The Priesthood of All Believers: PART FIVE

Jerusalem was not all that far from the beach by the Dead Sea. We hiked most of the distance following the roads. About halfway to Jerusalem we heard Jason calling out that he wanted to stop. He thought there was something nearby that we should examine. Since time was not a problem and there was a really nice place to camp, we stopped so Jason could search for whatever it was.

After setting up camp Jason and Timothy informed us that they had seen a small peak about half a mile north that they wanted to climb. Lydia, Lucy, Josephine and Nicholas decided to join them. So, early the next morning the six of them hiked to the top of the small mountain peak.

The hikers returned somewhat confused. Timothy explained, “Well, the peak is actually Hebrews 7. From it you can easily see Genesis 14:18 and Psalm 110:4. You can also see Hebrews 5:6 & 10 close by. Also, very clearly, we could see a peak named Romans 12:4&5. We apparently had forgotten that Jesus is a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. So Jesus is the High Priest, and, also, we are the Body of Christ. I think we need to pray about that.”

Phillip was first to comment, “Well,” he asked, “are we going to hike into Jerusalem with this question unanswered? Perhaps we should stay here, discussing this?”

Amos spoke up next, “It’s only a few hours hike to Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit told us to go there. So I think that’s what we should do.”

Immediately everyone picked up their gear and headed toward Jerusalem. We were very fortunate to find a hotel near the edge of town that had plenty of room for us. And it had a wonderful restaurant.

We met for dinner in the restaurant at the top of the hotel. As we ate, we watched the sun set and then the stars began to pop out, twinkling like tiny candles. It was an inspiring view. After the tables had been cleared, Jason stood up in his usual effort to sum up our progress.

“Well,” he said, “First, I think we all agree that baptism is, at minimum, a membership ritual. But I think most of us agree that it is much more. Through baptism we are incorporated into the Body of Christ. That’s much more than joining a club. And, I think, we would agree that we are accountable as members of the Body of Christ as well as individually accountable. Where we seem to lack understanding is in this business about being priests. The whole reason for this adventure keeps evading us. What does it mean to be a part of the Body of Christ, in terms of the idea of the priesthood of all believers?”

We sat quietly for a few moments. Then Amanda spoke, “I am really beginning to appreciate the way we pray for guidance. I like asking the Holy Spirit to point the way and then we come together and find out what He said to each of us. So, I think we should do that right now. Let’s take a few minutes to pray for guidance. What the young people found on that little peak was quite interesting. I would like to pray about that, as well as all that Jason just said.”

Someone said, “Amanda, why don’t you lead us this time?” She agreed and we all began to listen in prayer for guidance from the Holy Spirit. About fifteen minutes later everyone was ready and Amanda began to ask us what we had heard. The group seemed to have a varied experience. Some thought we should really examine Melchizedek. Others thought we needed to look closely at 1st Corinthians 12. Jim and Katrina said that they had felt that each of us should read and study our Bibles tonight, then go out and explore Jerusalem tomorrow. Ralph agreed, saying that he thought he should study Melchizedek but that he should also find a partner and go exploring. Gladys said she was sure she should study 1st Corinthians, but also she should explore Jerusalem. Others agreed. Apparently, everyone was given some part of the Bible to study, but all of us were to explore Jerusalem.

The consensus was that we should spend the rest of the evening in study, then get up early and go out in groups of two or three to explore Jerusalem. We should listen for the Holy Spirit to guide each group. Then we would assemble back in the restaurant for dinner and discuss the day.

As we reassembled in the hotel restaurant, it was apparent that some of us were overjoyed by our excursion, while others seemed subdued. However, once we had eaten, everyone seemed ready to discuss their day.

Lucy stood up first. “I read quite a bit of 1st Corinthians last night. When I got up this morning I came in here searching for coffee. Josephine, Nicholas and Jason were already here. So the four of us headed out. What I figured out from 1st Corinthians is that we all belong to the Body of Christ. Each of us has a job to do. And we are wrong, I think, to have denominations. There is one church and that church is the Body of Christ. As we walked around Jerusalem I saw that it is very difficult for us as Christians to witness to the Muslims and Jews in this city. We have so many different denominations, all claiming to be the one true church. If I were Jewish, I would not see any reason to accept Christian thinking. Which church is right? We can’t even agree on where Jesus’ tomb is located. It made me very sad.” She sat down.

