The Priesthood of All Believers: Chapter FOUR “Qumran & The Dead Sea”

The sunrise was very short, but quite beautiful. Everyone seemed to be refreshed after a good night’s sleep. Some were very enthusiastic about the next leg of our adventure. Others were much more ready to make the hike back to Jericho and then up the mountain to the trailhead. I finally spoke up, “I would not recommend returning to Jericho. If you remember, the hike from the trail head down to Jericho was not the best trail. There were plenty of places where we lost our footing and slid. Imagine trying to hike up that trail.

“Now, I’ve been studying some maps. Qumran is not far from here. You may remember that some think John the Baptist was an Essene, or at least lived with them for a while. Others say the same about Jesus. I have no idea if either of those tales are true. But the Essenes did preserve Holy Scripture. It might be fun to visit the site.

“After that, if you want to go home, there is a trail going back that is much less steep. That’s all I’ve got to say.”

Qumran was a surprise to the hikers. The consensus was to go and then decide what to do. I had not actually prayed about this, but I now asked the Holy Spirit where we should go. I got the impression that He was irritated that we did not ask Him first. And, in talking to Him, I realized that I felt like we had completed the hike and were ready to go home. It seemed to me like He actually laughed out loud.

We were slow in our departure and, even though the hike was rather short, it was slow in the dust and heat. Therefore, we arrived at the campsite with just a couple of hours before sunset. Amanda made a phone call and we were soon very surprised to see a pizza delivery truck arrive. We sat around some picnic tables and devoured the pies and colas. It was a delightful touch of Western Culture.

The next day we explored the caves and the displays. There was much fodder for theological discussion, but not much that seemed relevant to our purpose. I studied the map. In prayer, I asked the Holy Spirit for guidance. He said, “Ask them.”

That evening we had a big communal cookout. Sausages, hotdogs, hamburgers, even some chicken. Good thing, I thought, as we had expended a few extra calories climbing into caves and around the cliffs exploring Qumran. Everyone seemed filled with joy. But most of them said something along the lines of wishing we had visited Qumran first, then gone swimming in the Dead Sea and washed off the dust.

This time it was Ralph who ventured into the subject we had been avoiding. “Okay guys and gals, I got to ask this. Was it Nicholas who was talking about the hiking boots? He said we had to pick our hiking boots based on what we’re going to do. The thing was, he said, that it was the going that was essential. We decide to go, and then we pick the boots that fit what we are going to do. That’s not right. We are going to decide to follow Jesus. So, based on St. Paul’s idea of the Armor of God, we need shoes that spread the Gospel of Peace, shoes we can use to stand firm.

So, why would you say that we pick the shoes we need? The Roman soldiers all wore the same type of hobnail soled sandal-type footwear that would not slip in battle. Their shields would interlock to make a protective barrier against the flaming arrows of the enemy. They worked as a team, as an army, not as individuals. But the Church today, the Body of Christ, picks and chooses what it wants to do. We wear differing types of shoes to spread the Gospel. We don’t use interlocking shields. We focus on our personal relationship with Jesus and ignore our relationship with our fellow Christian soldiers.

Now I know we have Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines. They all do different sorts of jobs. But everyone in the Navy has the same focus: keeping the ship afloat. The Air Force has a focus on keeping the planes in the air. Same sort of thing with the Army and Marines. But they all cooperate under one Commander-In-Chief. It’s the Commander-In-Chief that we all follow and obey. It’s His command we ultimately follow. So, maybe we have different denominations that do that sort of thing, I don’t know. But…well…my question really is…uh…what does this Priesthood of All Believers have to do with how we relate to the Body of Christ?”

Well, the Essenes trace their history back to the High Priest Zadok, so that might be a connection to this place…” Timothy said this out loud, but it was apparent that he was just thinking aloud.

Well, I got to ask, which denomination is comparable to the Marines?” Nicholas was just grinning as he asked this.

Jason interrupted, “Not denominations, but which is liturgical or evangelical or charismatic or Eastern Orthodox?”

