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Many unbelievers and some lukewarm believers think that fearing God is unhealthy.
They also think that God is somehow ‘bad’ for encouraging this fear.
Yet, the fear of which the Bible speaks is an awe that we mere mortals, prone to sin, cannot comprehend.
To believers, ‘fear’ and ‘dread’ differ in meaning from the way we understand these familiar words in a secular context.
John MacArthur has a useful blog post on the subject called ‘The Gravity of Sin’, well worth reading in full.
The section called ‘The Fear of the Lord’ stood out for me and it might help us explain this holy fear to others (emphases mine):
Although God is loving, merciful, and forgiving, He nevertheless holds believers accountable for disobedience. Like John, Paul understood well that “if we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).
Knowing that he serves a holy and just God, the faithful believer will always live with “fear and trembling.”
An important Old Testament truth is “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; cf. Proverbs 1:7, 9:10). It’s not the fear of being doomed to eternal torment, nor a hopeless dread of judgment that leads to despair. Instead, it’s a reverential fear, a holy concern to give God the honor He deserves and avoid the chastening of His displeasure. It protects against temptation and sin and gives motivation for obedient, righteous living.
Such fear involves self-distrust, a sensitive conscience, and being on guard against temptation. It necessitates opposing pride, and being constantly aware of the deceitfulness of one’s heart, as well as the subtlety and strength of one’s inner corruption. It is a dread that seeks to avoid anything that would offend and dishonor God.
John MacArthur’s blog post of June 30, 2014, ‘Sin and the Work of the Spirit’, warns Christians against easy conversions and describes what conversion really means.
MacArthur takes the epistle 1 John for his primary text and supports it with passages from Paul’s letters and other books of the New Testament.
John’s portrait of true faith highlights the conflict between sin and saving faith. Over and over, he makes clear that true believers cannot and will not continue to live in open, unrepentant sin after salvation.
The new birth—what John calls being “born of God”—epitomizes the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:3-8). The Spirit implants in those He regenerates the essence of His divine life, which John pictures as a “seed.” Just as a human birth results from an implanted seed that grows into new physical life, so also spiritual life begins when, at the moment of regeneration, the divine seed is implanted by the Spirit within the one who believes.
Also (italics in the original):
The new birth is also a monergistic operation, which means God’s Spirit alone accomplishes it (as opposed to synergistic, which means that human effort participates in the process).
MacArthur’s post is a good one for Christians to read and understand, especially if they are new or returning to the faith.
With regard to St John’s epistles — letters — I did a series on them two years ago. It is a pity that the Lectionary editors could not include more in their readings for public worship.
They can be found on my Essential Bible Verses page and are as follows for 1 John. Many of them contain excerpts from John MacArthur’s sermons and reveal John the Divine’s blueprint for Christian living:
1 John 2:3-11 – Commandments, obedience, light, darkness, love of neighbour
1 John 2:12-17 – speaking to converts as they are in sanctification, countering worldliness
1 John 2:18-29 – antichrists, false teachers, belief in Christ
1 John 3:9-13 – sin, love one another, unbelievers, Cain, first murder, hate
1 John 3:14-18 – love one another, hate akin to murder
1 John 3:19-24 – assurance, conscience
1 John 4:1-6 – discernment, antichrist, the world, faith, belief
1 John 4:7-13 – Christian love, Christ as propitiation
1 John 4:14-21 – perfect love, God loved us first
1 John 5:7-13 – Holy Trinity, unbelief, Christ’s blood and water
1 John 5:14-21 – truth of and confidence in Jesus Christ, faith, prayer, sin, Satan and the world, beware of idols
The closest I get to praying for those who have seriously wronged me in the past is to send a blanket prayer of asking God’s blessing on everyone in the world.
I mean it. It is sincere and I do hope God blesses them. That includes my enemies.
However, for those of us who are our own worst critics, finding out that someone else is piling on the dirt needlessly is, well, nearly unforgiveable. Yet, Scripture tells us we must forgive those who offend us. And those words are in the Lord’s Prayer.
In it, he says that the best way to reach them is not by lecturing them but by showing them a godly and Christian example.
