Ordained as Priests

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; 
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
and clever in their own sight!” Isaiah 5:20-21, NASB

Today, most Christian denominations are hierarchical in structure with layers of clergy administering other clergy from the top down until reaching the level of the local church where a carefully controlled laity works in secular occupations to support that structure.

Some laity and even clergy chafe at this control from above. They chafe when women who make up most of the church population are not granted recognition for their pastoral gifts. They chafe when minority views are excluded from the public forum. They chafe when they are told what to believe without dialogue on the issues.

The clergy that are heavily invested in the status quo respond with allusions to the Old Testament priesthood and the many instances found there reinforcing the concept of an authoritarian structure with God at the top of the heap. As bodies were strewn in the wilderness during the Exodus, so those who question the system today will meet with an ill fate as a result. Better to support the organization with tithes and offerings and not question. Trust the doctrines handed down without doubting. Have faith in those who are in charge.  Any deviation in belief is seen as a straying from the true path laid down by God himself.

If doubts arise, we need only consider the story of Uzzah, who dared to touch the Ark of the Covenant and was immediately struck dead. There is also the story of the priests Nadab and Abihu who, well lubricated with wine, dared to offer “strange fire” before the Lord.  Burned to death for their pains, their example shows how dangerous it is for even priests to deviate from the existing plan.

So does God enforce this ecclesiastical world view with brute force? Does He reserve authority and control to a privileged few selected by their clerical forebears? Does the nepotism of sons following fathers who followed their fathers into the ministry provide security for a modern day priesthood ensuring they will not stray into doctrinal or moral bad behavior? Even in the Old Testament we find problems with this system.  The sons of Eli, Phineas and Hophni, were anything but examples of faithfulness and good behavior.  Instead, God had to bring in an outsider, Samuel, to bring Israel back to faithfulness. But even Samuel saw his sons drift away from the example their father had given Israel.

The problem with priests and pastors is that they are also sinners in need of a Savior. They cannot presume that anything they do will automatically be blessed by God simply because someone laid hands on them in ordination. Just as baptism does not magically produce a sanctified saint, so ordination does not magically produce a sanctified clergy. Baptism is only recognition of a relationship already growing in the heart, as is ordination.  Just as a person can choose to turn away from their relationship with Jesus after baptism, they can do the same after ordination. In each case the Devil will try to insure that is what happens, and the best way to do that is to teach the person to be self reliant. The person, who relies on self, has someone who knows no more than they do leading the way.  The person, who rests totally in the arms of God, has a sure and loving guide to enable their journey.

Since baptism and ordination are only recognition of a pre-existing relationship, it necessarily follows that a person may enjoy the offices of that relationship without benefit of human recognition of that authority or office. While John, the Baptist, baptized Jesus, there is no record of any ordination of Jesus for clerical office by men. Instead that ordination came directly from God the Father when the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove. Paul, the Apostle, received no special ordination from men until he had been working for years in ministry to the Gentiles. He, at God’s leading, created a ministry to the Gentiles. The recognition by ordination was only recognition of what had already taken place. Had he not been ordained to that ministry in Jerusalem, I doubt he would have ceased. The Holy Spirit compelled him to take the gospel to the world. God had previously set him apart for that ministry.

Some would squelch that calling to ministry in themselves and others. As the priest, scribes and elders asked of Christ, “By what authority do you do these things?” (See Mark 11:27-28), they would ask others to prove their authority by an ecclesiastical imprimatur.  And for themselves, they would fear to answer the calling of the Holy Spirit because some self-important individual might question their authority to go forward in ministry. Ignoring the calling of the Holy Spirit until it is confirmed by men is paralyzing the work of reaching the world for Christ.  Suppose Gideon had said to others, “I think the Lord is calling me to deliver Israel from oppression but what do you think?”  He might never have been the mighty instrument of deliverance that God called him to be. (You can read his story in Judges 6-8)

God is not in the business of hindering ministry by requiring ordination by men to further His work. In fact, we are ordained as priests the moment we come into a restored relationship with Him. Peter in Acts tells us“Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38, NASB. The ordaining power of the Holy Spirit comes upon us not because of the approval of men, but because we have repented and moved into a right relationship with God through accepting the death of His Son, Jesus Christ on our behalf. And that ordination from God is adequate to enable us for ministry in every important way. Peter puts it like this, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” 1 Peter 2:9, NASB

You see, we are ordained as priests, and not just ordinary priests but royal priests. And the office of that priesthood is to proclaim Him to others. There is no higher ordination.  Some would equate ordination with the ability to perform marriages, but that authority comes from the state and not from God. Some equate ordination with the authority to speak from the pulpit, but the ordination from God grants authority that is not limited to the pulpit and bestows authority to proclaim Him everywhere.  Some equate ordination to being allowed to pastor a church.  The ordination from God allows his royal priests to minister to others in Jesus’ name no matter where they find them.

