complimented each other so that all of the work of the temple could be done--no one's position was more worthy than another because each one's roll was instrumental to the functioning of the temple and the worship of God. "On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor." (1 Corinthians 12:22-23)

Although individual Levite priests were of the same worth in the eyes of God, the priesthood as it was understood by the Jewish people functioned in a complimenatian way when it came to rolls and responsibilities of those serving in the Temple.

The Body of Christ--The True Temple

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. Romans 12:4-6

As I have already alluded to, the complementary nature of the priesthood in the Old Testament has its direct corollary to the Priesthood of All Believers under the New Covenant. Paul works this idea out with a metaphor--the body. This is one of Paul's favorite metaphors, and shows up whether directly or indirectly in several of his letters to the church.

Believers in Jesus are the new priesthood, under the headship of Jesus, the true high priest. We worship in the new temple, his body, the church. That means that each one of us has a roll in that temple as a priest of the New Covenant. That does not mean that everyone is a pastor/elder, or a deacon--oftentimes we misunderstand the priesthood of all believers by elevating these rolls in prominence while ignoring the many ways in which individuals in the church make the worship of God possible in their families and community.

Not everyone can be first chair violin.
Paul is clear to assign to the body metaphor different giftings and callings--that is different parts of the body have different gifts: "If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully." (Romans 12:6-8)

Paul makes it clear that these gifts are not all contained in a single person, but that they are distributed throughout the body in order that different members of the body would work together to bring glory to god: And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. (1 Cor 12:28-30)

The Whole Church Taking the Whole Gospel to the Whole World

The following phrase is the motto of the Lausanne Movement--while the Gospel and the World have always been an emphasis in missions, the new emphasis on the whole Church is a refreshing clarification. As I previously shared in my blog post 'Is Every Christian a Missionary? Yes and No.' I believe that the church corporately is called a missionary--while individuals within the church work together to accomplish the global task of reaching the nations, each in the gifting and calling God has given them. In this late hour, much of the church has yet to become involved directly or even indirectly in accomplishing this task.

Not everyone is called to be a missionary, in the same way that not everyone is an Apostle in Paul's unpacking of the body metaphor--however there are people that are called to teach, prophesy, administer, show charity, encourage and lead, and each one of them has their role to play in the global expansion of Christ's Kingdom.

Missionaries need people who are living out their calling to be generous with the blessings that God has given them, they need people to teach on missions in churches so that the body has a proper understanding of the global missionary enterprise, they need prayer warriors and people with administrative gifts to help enable them to be effective. These are just some of the few ways in which those in the Body of Christ with different giftings can work towards reaching the nations with the Gospel.

How much easier would the job of a missionary be in preparing for the field if the church was better educated on missions and individual members understood their rolls in supporting the sending of missionaries--both biblically and practically!

Specializations as Another Way to See Gifting

Where there is no vision, the people perish. Proverbs 29:18

My friend Dan Basco, a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School wrote a critique of my blog post on the question of whether every Christian is a missionary.  I love Dan's insights and I think we agree on more than we disagree on. I like his analogy of missionaries with the special forces (one that I have also used before). He brings in another one of Paul's famous metaphors, the warfare metaphor of the Christian life, from which he makes the case that all Christians are individually missionaries (soldiers), but some of them are specialists (cross-cultural career missionaries).

Source: USASOC New Service
Dan writes, "A traditionally defined missionary is a highly trained operator with skills in language, customs, and culture.  He or she is sent into an Area of Operation (AO) with little support; but, he or she has a problem solving skill set to improvise and wage war against the Enemy with the material and personnel resources within the AO.  Moreover, his or her success is seldom contingent upon their engaging the enemy.  Rather, victory is secured when an indigenous fighting force who knows the land, customs, and people better than the operator is recruited and trained to combat the enemy.  Moreover, when victory is at last secured the operator’s role is seldom detectable because he or she trained the indigenous forces to lead their own."

Thinking of missionaries as a special forces group that goes in and helps to form guerrilla/insurgent groups among indigenous peoples to engage in the global conflict against the "rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places," (Ephesians 6:12) is a great way to help people understand the job of cross-cultural career missionaries better. This is a great way to contextualize the work of missionaries for a generation of Americans that has grown up with the global war on terror in the background.

A special forces unit cannot exist however without the backing of a powerful nation, a strong government, financial and strategic resources. This is also true of missions--the sending of missionaries is often a litmus test of the vitality and health of a church. If a church is paying someone else to do the job rather than sending their own sons and daughters, they risk becoming like the Late Roman Empire that increasingly filled its military ranks with mercenaries and foreigners--while at the same time letting their own children become complacent and comfortable. This is one of the most often cited reasons for the decline and ultimate fall of the Roman Empire.

The church that stops sending their sons and daughters will sooner or later stop sending their money also. We need to have skin in the game--and not just for a week or a month at a time, but we need to encourage and support specialists.


The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Luke 10:2

Heavenly Father, thank you for your Gospel, the precious word that you love us so much that you sent our only begotten son Jesus to die on our behalf--but that he didn't stay dead, but rose again to offer new life and a new relationship with you.

Thank you for your promises, that when we are engaged in your global mission to reconcile the peoples of the world to you, that you are with us until the end of the age. Thank you for sending the Holy Spirit, that your children do not serve out of their own limited strength, but that you supply limitless power to achieve what you have called us to--you provide what you promise.

Thank you that we get to be part of the expansion of your Kingdom and the reconciliation of the peoples of the world with you, their creator.

I pray that you would give your church a new vision for the mission that you have called them to--that you have called each of us as a nation of priests, but that each of us has a responsibility to serve in our own gifting and calling to accomplish the mission which your church was established for--to be ministers of reconciliation.

I pray that you would raise up more men and women to specialize in reaching the unreached peoples of the world--and that your church would make it a priority to see this happen. Lord, help us to invest yourselves in this great task, not just being willing to give our time and money, but even ourselves or our sons and daughters to this mission. In Jesus' name I pray.

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