What follows is an excerpt, so please be sure to read his entire post (emphases mine):
The hardest thing to do is to pray for people who don’t like you, could care less about you and are mean-spirited toward you. It’s even more difficult to preach or teach to these same people without being bitter toward them in your sermons. Our calling is to pray for the people of God and not punish them for their sins toward us. We easily fall into sin when we fail to do the first thing – commit to prayer. You will never fulfill the second part of this calling if you fail to obey the first. A lot of pastors use their preaching as pay back to mean-spirited church folk. I have done that before and it is wrong
º Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
º Be angry and sin not
º Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath
º Give no opportunity to the devil
º Let the peace of Christ rule your heart
º Cast all your anxieties and care upon Jesus – He cares
His post contains a very useful compilation of ways we can commit to praying for our enemies — and, possibly, encourage them to mend their differences with us.
If you, like me, find praying for a specific nemesis — past or present — difficult, this is a post well worth consulting.
Pastor Ashcraft of Mustard Seed Budget has a thought-provoking post on a few famous men of letters.
In it, he says (italics in the original):
It amazes me that people can read Hemingway and not turn to God. They embrace his hopelessness and rail against God. His message led him to commit suicide at 61. The Bible says: You will know the tree by its fruit. In other words: Before you buy into someone’s message, see if it worked for that person, at least.
Fellow Christians cannot help but agree. Some would say not to read the writings of such men, yet, Ashcraft enjoys Hemingway as a storyteller, not as someone whose outlook on life should be followed.
Please read his post to find out more of what about happened to Hemingway and other faithless men of letters such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Friedrich Nietzsche.
The Revd Walter Bright’s site is well worth a visit for words of conviction and inspiration.
A few weeks ago I referred to his helpful post on various types of prayer.
His post ‘Joy is strength: How can I increase it?’ is another thought provoking entry.
Over the past 35 years, the notion of personal ‘happiness’ seems to have overridden our former and greater priorities.
I remember in the late 1970s when young people used to ask each other, ‘Are you happy?’ Hmm.
It’s difficult to be happy when you’re at university or just starting out in the world. So many things interrupt or delay that temporal — and fleeting — feeling. It seemed a silly question to ask at the time. It still is.
Mr Wright puts things in perspective for us with regard to happiness — and joy. We often confuse the two. Excerpts from his post follow; please visit his site to read it in full.
He uses Nehemiah 8:10 as his text:
The joy of the Lord is my strength.
He introduces the biblical context of the word:
Webster’s Dictionary defines joy as “a feelings of great happiness” but there is something much richer and deeper from God’s word about the word. This is because joy is more of an “elevated and spiritual kind.”
and elaborates further (emphases in the original):
Joy is God’s will
But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. John 17:13. It is his will for us to serve with joy, have joy in difficult times and grow in joy.
Joy comes bursting out of salvation
Psalm 126:1-3: “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth were filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.” Joy is a gift from God through salvation.
This part particularly resonated with me:
Joy is not happiness
2 Corinthians 7:14.
“I have confidence in you; I take great pride on your behalf. I am filled with encouragement; I am overflowing with joy in the midst of all our suffering.”
The word happy comes from the same word as happen. When things are going great, we are happy. Joy, however, no matter what’s happening – you still have it.
If the joy of The Lord is my strength, then the more joy I have the more strength I get.
If you want to find out how to increase your joy and become stronger spiritually, follow Wright’s inspiring — and surprising — advice.
The Revd Walter Bright has a concise post on seven types of prayer which is a marvellous apologetic for communicating with God.
As he says:
In short, prayer is not just asking and receiving from God it is life with God, intricate, deep, living, a thing not only to enjoyed – but also understood.
In an age where many of us are reluctant to pray because it’s ‘boring’ or ‘time consuming’, Mr Bright offers good reasons to pray. Here are two (emphases in the original):
1. The Prayer of Praise. Verse 13… “you should sing praises” Somebody once said, “praise is the plow that prepares the heart for the planting of the promises of God.” In Acts 16:18-30, Paul and Silas experienced its power when they decided to life up a praise in their midnight hour of chains and pain.
6. The Prayer of Labor. Verse 16… “The fervent prayer.” Thomas B. Brooks once said that “the best prayers often have more groans than words.” 2 Corinthians 11:27; Isaiah 66:7, 8.
I would suggest an eighth — The Prayer of Thanksgiving — especially for good (or bearable!) outcomes from stressful or life-changing events. Exams, surgical procedures, financial worries, moving house and new jobs spring to mind. Supporting verses include Psalm 95:2-3, Psalm 28:7 and Psalm 106:1.