The next person to stand was Gayle. She looked around at the group and then began, very softly, to talk. “The Holy Spirit seemed to guide me to all the references to Melchizedek. There’s quite a bit, actually. It’s weird that he came from Jerusalem bringing bread and wine to the warriors who had just defeated the invaders.” She paused as if she were undecided about what to say next. Taking a deep breath, she continued, “This morning I met Jim and Katrina in the lobby. We found a wonderful little cafe nearby and had a nice breakfast.” She gave Jim and Katrina a quick glance. “Well, we had a really nice day walking around. We saw the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and, well, maybe Lucy’s right. We visited a number of Christian chapels and churches. You don’t really notice it back in the States, but, here, the divisional claims made me very sad.” She quickly took her seat.

Katrina asked, “What about Melchizedek? You told us some interesting things about Melchizedek. Do you want to share that with the group?”

Gayle blushed slightly. “Oh! Yes, well, I…” She had remained seated and appeared flustered. “It’s just that…well, this morning I was excited about all the stuff I learned last night. But, then we walked around looking at this city and, well, now it seems pointless.” She looked around, as if she had said all she was ready to say.

“Well, I think it’s relevant, even with all the division.” Jim spoke softly and kindly. He continued, “Please, Gayle, tell the group what you told Katrina and me this morning. Let the group decide if it’s pointless.”

Gayle shook her head, but stood up and said, “Jim, you owe me for this.” She smiled, looked up as if offering a quick prayer, then began, “I’m going to make this short: Melchizedek was not ordained like Aaron and the Levitical priests. And, since Jesus is priest in the order of Melchizedek, he is not ordained either. I don’t really understand all the details, but Jesus was ordained by God’s oath, not by any human action. That makes him our High Priest.” She shook her head, looked around the group and said, in a rather shaky voice, “But I can’t see how any of that matters. We, as Christians, don’t treat Jesus as our High Priest. We do treat Him as part of the Trinity, as God, but I don’t see us treating him as any sort of priest.” She quickly sat down and bowed her head, not so much in prayer, but in an effort to escape any questioning.

Jim stood up. “I’m sorry, Gayle, if I caused you anguish.” He looked at his wife and then began to explain his experience. “Well, Katrina and I looked at 1st Corinthians. Just before we went to bed Katrina asked me how being a priest worked if each of us is a part of the Body of Christ. We had figured out that maybe the denominations were wrong. It seemed like St. Paul was saying that we should treat each other with Love. It seems obvious that we have different denominations because of pride. And maybe we need to discuss that. But what Katrina and I found in 1st Corinthians was that we, being the Church, are, in fact, the Body of Christ. Now Gayle told us this morning that, because of what’s written in Hebrews, Jesus is the High Priest. So, if we are the Body of Christ, then we, as that Body, are collectively the High Priest. And, again, Gayle, I’m sorry that talking about this caused you anguish. But what you told us this morning really helped Katrina and me understand this priesthood business.

“Now, well, I’m going to toss this out to all of you.” Jim smiled, glanced at his wife for a bit of encouragement, then asked, “Okay, we’ve established that baptized Christians are the Body of Christ. What then are our duties? What I’m getting at is our individual duties. What do we do as the Body of Christ that is a priestly duty, what do I do individually, and what is reserved for Jesus to do? That’s what it seems like we’ve been beating around the bush trying to determine. At least, that’s what I think we’ve been struggling to figure out. What do you think?”