Too many of God’s people have chosen to warm a pew in church for decades waiting for someone to call them to greater responsibility in moving the work forward.  They have stifled any prompting of the Holy Spirit to call them to proclaim God’s love to the world pending that recognition, that granting of authority.  They have not recognized that God has provided every enabling for ministry that they need.  He has called them to a holy purpose. He has even placed people and resources in their path to accomplish His purposes through their ministry.  Yet, in timidity they do not budge for fear that someone will disapprove or question their calling. But all God’s purposes, all His callings and blessings are enablings for ministry and service.

God sets before each of us a path that is near at hand and easily discerned. It may not place us in a pulpit in a church. It may be much more important than that. It may be as simple as inspiring a child with a story from the Bible, a child that may one day become a leader of men who will himself influence others as you influenced him. It may be providing second hand clothing to a struggling family so their child can attend school in comfort, a child that may grow up to provide a cure for a hitherto incurable disease. It may be as simple as giving hope to someone whose lamp of faith is barely flickering. It may be helping someone to find the strength in Jesus to go on for just one more day in the faith that God will provide and sustain.

People may admire the pastor or priest that can deliver a good homily, but there is no sermon as powerful as a life that lives out God’s love in a hurting world. That is a life truly ordained for service. Wouldn’t you agree?



Ordained as Priests — 8 Comments

  1. I’d love to add to what you already said Stephen, but good grief Charlie Brown, where do I begin! You really coved a lot of territory. Maybe what I should do is comment on just one thing and leave the rest for other people to comment on.
    Nepotism in the church, that’s a good hot button issue for me to voice an opinion on. So I’ll start by saying you’re right, and it is more common than what most people think. It is similar to what an Adventist dentist once said about Loma Linda University as a place where the rich perpetuate the rich.
    Actually the Jews had the same problem we have, or should I say that we have the same problem they had. They were dynasty builders not only in the patriarchal line within families but also with their kings and priests. Now some of that is good, but not all of it. One could cite the rise of James to the head of the New Testament church as an example. But why James, what gave him the qualifications for that position? When the disciples wanted to replace Judas they had a simple criterion, “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection” (Act 1:21-22 NKJ). But to place James at the head of the church who didn’t join the disciples until after the resurrection, who was among the brothers of Jesus that actually opposed His ministry (Mk 3:21; John 7:5; Desire of Ages 321, 325) to me is incredible to say the least!
    Why did they overlook this simple thing? Some think that the reason rests on the fact that James was the eldest male within the immediate family of Jesus which to the Jew gave Him a birthright to that status. I tend to agree with that assessment even though James seems to have done a decent job in that capacity. In spite of his “decent job” the fact is that his ministry was also overshadowed by his close association with the other Jews at Jerusalem who were “all zealous for the law” (Act 21:20 NKJ) who by and large opposed the ministry of Paul (Gal 2:12).
    There are many other places in the Bible where people were put in positions based on blood relationship that ended up in disaster. If the Jews had more of a mind toward serving God they would have found other more qualified people for the job and would have ended up far better than they did.
    There is much more that could be said on this but I think I should end it at this point and leave room for other comments.

    • Hi, Tyler. It is interesting that you singled out James for your comment. Martin Luther did not feel that his epistle should even have been included in the canon. He also felt that it conflicted with the Pauline epistles over the issue of faith and works. At one time, he referred to it as that "epistle of straw." I sometimes wonder how Luther would have fared in the church today over the issue of righteousness by faith.

      • First of all Stephen, I know you’re not Charlie Brown and should have left all the frivolous nonsense out of my comment, so please accept my apology on that account.

        As far as James’ epistle is concerned, in my opinion, James was technically wrong when he asked his readers, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?” (Jam 2:21 NKJ) To me, James was viewing things from a different perspective than Paul was and didn’t have the intellect or the education that Paul had. Even though a prophet is under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit his mind is not disconnected and has the freedom to choose his wording and say things in a way that he understands as a matter of witness. So what I do with that text is to overlook James’ weak theology and consider the main point (the overall context) that he was making concerning the necessity of good works in the Christian life. Paul obviously knew about the problem as well and tried to balance things up in His letters (Rom 3:31; 7:7, 22, 25).