So often we wonder, ‘Why doesn’t God help me?’ Two reasons might account for that. One, we don’t talk to Him through prayer nearly enough. Two, we might be ignoring Him when He is trying to get through to us.
The more we pray, the more we appreciate God’s grace, the Holy Spirit’s guidance and Jesus as our only Mediator and Advocate.
In it, he explains how he reads and studies the Bible (emphases mine below):
The more you know about Christ, the more likely you are to reflect Him.
And that really is the Christian life. As I look back at my life and all the years of study and tens of thousands of hours of going through the Scripture, whether I’m writing books or preparing sermons, or writing notes in a study Bible, or whatever, all of my efforts to understand the Scripture do not end with the understanding of the Scripture. My goal has never been to know the facts of the Bible. It isn’t that I want to know Bible history, or that I want to know what’s in books and verses. That’s not the end, that’s only the means to an end. I want to know Him. Paul said, “That I may know Him.” It is the joy of my life to find God in the living Christ on the pages of Scripture. The more I study the Bible, the more glorious Christ is to me. The more I understand the Scripture, the more majestic and magnificent and awesome Jesus Christ is and my worship and my service to Him is a direct reflection of that awe. A limited view of Jesus Christ produces a limited capacity to worship and limited motivation to serve. The great objective of Scripture is to know Christ so that you can love Him more, so that you can be swept away as the hymn writer put it, in wonder, love and praise. It’s not about knowing the Bible, it never should be. Knowledge puffs up. It’s about knowing Christ. Not some mystical knowledge, not some knowledge induced. Your lack of understanding about Christ cripples your worship and no amount of music and no amount of sort of spiritual mood-inducing is going to produce true worship which rises out of an overwhelming wonder concerning Christ.
So whenever we gather together, it is Christ who is the goal and the end of everything we learn. Everything I know about the sinfulness of man makes me love Christ more because He brought an end to all my sin. Everything I know about the glory of God makes me love Christ more because I see God fully revealed in human terms that I can comprehend in Christ … He’s the theme of all of Scripture.
This is why it is almost painful to read or listen to so many notional Christians who subscribe to erroneous beliefs: Arminianism, universalism, mysticism, Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM), gnosticism, theonomy or liberation theology.
Nothing in the New Testament points to any of those.
Yet, the stubborn say, ‘I’ve read it already’ or ‘That verse doesn’t agree with my personal belief’. I read a long thread last week about the HRM on another blog; one HRM advocate said (paraphrased), ‘Well, as I don’t really know the details of the New Testament, I cannot say’.
Read Holy Scripture and discover the truth it reveals. If you’ve actually read it, reread it. It contains a wealth of knowledge which helps us understand Christ all the better. And in understanding Christ, He draws us closer to Him and we better reflect His example in our own lives.
As MacArthur says, isn’t that the purpose of the Christian life?
Excellent starting places in the New Testament are the Gospels of John and Mark as well as the Epistles Hebrews and Romans. And why not try the Grant Horner Bible Reading System? It’s easy to follow and takes but one half-hour a day.
Following on from yesterday’s post on politicians’ sexual peccadillos, a more general social outlook sees a plethora of unsettling news stories from the West.
A brief sampling includes sexual experimentation by preteens involving porn and rape, an abusive (soon to be ex-) husband who grabbed his beautiful wife by the throat in public, the ‘right’ some believe they have to deface public or private property, the hate born of extreme nationalism based on neopaganism, the expanding presence of powerful street gangs (the 21st century Mafia), urban bankruptcy, colour-blind juvenile delinquency (it involves many races), the denial of humanity to toddlers and abortion. There is much more.
Whilst we lament these destructive elements, the Revd Walter Bright reminds us that we, too, suffer from our own pernicious temptation and sin in this regard. I cited his post on New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner yesterday and it is too good not to reprise:
Even though some of our weaknesses may not lead to a public scandal, every one of us has a Weiner in us. For some it is pornography, prostitution, strip clubs, money, alcohol, the party life, groupies, gossip, boasting, exaggerating, sexting, anger, masturbation, hustling and dealing. It is that thing that we wrestle with, fight against but it keeps coming back to knock us down …
It has a grip on you. It is stubborn. It is not easily overcome. It is almost like a “dog going back to it’s vomit” and a lot of Christians have a little of Weiner in them. They fall down and get up, they are hot, than they are cold. No matter how hard you try to cut loose, you are caught in its web. It is that thing you get easily addicted to …
The Weiner in you is pleasurable. It is the thing that keeps you coming back for more. Sin has a lot of pleasure in it. I don’t think anyone will be doing it in the first place if it wasn’t fun. But the tricky thing is that pleasure is fleeting and temporary. It bites in the end, and always lead to death – spiritual death.
