Articles Archive -- Topical Index -- Textual Index

by Al Maxey

Issue #732 ------- October 2, 2017
It is the office of the priest to
see the creation with a new eye

Ralph Waldo Emerson [1803-1882]
Journal entry on 21 July 1829

The Priesthood of All Believers
The Who-When-How of Christian Service

When we hear of "priests," we typically bring to mind the image of a religious figure: most often that of a Jewish priest, oft encountered in our biblical studies, or a Catholic priest, with whom most are at least somewhat familiar. Although, in general, these individuals are viewed with a certain amount of respect for their lives of service to God and mankind, they are also quite often viewed with disdain for the many abuses that have arisen among the priesthood (whether in ancient Judaism or over the centuries in Catholicism). William Cowper (1731-1800), one of the most popular English poets of his day, once opined that "a priest is a piece of mere church furniture at best." Not a ringing endorsement, to say the least. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), an American essayist, lecturer and poet, was even more disparaging: "Once we had wooden chalices and golden priests, now we have golden chalices and wooden priests." Let's face it: some of the negative criticisms over the centuries of "the clergy caste" are quite valid, for these religious leaders have not always been paragons of virtue, or living examples of Christlikeness, or devout ambassadors of God's love, mercy and grace.

Our focus in this issue of my Reflections, however, is not on priests or the priesthood as it is usually envisioned (whether Jewish or Catholic). Rather, I want to direct our thoughts to a concept not often promoted by the established clergy (regardless of religious persuasion): the priesthood of ALL believers! In this present dispensation of grace, every true believer is regarded by the Lord as a priest engaged in priestly service. And yes, that includes women! There are no exclusions based on gender, race, nationality or social standing. If you are saved by grace through faith, if you are "in Christ Jesus," you are a priest in God's sight. You are a fully functioning member of His priesthood, and you are called to serve Him and others in that capacity. Isaiah prophesied about "the year of the Lord's favor" (Isaiah 61:2) which would come upon the people of God (a prophecy with more than a single and/or immediate fulfillment, but one that would be applicable to both present and yet-to-come dispensations), saying, "You will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God" (vs. 6a). Although this certainly had meaning and application for the ancient Jews, it also looked to the era of the new covenant. "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9). "You, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (vs. 5). For the Lord Jesus "has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father" (Revelation 1:6, NIV).

As for the all-inclusiveness of these called-ones in the new dispensation, the prophet Joel gave us a glimpse: "I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. On my servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days" (Joel 2:28-29). Peter declares to the crowds on the day of Pentecost that this prophecy was being fulfilled in their presence, saying that what they were witnessing "is what was spoken by the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16). "The time of the new order" (Hebrews 9:10b) had arrived; it was a time of great change. As Jesus declared to the Samaritan woman, "The time is coming - indeed it's here now - when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship Him that way" (John 4:23, NLT). Yes, it is a new day; things have forever changed, and changed dramatically! In this new order we who are in Christ are ALL priests before our God, performing priestly service. The rigid religious restrictions and exclusions of the past are gone; the era of a new sanctuary and a new priesthood has arrived (Hebrews 9:1-10)! The way into the very presence of God by ALL believers, entering through the veil as priests serving before God under our great High Priest Jesus Christ, has been opened unto us (Hebrews 10:19f). We are indeed a chosen and blessed people; a royal priesthood; freed from bondage to oppressive law; living in the freedom of God's grace.