A long, low whistle reverberated around the room. Timothy stood up and, looking directly at Jim, said, “Well, that’s a huge can of worms you just opened.” He paused a moment, took a deep breath and spoke in a voice that was firm, but obviously irritated. “The duties of ordained clergy are simple to state. They are:

1. Administration 2. Ordination 3. Celebration 4. Exhortation 5. Education and 6. Confession and Absolution. Some might add Counseling, but I think everything can be placed in one of those categories. For example, marriage is a sacrament, it would be a celebration. You just can’t say that any of those are a duty of a baptized Christian. A lay person might be an administrator, but it would be to serve an ordained clergy. You can confess your sins to anyone and the Bible tells us that if we confess our sins, God will forgive us. If you sin against me, then come and confess that, I should be decent and tell you that I forgive you. But how do you know if God has forgiven you? The Bible does say God forgives me if I confess. So, what does a priest do? Why can a priest offer absolution, but a baptized Christian cannot? And, even more confusing, we’ve already discussed the fact that any Christian can baptize anyone who requests to be baptized. But we know that the Church authorities strongly prefer that ordained clergy baptize new Christians. On top of all that, to make it even more confusing, there’s Apostolic Succession. I just graduated from seminary and I think I understand all this—at least enough to have passed my exams.” He grinned and most of the group giggled a bit.

Looking around the room, Timothy was glad he made some sort of joke. He took a deep breath. Then he continued, “I know what I just said won’t put the worms back in the can, and, I guess it’s a good thing Jim brought his can opener.” He looked at Jim and grinned, “ But we can’t fish with those worms. We really must find another way to think about this. I don’t know why the Church, as a whole, does not talk about this very much. It’s like the idea of worship. The Church gives an intellectual definition of worship and then goes on to other topics—same with the priesthood of all believers.”

As Timothy sat down, his wife, Lydia, stood up. She said, “Well, Tim, you didn’t tell them about our study last night or what we found today. So I will.” She looked up at the ceiling as if she were asking God to help her, took a deep breath and said, “The Holy Spirit directed us to Psalm 90. From there we kept reading all the way through Psalm 110. We also made a few side trips to some relevant scripture. We ended with Psalm 111. I recommend you read 90 to 111. It’s a great way to worship the Lord our God.

“We didn’t get any insight into the priesthood subject. At least, not directly. This morning we got a bit of a late start and everyone had already left when we got to the restaurant. So, we started at the Garden Tomb, then went through the Damascus Gate and the to the Via Dolorosa Street. Following that we found a Greek Orthodox Monastery. We found a few other chapels and then St. Anne’s Church. Eventually we wandered through the Lion’s Gate and found the Tomb of Jesus’ Mother and then Gethsemane.

“We thought that we would be able to enjoy being in the one place, other than the Via Dolorosa, that we could be sure was a place that Jesus had been. I had always pictured Gethsemane as a beautiful place with lots of flowers. What we saw was more or less a small olive orchard where someone with “good intentions” built chapels instead of leaving the garden like it was when Jesus was there. And who knows if the orchard we were looking at was in existence 2000 years ago? As we were looking at the olive trees, Tim said something about how the Roman General Titus had destroyed Jerusalem in 70AD. It’s doubtful that any of the places connected with Jesus are the actual places. Then he said something that I thought rather profound: our faith is not in these places. Even if Jerusalem were completely destroyed we would still be Christians.” She took a deep breath. There was a slight murmur of agreement. That gave her the encouragement she needed to continue.

“Like I said at the start, we didn’t get much about the priesthood of all believers subject. While we did remember that our faith is in God, not in these memorials, they are a sort of proof that Jesus really did walk here. The archaeological evidence can’t deny it. I really enjoyed visiting the different chapels and churches. There were some things that I thought united each of the chapels. First, of course, was the icon of the Cross. And there was always an Altar where the ceremony of the Last Supper is celebrated in some fashion. So there’s a place for the congregation to sit or stand. Now, out of curiosity, I checked the Bible online when we returned this afternoon. Guess what? 2nd Chronicles 23:6 says that only the priests and Levites on duty are allowed to enter the Temple. Moses’ books say the same thing. So Christian temples, that is, chapels and church buildings, are built for a congregation. Just thought I’d toss that into the stew pot. That’s about it for us. Who’s up next?” Lydia took her seat.

Jason began to laugh. “That’s great, Lydia! First Jim opens a can of worms, apparently, the wrong sort ‘cause we can’t fish with them; and now you toss a monkey wrench into the gears. So we can’t fish and now the gears are stopped.” He chuckled a bit, then when no one else spoke, he said, “Okay, I guess it’s my turn.” He stood up and looked around the group. “Lord help me,” he said in a sort of prayer, “but I guess I have to say this. So, here goes.” He was silent for a bit, then began. “My Bible opened to Jonah last night. As I started reading, I began to wonder about how the ways all the different prophets were called. They were a varied group. Some were priests or Levites, but others were just people God called into ministry. As they say, God does not call the equipped, He equips the called. And Matthew ends his gospel telling us that we are to make disciples of all nations. So, I’m going to ask you to consider, for a moment, the difference between a priest, a disciple and an apostle.