At the Anglican-Episcopalian site Stand Firm, the Revd David Ould wrote about Charles Saatchi grabbing his (for now) wife Nigella Lawson’s throat at a London restaurant:
… when we fail to honestly take responsibility for our behaviour and acknowledge the sin within us we deny ourselves any opportunity to be forgiven or to rebuild broken relationships. Which is bad enough with others, whether they are our spouse or not, but even worse (and yes, it is possible to be even worse than this) when it comes to the way we relate to God. And never forget that the mercy available from God is even more spectacular.
To save us from judgemental moralism, aren’t we all in danger of being Saatchi?
The Revd Timothy V Shockley Sr also addressed the breakdown of society with the following excerpt from the best selling book, Are Christians Destroying America?, by Pastor Tony Evans:
When you see a culture that’s deteriorating look closer and you will probably see a people of God who have withdrawn from the culture and turned it over to the unrighteous to rule. Consider: when Christians began abandoning inner-city and urban neighborhoods, taking their skills, resources, and moral influences with them those neighborhoods deteriorated.
When Christians left the public school system, moral values were systematically erased until they became almost illegal to teach. When Christians vacated the media, then a spiritual approach to defining everything we hold dear went with them. When Christians decided they ought to get out of politics then righteous political decisions left with them. These realities are magnified in minority communities one of the beauties of integration is that minorities won the right to live anywhere they want, but one downside has been that much of the expertise and moral consciousness of the minority community left the inner city leaving behind an absence of the models who are desperately needed to give a community vision and stability. God’s people have been called to penetrate society. Don’t get me wrong, evangelism is always first because without forgiveness of sins, anything else we give a person is temporary. We have been called first and foremost to win people to Christ. But having given a person Christ for eternity, we must also give him Christ in history. We must give him hope in time. The absence of righteousness in our culture has everything to do with the absence of God’s people penetrating the culture. When there is no yeast the bread stays flat, and when there is no Christian influence the culture stays flat.
(There is only one item I disagree with somewhat and that is the sentence relating to urban neighbourhoods. It’s a bit unfair to the many residents who are God-fearing and peaceable. On the other hand, some people moved out way too early, but having lived in such an area and with a now-deceased widowed grandmother who was the last elderly holdout there, the day comes when you just have to move. With Grandma, it was the random stones (from strangers) through the windows, some of which missed her by inches, and the teen burglars who broke in once during the middle of the night. Did they have a surprise when she burst out of bed at the age of 72 in her pyjamas dashing towards them and shouting. Unfortunately, by then, they had already taken a heavy chain to her television set and brick fireplace. She sat up the rest of the night near the front door, which couldn’t be relocked. She lived in her house for another ten years.)
This isn’t a call for theonomy by any means. However, Holy Scripture calls us to lead a life of goodness and truth. When we excuse certain behaviour to each other or our children because we harbour indifference and deny the family structure — or we offer as excuses ‘helplessness’, ‘identity’ and modernity — then we are enabling a corrupt, violent, valueless society.
Setting the best example we can is a good start towards a remedy as is explaining to each other and to the next generation why certain things are plain wrong.
The American Episcopalian-Anglican site Stand Firm recently featured a summary of New York City’s mayoral candidates.
Timothy Fountain tells us:
In New York, what I think is the new legalism is on parade. I’m calling it “justification by sexual expression.” It’s all the rage these days. It’s there in the requirement that one affirm gay marriage in order to be a Good Person, for example, but not limited to that.
It seems that the Empire State, in particular its Big Apple, requires public sexual expression in order to be a worthy public servant. Consider[:]
Anthony Weiner, candidate for Mayor of NYC. This is a guy who resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives because he was texting pictures of his junk to various lady friends. While he was married, no less. But he’s a serious contender for Mayor. In fact, his name recognition might be best of all the candidates, because he expressed his sexuality.
His main opponent? Christine Quinn. Her main qualification? …
Yep, she’s a lesbian. She should be Mayor because she expresses her sexuality.
But wait! There’s more!