Not that!” Phillip was emphatic. The irritation in his voice was quite apparent as he said, “The comparison to the military only goes so far. You are getting way off track. The question of how the Priesthood of All Believers relates to the Body of Christ is a very useful question. When Ralph said that the soldiers worked together, that’s what we need to consider. That and the idea that, like the Army and the Navy, we all serve one Commander-In-Chief. We’re talking about the Kingdom of God.”

Nicholas and Jason answered, at the same time, “Sorry”. Then it was quiet.

We sat for about five minutes when Lucy spoke up, “We need to wash this dust away. And we seemed to make progress on the veranda by the sea. So, I think we might go back to the resort and wash away the dust. We need to figure out where we go next. I don’t know much about geography, but I think we go South to Sinai or North to everywhere else in Israel. I was feeling like we were close to the Holy Spirit over there. Here I feel dusty. Tired and dusty.”

It was apparently unanimous. Everyone agreed that we needed to go back to the Dead Sea and wash away the dust. So we headed to bed and got up early the next morning.

The hike was short in the cool morning air. Everyone jumped into the water as quickly as they could. Then the requisite nap on the beach with the occasional return to the water. I found myself joining some of the little groups that congregated together. This time I heard people trying to sort out what Ralph had asked. Everyone seemed to understand that to have just an individual relationship with Jesus was not the complete picture.

In one group I heard some discussing that Jesus talked about sheep in the plural. They also discussed the parable of the sheep and the goats. Another group was talking about Jesus having twelve disciples. He may have healed individuals, but the ministry of Jesus was always to the crowd. I sat in on a group that was talking about St. Paul’s letters. They decided that he did write to individuals, but most of his concern was for the larger group, the Church. They even decided that he wrote to the Churches as if the entire congregation was one being. These discussions were sporadic over the afternoon. But they illustrate the way people were thinking.

After a light supper, we once again congregated on the veranda. Ralph was the first to address the topic. “I had always thought of St. Paul’s comparison of the Body of Christ to a human body as a chastisement of the Corinthians and an example for us to be happy with the spiritual gifts God has given us. It never occurred to me that he was actually saying that each of us is a part of something bigger. I know we’re the Body of Christ, but I understood that to mean that each of us was to act as Christ would act. What would Jesus do—that sort of thing.”

That’s a Western thing.” Gladys stood up and looked around at everyone on the veranda. She smiled timidly, but continued, “the West thinks of the individual. We’re always concerned with our self and our personal relationship with Jesus. We don’t understand that each of us has gifts that need to be combined with the gifts of others.” She took a deep breath and looked up, apparently trying to remember the source of what she was saying. She continued, “We have a very hard time understanding that God considers us as part of a group. But that is the way the Bible portrays it. God talks about ‘Israel’ or ‘All Israel’. He discusses Edom and Moab and most other countries as if the country were an individual. He even rewards and punishes countries.

Now, I’m certainly not saying that we don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. I know that I do.” Gladys sounded quite sure of herself, but she was obviously concerned about how others would react to her comments. She took a deep breath and continued, “And, for us to be spiritually functional, we must be a part of a group. So we need to be part of a congregation, which we generally call a Church. In the book of The Revelation the letters are written to the Angel of each Church so that the letter is for the whole body, not just certain individuals in the body. Most of the other letters in the New Testament are written to churches.”

Suddenly, Timothy said quite loudly, “I think I got it!” Gladys, looking relieved, sat down. Timothy stood up, his excitement bubbling over, “The preacher or priest is the leader of the congregation in the same way that the king or president is leader of a country. The people obey the leader, except when it is obvious that the leader has deviated from Biblical Truth. We in the congregation are both individually and collectively responsible.”

Jason spoke up. He asked, “Okay, so that is what accountability groups are all about? By being accountable to each other, we are collectively accountable?”

Timothy shook his head. He replied, “That’s important, but not what I meant. Remember that Israel and Judah were condemned for their sins. But Daniel and his friends were faithful, even though the country was not. So God imposed His penalty on the country. Daniel and his friends were deported, receiving the punishment of the entire country, but God honored their faithfulness and rewarded them. The leaders, the priests and kings, who were unfaithful, were punished by God. As were those who listened to them. So, when the congregation sins, we, as members of the congregation, will be punished with them. But, God will honor the faithful and they will be rewarded for being faithful. That is, in part, why bad things happen to good people.”