As the people of Israel made their escape from their centuries of bondage in the land of Egypt, they were led to Mount Sinai. It was here that the Lord God entered into a gracious covenant with the Israelites. "You shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:5-6). Although the people were initially thrilled with this prospect, their history would be one of repeated detours from this "highway of holiness" laid out before them. By these deviations from God's will for them, the people of Israel would fail to rise to the regal reality to which their God had called them. Although there were a number of bright moments, spiritually speaking, in their long history as a nation, it would not be until the era of the new covenant that God's redeemed ones would truly become, in the way anticipated by the Lord, "a kingdom of priests." In Revelation 5:9-10 we find the four living creatures and the 24 elders singing a new song, declaring of the Lamb of God, "Worthy art Thou to take the scroll, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom of priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth." It would be a kingdom "not of this world" (John 18:36), Jesus told Pilate, but a spiritual kingdom in which the Spirit of God would dwell within His subjects: thus, while living in this world, we would nevertheless not be of this world.

In the new dispensation there would be no need for a literal physical structure (a temple) in which religious, ceremonial acts would be performed, for God would now dwell within the sanctuary of our hearts. There would be no further need for a priesthood (after the pattern of the Levitical priesthood who ministered in the Jewish temple), for every person who was in Christ Jesus would be a priest performing priestly duties. God's temple is now the church, and the sanctuary (the "naos") is our hearts. "Do you not know that you are a temple (literally: a "naos" = sanctuary) of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16, cf: 1 Corinthians 6:19). The "temple" of this new dispensation of grace is not a building made by human hands, but a spiritual edifice (the church) made up of living stones (i.e., individual believers). We are the household of God our Father, "having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple (literally: "naos" = a sanctuary) in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:19-22). "You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5), for "you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (vs. 9). Yes, our Lord Jesus Christ "has made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father" (Revelation 1:6). "What Israel was to be, Christ made us to be" [Dr. R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Revelation, p. 46].

No longer is the Lord's priesthood limited to a specific people (the Jews), and a specific tribe (the Levites), and a specific gender (males only). The priesthood of God under His new covenant is open to all who are indwelt by His Spirit. Men and women, Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, rich and poor -- ALL may serve Him within this priesthood of all believers. "Thus, the Church is an unlimited priesthood to offer upon the altar of the consecrated, dedicated heart of the believer spiritual sacrifices, not animal sacrifices as in the case of the Levitical priests, but the activities of the human spirit of man energized by the Holy Spirit" [Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 2, p. 53]. This priesthood of all believers is "one of the basic premises of the New Covenant: He invites all of us to be members of His royal priesthood; all of us have been called to ministry; all of us have both the joy and the responsibility of serving Christ and each other" [Dr. Paul Cedar, The Communicator's Commentary: 1 & 2 Peter, p. 143]. He is King of a kingdom "that transcends all geographical borders or political differences" [ibid], one in which we reign with Him by virtue of being in Him, "seated with Him in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 2:6; cf: 2 Timothy 2:12). Further, we are a kingdom of priests, a priesthood that transcends both nationality and gender. We are truly, in every sense of the word, a universal church of our Lord Jesus Christ: all are welcome; all may serve in whatever capacity God has called them and equipped them! "The distinction of priests and people, nearer and more remote from God, shall cease" [Drs. Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1528]. "All believers alike, and not merely ministers, are now the dwelling of God and priests unto God" [ibid, p. 1471]. "Each member of Christ shares in His eternal priesthood" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22, p. 4]. "Natural descent and all other differences are obliterated" [Dr. R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, p. 99].

"The whole body of Christians is in fact a priesthood. Everyone is engaged in offering acceptable sacrifice to God. The business is not entrusted to a particular class to be known as priests; there is not a particular portion to whom the name is to be especially given; but every Christian is in fact a priest, and is engaged in offering an acceptable sacrifice to God. ... The term 'priest' is applicable to all Christians alike" [Dr. Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. "Collectively," writes Homer Hailey, "the redeemed are a kingdom; individually, they are priests" [Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 101]. Within this new covenant kingdom, brought into existence by the Messiah, we find some significant changes from the kingdom of the old covenant, but one of the most prominent, and to some: problematic, is the fact that ALL disciples are priests before God. Indeed, efforts have been made throughout the history of Christendom to exclude certain disciples from realizing this new reality. "This truth of the 'priesthood of all believers,' however, was rediscovered and restressed during the Reformation" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 230]. Offering up sacrifices unto the Lord God was no longer restricted to the Levites, nor even to male "priests" alone (as seen in some "high church" denominations). "Every Christian can offer up spiritual sacrifices" [Dr. B.W. Johnson, The People's New Testament with Explanatory Notes, p. 359]. "Under the law of Moses the priests constituted a special class empowered to officiate in worship; inasmuch as all Christians are authorized to engage in the worship of God, all Christians are priests, and thus together constitute a priesthood of believers. ... Such are a priesthood, because empowered to officiate in worship; and the priesthood is a 'royal' one because of its relationship to the King" [Guy N. Woods, A Commentary on the NT Epistles of Peter, p. 58, 63].