Now leaping into the NYC race as a candidate for Comptroller? It’s Elliot Spitzer!
He was the Governor of New York, until word got out that his public pay and benefits included patronage of upscale prostitutes.
It’s not just the Empire State that faces challenges in this area:
Moving beyond New York Democrats, there’s Mark Sanford, former GOP Governor and now Representative from South Carolina. He created my favorite new sexual euphemism, “Hiking the Appalachian Trail,” which means “Flying to another country on the peoples’ dime to romp with my mistress while the people keep my wife and family in the Statehouse.”
The question is what is this guy thinking? After being publicly humiliated and getting kicked out of office by his actions, he goes back to doing the same things that ousted him in the first place. It is my take that Anthony Weiner has a Weiner Problem. Even though he insists that he does not have an addiction to this kind of lifestyle, he most definitely has a problem. A problem that most believers can identify with: A disposition to sin and a return to it – just like a dog to its vomit.
The Weiner in you is a weakness,
A certain disposition to sin. Even though some of our weaknesses may not lead to a public scandal, every one of us has a Weiner in us. For some it is pornography, prostitution, strip clubs, money, alcohol, the party life, groupies, gossip, boasting, exaggerating, sexting, anger, masturbation, hustling and dealing. It is that thing that we wrestle with, fight against but it keeps coming back to knock us down.
The Weiner in you is a stronghold.
It has a grip on you. It is stubborn. It is not easily overcome …
The Weiner in you is deceptive.
It tells you that you are invincible. No one will ever find you out. You wife will never know. Your boss will never find out. The Weiner in you tells you that you are good at it. In fact it even convinces you that you can never change – this is who you are – embrace it …
The Weiner in you is pleasurable.
… It is the thing that keeps you coming back for more. Sin has a lot of pleasure in it. I don’t think anyone will be doing it in the first place if it wasn’t fun. But the tricky thing is that pleasure is fleeting and temporary. It bites in the end, and always lead to death – spiritual death …
Five decades ago, our more faithful family elders predicted this would happen. We were younger then; some of us — myself included — told them that this was a new era which needed a new way of thinking. Now, many of my peers and I — the ‘me’ generation — see that what our parents and grandparents foresaw in their wisdom has, indeed, come true.
It’s hard to believe that so many people today value sexual relations and other sin above moral living. (I use that term because not everyone mentioned in this post is Christian.) Moral living is so much easier, but the problem is that it is less ‘fun’, less ‘satisfying’. And, where politics are concerned, many voters bought into the whole thing by rationalising Bill Clinton’s behaviour not so many years ago. ‘So what?’ they said. ‘French presidents and prime ministers have been at it for years. No one there cares. Why should we? It’s time America grew up and accepted sex as a fact of life.’
Sex is a fact of life, and not always in the best way these days. What example does this set for us and for future generations? We have a sexually saturated society. We also have a corrupt and crime-ridden one. Is one feeding the other or turning a blind eye to it?
For those trapped in this lifestyle, Pastor Bright has this advice:
The first thing one needs to do is accept or acknowledge that they have a Weiner problem. If you cannot accept the fact, you will not be able to confront the fact. The second thing is to be open about your Weiner problem, thus leading to the third thing – seek help. Finally we must humble ourselves under the mighty power of God and allow the word of Christ to dwell in us richly as we daily submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit. When we acknowledge our sins, openly confess our sins to Jesus and to others without shame and seek the help we need through counseling, accountability and for some – deliverance, drawing power from the Lord, allowing his word to saturate our lives as we submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit – we not only get set free, but also stay free and victorious.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9
From this verse is derived the phrase ‘priesthood of all believers’.
When I was growing up and even as a young adult, there was no such thing as Every Member Ministry (EMM), where laying a table at a church supper counts as much as preaching the Word of God.
So it seems, at any rate.
Today’s churches of whatever denomination push their various programmes involving laypeople. These are often referred to as ministries. It still surprises me to visit a church website, click on the word ‘Ministries’ and find that these do not pertain to clergy.
Such is the ‘priesthood of all believers’.
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) says (emphases mine):
We affirm the priesthood of all believers. Laypersons have the same right as ordained ministers to communicate with God, interpret Scripture, and minister in Christ’s name. That is why the Convention requires strong lay involvement on its boards.
This doctrine is first and foremost a matter of responsibility and servanthood, not privilege and license.