        Those that decided on which books would be in the canon did not have an easy job. What they did was to draw up some rules for canonization which included the source of the writing as a major test point. That, like the nepotism problem caused them to overlook the obvious which they must have considered to be a minor issue. Furthermore, I am sure God would have liked to have some things added and others deleted but He doesn’t Lord it over us but allows us freedom (2 Cor 3:17), even with something as important as the Bible. What we need to do is to keep in mind that the scriptures are every bit as much a product of the human as it is of the Divine. There are even translation errors and things that were added over time but I don’t see God getting bent out of shape because of all those things. For instance, there is not one doctrine that can’t be supported through the New World Translation if the study is done correctly!

        • You make a valid point about the Bible, Tyler. I find it interesting that what we understand about human frailty in the Bible record we often do not allow in the case of Ellen White. Sometimes it seems we hold her to a higher standard than we even have for the Bible, and when we find errors, we quickly say "Aha!" But just like the Bible writers, she was only human and attempting to relate to others what God had revealed to her.

          But more on topic to my article, what kind of standard do we hold the inspiration of others to? Are we more ready to recognize someone's inspirational authority if it has been endorsed by church leaders?

          • You know, I was about to ask what church leaders, if any, really endorsed any living prophets but I won't do that because there have been a number of them throughout recorded history that did.
            As to your questions, if we do what we are supposed to do according to Acts 17:11 and 1 John 4:1 then the standards will be the same. The question is do we? If your answer is no then that is probably why we are eager to accept the counsel of our leaders unquestioningly.
            As for the church leaders, some are like the blind leading the blind while others seem to be quite competent people that we should listen to. Actually, this whole subject is really quite touchy. If Moses was our leader would we question his authority?
            What bothers me the most is what we find in our colleges and universities because they are the ones that influence the next generation. Some got their degrees in the halls of poison ivy and there is an astonishing number of them that believe in evolution (you know, man lifted himself up by his own bootstraps kind) not to mention the theological issues they bring with them and teach to our young people.

          • Have you ever considered the reverse implications of 1 John 4:1, that if there are false prophets there most certainly be true ones as well or John would have simply warned us to avoid all prophets.
            Whether talking about Moses or someone more contemporary, I think our only safeguard is the Holy Writ. It can keep us from murmuring against Moses and save us from those who are false.

            I won't respond here to the creation vs evolution debate as that is off topic and I also already wrote an article about creation here. 🙂

          • This will be the last comment I will make on this issue. Perhaps I’ve simply become too argumentative and began to beat the proverbial dead horse.

            I never intended to introduce a discussion on creationism but to merely show that the problem is not a simple one. While hammering on the leadership might be entertaining I need to recognize that I am also part of the problem. The entire church has learned and established a culture that we got from somewhere and the immediate source to me seems to be our educational system but, unfortunately, the buck doesn’t stop there. It includes all of us primarily because we are not following the Bible as we should.

            I remember reading years ago in Alden Thompson’s book, “Inspiration” his discussion about the reason why he decided to write the book. It all had to do with the problems he was facing in his classrooms when his students had to seriously study the Bible. I believe the point he was making is that a significant number of his students have been brought up with concepts and ideas that are not biblical and because of that there was major conflict when confronted with the reality.

            I personally have had some experience in this. While I was attending what was then Walla Walla College, as part of the custodial team, I had to give a onetime morning devotional to that group. The topic I chose was the miracle at Cana in which I homed in on the fact that Jesus was supporting the festivities rather lavishly and added to the enjoyment of the moment. The frowns I got and the remarks that were made by many of the students and the custodial manager after I ended was shocking. The thing that bothered me most was that even though I never mentioned Ellen White I was essentially was quoting from her and added a few of my own observations and conclusions. They didn’t recognize what was truth either by way of Ellen White or the Bible!

            So, Stephen, do we have a problem with the way we are choosing our leadership? Undoubtedly yes! But perhaps we need to step back and see the entire forest first before we come to any conclusions or make recommendations on the matter.

      • Stephen, I really don’t want to stray too far from the points that you made in your article. I think the main point that should be made is the fact that when we choose a person for an office based on blood relationship we often open ourselves up to a lot of trouble. James is just one example of that, which apparently God allowed to happen so that we would connect the dots and realize the problems that can occur when we do thing that way.
        While we should learn that lesson we also need to keep things balanced. One incident that we should consider that will do that is the rather sharp disagreement Paul had with Barnabas over John Mark who was a nephew of Barnabas (Acts 15:37-39). Clearly Paul was wrong in his assessment of Mark as he pretty well admits when he said, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry” (2Ti 4:11 NKJ).


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