Burton Coffman, in his Commentary on Revelation, noted that "Christ has made us a kingdom, each member of which is a priest unto God. This is not some far-off thing that will happen in some so-called millennium; it is the status of things now in Christ's church" [p. 23]. The kingdom of our God and Father -- His forever Family; His blood-bought Church universal -- is made up of believers who are also commissioned as priests to offer up sacrifices unto Him. And yes, this transcends race, culture, nationality and even gender! "Every stone - son and daughter - being a spiritual sacrificer or priest, all offer up praise and thanksgiving to God through Christ; and such sacrifices, being offered up in the name and through the merit of His Son, are all acceptable in His sight" [Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 851]. Where too many get "hung up" here is in their view that our priestly functions occur primarily within a church building in an official "worship service" during which we perform regulated "acts of worship." And, of course: No Women Allowed!! The phrase "worship service," however, NEVER appears in the Bible ...not even one time!! We have created a monster by taking a beautiful spiritual relationship with our Father and turning it into a rigid, regulated religion. By organizing and institutionalizing this relationship we have lost sight of the Father's universal spiritual Family, and all we are left with is a host of warring religious factions, sects and denominations (and, yes, that includes my own denomination: Churches of Christ = one of a number of warring wings of the Stone-Campbell Movement). Frankly, it is shameful what has happened in Christendom over the centuries, which is why many of us are seeking to awaken our wayward brethren and bring about a much needed spiritual reformation and transformation.

God is little concerned with what happens within our buildings during a "worship service." Those times are for our own edification and encouragement, primarily. Where you and I truly serve as new covenant priests is in our daily lives as we offer up the sacrifice of Jesus-focused, grace-centered, love-motivated lives in service to others (to His glory). "I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and well-pleasing and perfect" (Romans 12:1-2). Did you notice that Paul spoke of our priestly "service of worship," NOT of our partisan "worship services"? We, as kingdom priests under the new covenant, no longer offer ceremonial and/or bloody sacrifices in a physical structure (temple), but rather spiritual sacrifices motivated by the Spirit indwelling God's people: the new "naos" (sanctuary) of God. We are not only the "temple/sanctuary" ... we are not only the "priesthood" ... we are also in a very special way the "sacrifice" being offered. "Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice" (Romans 12:1). John Calvin (1509-1564) wrote, "Among spiritual sacrifices the first place belongs to the general oblation of ourselves, for never can we offer anything to God until we have offered ourselves (2 Corinthians 8:5) in sacrifice to Him. There follow afterwards prayers, giving of thanks, alms-deeds, and all exercises of piety." "Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased" (Hebrews 13:15-16). Our spiritual sacrifices are "not actual ceremonial observances," but are rather exemplified in our daily "pattern of social conduct" [Dr. J. Ramsey Michaels, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 49, p. 101].

Little wonder, then, that James, the brother of our Lord Jesus, observed, "This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world" (James 1:27). This prompted John Wesley (1703-1791), in speaking of our duty as priests of God, to say, "You are to offer up your souls and bodies, with all your thoughts, words, and actions, as spiritual sacrifices to God" [Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. Brethren, let's cease the endless sectarian strife over what we may or may not do in a church building during a "worship service." We have divided over such nonsense long enough. Let us rather focus on our "spiritual service of worship," and, as priests of God, let us offer up ourselves in daily godly living as ambassadors of His grace and representatives of His love. In this way we fulfill our commission as a kingdom of priests.

