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The Ministry of All Believers by Howard Snyder: Part 2

Posted by Radical Resurgence | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 05-05-2012



The key passage here is 1 Peter 2:4-9.  Peter says that believers are “being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”  The church is “a chosen people (laos, or “laity”), a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God”, called to declare the praises of him who called (it) out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

In coming to know Christ, believers became part of the body of Christ, the church. Under the high priesthood of Jesus the church itself is priesthood. In 1 Peter, the author refers to Exodus 19 where Moses was about to go up to the mountain to receive God’s law.  God said to Israel: “Now if you obey me fully, and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex.19:5-6).

The whole nation of Israel, not just the tribe of Levi, was to be God’s priesthood.  God’s plan was that his people would represent him to the world.  They would be the channel of his revelation and his salvation purposes.  This was God’s commission to Israel.  Although Israel often was unfaithful and the commission was only partly fulfilled, God’s purpose was clear.

This background gives us a fuller understanding of the New Testament references to the priesthood of all believers.  The meaning of priesthood in the Old Testament was narrowed finally to Jesus Christ, the Messiah who has become our great high priest (Heb.3-8).  But in Jesus Christ the priesthood has been expanded to include the whole people of God, fulfilling God’s original intent.  With the birth of the church, the old clerical priesthood was set aside, for a new high priest had come.  Jesus, king of justice and king of shalom, came as God’s Son, not through the Levitical priesthood (Heb 7:1-10).  And the whole church is a kingdom of priests, a priestly kingdom.  The church is a priestly people set free for the Kingdom of God.

This spiritual priesthood means at least three things for the ministry of God’s people today.  First, it means, as the Reformers said, that all believers have direct access to God. We may “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Heb. 4:16).  Since Jesus is our high priest, we don’t have to go through a human priest to come to God.  The way to God has been opened up directly through Jesus Christ.

This, however, is only a part of the meaning of the priesthood of believers.  An overemphasis on this point can lead to excessive individualism.  The priesthood of believers then is taken to mean that since we each have direct access to God, we don’t need each other.  This is a distortion which fails to see the full meaning of priesthood for the church.

A second balancing truth is that we are priests to each other.  We are not just individual priests; we are a priesthood, just as the church is a body, a people, a nation.  The church is a fellowship in which each person serves as a priest to others.

I am thankful for brothers and sisters in the church who have been priests to me, and who represented Christ to me.  As a priesthood, then, the church is not a collection of isolated priests, each going separately to God, but is a community of priests. We have this ministry together, to be priests to each other.

A third truth, however, is equally important.  Priesthood is not just for the internal life of the church; it is for the world. As priests, Christians are God’s missionaries and servants for others.  The job of a priest is to represent God to the people, and to represent the people to God. So the church is Christ’s body in the world, charged with and empowered to represent God to the world and to bring the world to God.  This again traces back to the Old Testament, where Israel was to be God’s agent before the nations.

The church, then, is God’s priesthood in the earth.  It is commissioned to be heralds and servants to the world, and to gather up the world’s burdens and concerns and present them to God in prayer and intercession.

Biblically, this is the first foundation stone for understanding the ministry of God’s people. From the perspective of the priesthood of believers, every believer is a minister. Every believer is a priest, with access to God, responsibility to others in the body and a ministry in the world.  This is not the full picture, however. One foundation stone is not enough. We must join the priesthood of all believers with the fact of spiritual gifts.

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