“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?