Specials for Readers
2017 Book & CD Offers
Click on the link above for a listing of the
books and topical studies and audio sermons
and new Bible classes by Al Maxey, and for
information on how to order these items.

Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Indiana:

I read your article titled "The Theology of Prevenient Grace: Salvation Foundation of Wesleyan Arminianism" (Reflections #731). I'm wondering: what is your understanding of predestination? Is it a biblical doctrine? Some are teaching that before the creation of the world, God chose who would be saved from eternal punishment and who would not be saved (i.e., He predestined certain people to be conformed to the image of Jesus [the "elect"], and predestined others to Hell). If this teaching is true (i.e., that God chooses ahead of time who is saved and who is lost), then what about passages such as John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:9 ("not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance")? Wouldn't predestination contradict the character of God? God is not a respecter of persons, correct? Why would He only choose to "draw some to Jesus" (John 6:44), but refuse to draw the rest, when He "so loved the whole world" and "desired for none to perish"? I would appreciate it if you would address my question on this, for it is a teaching that I'm really struggling with!

From a Reader in Ottawa, Canada:

I believe Jesus when He says no man/woman can come to Him unless the Father draws him/her. If God had not done that for me, I would never have had any desire to drag my mother to see Billy Graham in 1953 when he came to Ottawa. I was 11, and was interested in Bible study even then. My mother and father, however, were not religious to any great degree, and they never taught us from the Scriptures (or even mentioned them). I believe that God, according to His foreknowledge, knows who will accept His drawing and who will not. He also knows those who will continue to the end and those who will not (again, according to His foreknowledge). Being outside space and time, it is possible for Him to know the end from the beginning for each one of us! What an amazing God we have as our Father!

From a Preacher in Florida:

Al, your study on "The Theology of Prevenient Grace" is good stuff!! Dr. Leroy Garrett would have loved this article!

From a Minister in New Zealand:

Al, thank you for your very interesting Reflections article on "The Theology of Prevenient Grace." One particular thought I have on this is Romans 2:12-16 and the conscience of the Gentiles (which will either accuse or defend them). Free choice is not nullified or overridden. Also, for every "prompting" of the Holy Spirit (and I have had many), there is also a "temptation" to follow an alternate path contrary to God's will. What is it that made Job so righteous in God's sight? Job consciously chose to turn from evil. Thus, the freedom to choose prevailed; even in trials, Job chose to remain steadfast.

From a Missionary in Peru:

Thank you for an excellent synopsis of the differing views of God's work in salvation. It would seem, though, that the Arminian position affirms that God gives man a helping hand at the beginning, and then leaves him to his own strength! If you can be saved by an act of the will (with help from God), but then be finally lost also by an act of the will, that doesn't seem to me to be much of a salvation. That would be my conclusion. The apostle John said one of the reasons he wrote his first epistle was to assure believers that they have eternal life as a present possession. The Arminian position would seem to exclude one from singing "It Is Well With My Soul." How could any believer sing that, when in this life (according to their belief) they cannot say with certainty they are saved? But, I am sure of one thing: if salvation was due to me in any sense, I would be lost. There is nothing secure, as I see it, in the Arminian understanding, for it presents a God who can be frustrated by man's willful rejection (choice), thus rendering God unable to save His people and making salvation only a possibility, not a secure fact and reality for all God's elect. I have come to the conclusion, though, that I will never argue with anybody on this issue, but instead will embrace anybody who names the name of Christ and loves Him as Lord and Savior. ALL these I embrace as my brothers and sisters in Christ.