Okay. I think that’s what I was thinking.” Jason paused, then continued, “The Church is a sort of accountability group. I’m in an accountability group with three other men. But the congregation also holds me responsible. Daniel works the other way around. He refused to go along with the majority, because he had a personal relationship with God. He also found others who believed the Truth. So we are both individually accountable and corporately accountable. Does that make sense?” Timothy was nodding his head in agreement.

Ralph spoke up, again, “Yes and No. It does make sense that we’re both individually and corporately responsible. A personal relationship with Jesus is not enough. We need a corporate relationship also. That’s clear enough. But how does the main topic relate to this? What is the Priesthood of All Believers? How does this work?”

Lydia stood up. “Have any of you been ordered by an Army Private to do something? It’s rather intimidating. Even more than a confrontation with a police officer. That Army Private has the backing of the entire military. He has a gun and an extremely serious attitude. If he says to do something, you’re going to do it. Maybe out of fear, but you’re not going to argue. And he is not alone. There’s a squad or a platoon of soldiers with him. Even if modern soldiers don’t carry interlocking shields, they act like they do. True, each one is an individual. But they’re also a unit that acts together. It sounds to me like this Priesthood of All Believers is like that. We’re like soldiers. St. Paul even says we have armor. We have to work together. Every soldier has to make an individual choice as to how to carry out his orders, but he must do that in unity with the rest of his squad and platoon. And the Church, as I see it, is not doing that. Each denomination claims that they are doing it right and the rest of us are doing it wrong. We spend so much time arguing about the procedure of baptism that most of the world does not see any benefit to it.”

It got extremely quiet, as if each of us had been charged with a crime and knew we were completely guilty.

Josephine looked around and asked, “Something’s bothering me. It’s not like our leaders are always correct. Caiaphas and Pilate killed Jesus. All the kings of Israel and most of the kings of Judah pointedly disobeyed God. The priests hated Jeremiah and the other prophets. Daniel and Martin Luther looked at what the king and the priests were doing and proclaimed them to be in error, based on their personal relationship with God. But we know people who make claims against the Church when everyone recognizes that these individuals are mistaken and the Church is right. The Bible keeps us on track, corporately and individually. I get all that. That’s why Bible study is so very important. That’s also why we meet corporately for worship and fellowship. Now, this priesthood of all believers means each of us is able to speak directly with God. So, if each of us is talking to God and each of us hears something different, how do we know what’s right?”

It won’t happen like that.” Tom stood up and looked around. He said, “Well, we were directed by the Holy Spirit to the place where Jesus was baptized. We are certain that God directed us to do that. Do you remember how that happened? Our current problem is that we never asked the Holy Spirit where we were supposed to go next. How about if we pray and ask Him? Let’s put Josephine’s question to the test. Let’s ask God, individually, where we go next. Then, after each of us gets an answer, we share that with the group. Let’s see how many different places God tells us to go.”

Great idea!” It was Phillip. Let’s just sit here in prayer for about ten minutes and then we each can report on what we heard the Holy Spirit say. How’s that?”

It took about fifteen minutes for everyone to get themselves oriented and settled down to pray. It ended up that Tom would start the prayer session and Phillip would close the prayer and ask each person what they heard. So, we did pray. And the Holy Spirit answered. Some had never prayed like this, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance. The answers each of us received were similar. Some heard “Jerusalem” others heard “Temple” or “Gethsemane”. A few heard “Bethany”. Not everyone heard something, but of those who did, all heard “Jerusalem” or somewhere in or near Jerusalem. So, we were to go to Jerusalem. And we had definitely heard the Holy Spirit direct us.


{ See 1st Corinthians for more on the Body of Christ. That whole letter is addressed to the topic of disunity described in Chapter One. }

Concerning John the Baptist and the Essenes–

For more on the Essenes, you might begin with

Wikipedia also has an interesting discussion on the Zadokite Priests, who might have founded the Essenes:

We now head to Jerusalem and Part 5.

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