It is of course, a perversion of this doctrine to say that all views are equally valid, that you can believe anything and still be a Baptist or that the pastor has no unique leadership role.
Notice how the SBC calls this ‘priesthood’ a ‘right’ and a ‘responsibility’ in an incorrect way.
On this topic, Theopedia cites Daniel Akin in Perspectives on Church Government, (p. 37):
The priesthood of all believers… means that in the community of saints, God has constructed his body such that we are all priests to one another. Priesthood of all believers has more to do with the believer’s service than with an individual’s position or status. We are all believer-priests. We all stand equally before God. Such standing does not negate specific giftedness or calling. It rather enchances our giftedness as each one of us individually and collectively does his part to build the body (Eph. 4:11-16). We are all priests. We are all responsible.
It will come as no surprise to find that Dr Akin is a leader in the SBC and is president of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
If that is the actual reading of St Peter’s verse, then how is it that most churches never held to this position until the past 20 years or so?
I was not alone in having been raised by parents and religious teachers with the concept that ministry — the pastorate — was a ‘vocation’ or a ‘calling’. This also held true for abbots, nuns, friars, brothers and other vow-professing members of religious orders. It did not extend to Mrs Smith or Mr Jones down the street, as nice and churchgoing as they were.
Earlier in 1 Peter 2 — verse 5 — Peter introduces Christian priesthood by saying:
you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Reading that verse puts a different slant on 1 Peter 2:9.
One of the few traditional, orthodox interpretations of ‘priesthood of all believers’ is that of David J Riggs:
… all Christians are of that holy priesthood and can offer spiritual sacrifices to God. All have the right to go directly to God through Jesus Christ, our High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16).
… Rev. 1:5-6 says, “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” Consequently, the New Testament repeatedly teaches that all Christians are priests. When one obeys the gospel of Christ, he is added to the body of Christ and is thereby part of God’s holy priesthood. As priests, all can offer up spiritual sacrifices and draw nigh to God through the mediatorship of Jesus.
A sacrificing priesthood of men was appointed under the law of Moses, but the animal sacrifices offered by those priests were mere types and shadows of the one sacrifice made by Christ. By the one sacrifice made by Jesus, He put an end both to the Levitical priesthood and the Old Testament law. (See Heb. 7:23-25; Col. 2:14-17) …
There is no priesthood on earth that has the right to forbid each Christian from going directly to God through Christ, or to assume the authority to administer graces and obtain mercy for others. All Christians are of that royal priesthood of God, and have but one great High Priest, Jesus Christ …
That is what the ‘priesthood of all believers’ means.
It does not mean judging and demanding confessions in small groups, like the Communists do (as per Bella Dodd). No layman has the ‘right’ to hear about your sins.
It does not mean poking our noses in someone else’s business because they do something in the freedom of Christ with which we personally disagree.
It does not mean that by baking cookies for the church fête or being a church greeter on Sundays that we are performing a priestly function.
The ‘priesthood of all believers’ means that we do not require a high priest on Earth to intercede on our behalf to our Father in Heaven. The Christian lay ‘priest’ (true believer, faithful to the Gospel) may pray freely and directly to Christ Jesus, his only Mediator and Advocate.
Clark examines Ephesians 4 and other New Testament passages in light of Every Member Ministry (EMM).
He started his Christian journey as a Southern Baptist before becoming a Reformed minister. Note how the aforementioned SBC ‘priesthood of all believers’ definition came to play out in his life:
I wasn’t always a stuffy high-church Calvinist. I came to faith in the context of a revivalist Southern Baptist congregation. I learned quickly as an evangelical that I needed to have a “ministry.” It wasn’t enough simply to be a teen-ager and to learn the basics of the faith and to go about my daily life trusting Christ, dying to sin and living to God. No, I had to have a “ministry.” So we took “spiritual gift” tests. The test said that I had the gift of prophecy. I’m still waiting for that one to kick in. In order to be regarded as full-time, sold-out, born again Christians, one had to have a ministry. So, with other students, we started a campus bible study at the local public school (which was contested by the Nebraska Civil Liberties Union the next year!). I was at Campus Life and if not there then at Youth Group or at a FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) or Campus Crusade (I was a religious over-achiever) meeting at the University or every week. My last two years high school w[ere] a blur of religious activity. When I got my first radio job helping to produce and then to host a Sunday morning gospel show on a local country station, my well-meaning youth pastor told me that it was okay to miss Sunday AM services because I had a “ministry.”