“Okay, apostle means messenger. In modern English, other than the religions meanings, it means an ardent supporter of a cause, such as a pioneer reformer. A disciple is an active adherent of the ideas of an apostle. So, I can be the apostle of eating anchovies and sardines to improve my health. You can agree with me and thus be my disciple. Okay? Now comes the intricate part. If I get enough followers and develop some sort of ritual, then I could be considered the priest of anchovies and sardines. That’s because a priest has religion attached to it. There is some sort of ordination involved. The word comes from presbyter and means old man or elder. So, when St. Paul is writing to Titus and Timothy he talks about presbyters or elders, who are the members of the congregation with seniority and authority. So, if I find you worthy of leading another group of anchovy and sardine advocates, I can ordain you as a priest in my organization. That means that those who trust what I say can also trust what you say.” Jason chuckled a little. “I looked all this up last night. Yeah, all of it. I was up rather late. So, maybe we can go fishing? Maybe the monkey wrench is useful, too?”

An uneasy titter wafted through the group. “What are you talking about?” Tom did not stand up. But he seemed irritated. “From my viewpoint, it’s easy to see why the Church does not talk about the Priesthood of All Believers. It’s too complicated and it doesn’t solve anything.”

Jason, still standing, nodded his head and continued, “I’m beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. For me, right now, it’s a pinpoint, like a single star peeking through the clouds. May I continue?” He looked around. Assent was given by abstention. He continued, “As Lucy said, we visited a number of chapels and churches. Unlike Lucy, I didn’t see division. I saw variety. Like Lydia said, there’s much that each denomination holds in common. I have noticed that even the denominations that reject creeds have to agree with every point in the Nicene Creed. We all have some sort of Last Supper celebration. One group dunks at baptism, another sprinkles, but all agree on baptism. I saw a unity in the Christian faith that I had not seen before, exactly the opposite of what Lucy saw. Now think about this for a moment: would you like to vote on who is right, me or Lucy? Now I’ve got another monkey wrench: I’d vote that Lucy is right. Not because we can’t prove where Jesus’ tomb might have been, but because we break faith with our Christian siblings over trivial things. Like Jesus said about the Pharisees, we clean the outside of the cup and leave the inside filthy.

As far as the purpose for this adventure is concerned, there’s something about what Lydia was saying, that our church buildings are designed for the congregation to participate, but that only priests are allowed in the temple. That’s all I have to say right now. Besides, it’s getting late. I think we should adjourn until tomorrow. Let’s get some sleep and tackle the rest of this refreshed.” He sat down.

Tom stood up. “I agree.” He said flatly. He turned to leave, then looked back at the group, saying, “Well, don’t get me wrong. I think I now see the pinprick of starlight that Jason is seeing. But there’s much to pray about…and sleep on. See you at breakfast.” With that he left. Slowly, each of us got up and headed to our rooms.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

2nd Chronicles https://biblehub.com/2_chronicles/23-6.htm and also concerning the Tent of Meeting that Moses had built: https://www.neverthirsty.org/bible-qa/qa-archives/question/were-the-israelites-allowed-to-enter-the-tent-of-meeting/

One Comment

  1. Uisdean-M

    The Never Thirsty site concludes with 1st Peter 1:14-16 in that we need to conform to God’s standard of Holiness. That, I think, is typical/standard Christian thinking. And I think it’s missing the point. Of course, Peter is right about conforming to God’s standard of Holiness, but read the rest of his letter. Throughout the New Testament I see repeated over and over in many different ways that we don’t find salvation in what we do, but in our relationship with God. We are obedient to our Lord because we Love Him. Jesus did not command us to be obedient, but to Love. That’s because I can’t be obedient by following RULES. But when my heart is right, when what I do is because of Love, then what I do will be obedient to God. I just need to make sure that I am acting out of Agape Love.

Leave a Reply