Later, as a young Reformed minister:
If I can be brutally honest when I embraced the “every member ministry” model during my pastorate in Kansas City it was because we were a small church and we didn’t seem to be growing and, in response to the tremendous internal and external pressure felt by most pastors to “grow the church,” I adopted a series of “new measures.” I became a predestinarian evangelical. I fiddled with the Regulative Principle and I made friends with the so-called “church growth” movement and I let those things color my biblical exegesis. I read a series of distinctly modern assumptions back into Ephesians 4.
Clark cites Ephesians 4:11-12 (ESV):
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…
He rightly asks:
Did Christ give the various offices listed “to equip the saints to do the work of ministry” or did he give them “to equip the saints, for the work of ministry….”? In other words, are these two phrases to be taken as a list of things to be done by these special offices or is the purpose of the offices to equip the laity to do the work of ministry?
Clark begins his post by saying that EMM has its roots in the 18th century Second Great Awakening. By the 1820s, it was becoming a pattern in American evangelicalism.
Is EMM biblical or is it populist and democratic?
The New Testament does not say much about EMM:
Our Lord did not give the keys of the kingdom (Matt 16) to every member but to the apostles, the first officers in the visible, institutional church. The “every member” model fits well into the program-driven approach adopted by virtually all evangelicals since the 18th century but does it fit Paul’s view of the church elsewhere? It seems to me that, if Paul had such a view, he would have expounded on it in detail in other places but he did not. He did, however, spend a considerable amount of space detailing the nature of the special offices. 1 and 2 Timothy were written to a young pastor. 1 Timothy 3 is about the offices of elder or overseer (vv.1-7) and deacon (vv.8-13). Most of 1 and 2 Timothy are about how Timothy should conduct his office as pastor. Much of Titus 1 is taken up with the matter of elders and Titus 2, again, is about the conduct of pastoral ministry. 1 Peter 5 is devoted to the office of elder. In other words, we have extensive revelation about the special offices and precious little about so-called “every member” ministry.
I’ve heard it argued that Acts 8 reflects the apostolic approach to “every member ministry” in as much as the church was scattered and “those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” One difficulty with the application of this narrative to this question is that the only Christians named in the narrative are special officers (Stephen and Philip). The first example of this preaching to which Luke turns is Philip. It is not at all clear that the intent of his narrative is to supply a ground for the “every member” ministry model.
Back to Ephesians 4:
Why would Paul turn to “every member ministry” in the midst of a discussion aimed at and about the ministry of special officers? In the verses before Ephesians 4:11-12 he’s speaking to Timothy about the conduct of his office and the first thing he says in v. 13 has to do with the public administration of the Word. In short, the every-member interpretation of Eph 4:11-12 doesn’t seem to fit even the immediate context.
So, what do laypeople do as church members? Clark helpfully explains our responsibilities as Christians just the way I understood them when I was a child:
I think it’s helpful to speak about the witness of the laity to the faith (that which is objectively revealed in the Word and confessed by the Reformed Churches) and their witness to their faith, i.e. to their subjective appropriation of the biblical faith. Yes, we should speak to our neighbors, friends, and co-workers about the faith and our faith, but we should distinguish lay witness from the official proclamation of the gospel. God the Spirit is free to act through popular witness or public proclamation, but as has been noted, it is to the latter that he has attached promises.
I realize this is heresy in contemporary evangelicalism, but not everything every Christian does is “ministry.” The baker has a vocation to bake to the glory of God but baking is not his ministry. We need to recover the idea of vocation. Calling the daily work of Christians “ministry” is intended to elevate it but it actually accomplishes the opposite. It devalues it by implying that anything that isn’t “ministry” isn’t valuable significant in itself. Really, what the EMM model has done is to take us back to the pre-Reformation view of the church in which there were two classes of Christians. The Keswick Movement did the same thing. Again, folk were thinking of two classes of Christians, those who have the blessing and those who don’t. The EMM movement implies that unless what someone does is “ministry” it isn’t really significant.
To those looking for their first church or transferring to another, beware the exhortation to join a ‘ministry’ under the spurious obligation of the ‘priesthood of all believers’.
Respond by telling them what that phrase really means.
And, yes, let’s recover the idea of ‘vocation’ and ‘calling’ with regard to our clergy.