From a Reader in Barbados:

Your article "The Theology of Prevenient Grace" is well-stated and put together. You would make a good judge! I appreciate you stating that you lean toward prevenient grace, or some form of grace that counteracts man's total depravity. What annoys me is the intense dislike some Calvinists and Arminians hold for one another! I attend a Wesleyan Holiness Church, but I remain open on this issue because I believe there is so much about God that we do not understand, and probably never will, given our finite minds. For example, how God is able to be absolutely sovereign despite the fact that He has given us the ability to choose Him or reject Him. This is mind-boggling for our finite minds. We can disagree on this issue, but it need not separate us as believers, for salvation, at the end of the day, is offered to all. Each one of us, on hearing that Gospel call, has the ability (freewill) to respond to that calling one way or the other. I thank God for that enabling grace that predisposed me to at least hearing the word of God first, but more than that, I praise Him for the fact that I finally responded in accepting the offer of salvation. It is still the greatest decision of my life. I dare to think that at this moment I am neither hardline Calvinist nor Arminian, but rather one who has been wonderfully saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ, being enabled in the Christian walk by the indwelling Holy Spirit. I trust that both Calvinists and Arminians, on reading this Reflections, will see that there is no need to resent one another, but rather accept each other as fellow believers in Christ who simply have differing views. In this issue our common ground is far more important than our differences. Thanks again, brother, for an excellent article.

From a Reader in Indiana:

Concerning this topic of predestination, John Piper once said, "Before you were born, before you had done anything good or bad, God chose whether to save you or not." IF predestination is true, and if God has already predetermined and planned a person's fate before creating them, this seems to be extreme cruelty. Has God prechosen only certain people to be saved? This doctrine that God decides my individual fate before the foundation of the universe, and before we actually commit sin, makes Him a puppet master who pulls our strings, creating children who have no choice or will, and who destines many to torment in Hell who had absolutely no say in the matter. As a man once said, "If God, who is in control of every aspect of the universe, chooses to create some people whom He has not elected for salvation, isn't He simply creating human firewood to stoke the fires of Hell?" If this was true, I would be terrified to even have children!! I'd live in constant fear that perhaps they weren't "prechosen" before their birth for Heaven, but rather "prechosen" to burn in Hell, no matter how much we might try to point them to faith in the Lord. How can I lift up my hands or my voice to praise a God who chooses not to offer salvation to all? How could I call God "good" or "loving" if I truly believed His redemptive work was only for a few favored recipients, with all the rest being preselected for eternal torture?

From a Reader in Louisiana:

I cannot help but think of God's instructions to Peter about going with the gospel to the Gentiles. When Peter reported to the church leadership what God had done, he said this in Acts 15:7, "Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe." God chose that they would both "hear" and "believe." I have to believe that every single person God included in "they" did in fact believe. Another passage seems to address this topic as well. After the preaching of Paul and Barnabas, Acts 13:48 says, "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." Over time I have changed my views based largely on several passages in Acts, as well as Jesus' own words in the gospel written by John. Edward Fudge and I spent hours talking together about these matters, and in him I found a twin brother theologically (although he got all the brains - LOL). Maybe I'm about a 3 1/3 point Calvinist. We are saved by works: i.e., the works of Jesus. Thank you, Al, for your persistent stand for Christ and the gospel. I love you!

From an Elder in Oklahoma:

Al, have you dealt with what some call imputed sin? I was listening to a teacher who said all humans are born with sin imputed from Adam's sin. He used as a proof text Romans 5:18, where Paul writes, regarding Adam, "So then through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men." He believes this teaches we all stand condemned from birth. When I asked about very young children, his answer was that God is a loving God and can save anyone He chooses to save. I did not find that a very satisfactory answer. BTW, I really love reading your weekly Reflections.

From a Reader in Mississippi:

It is always good to read your column, and I found your column today on prevenient grace interesting. I believe, however, there is a third way, a middle way, when we think about prevenient grace. I believe that man is sinful - that no one stands truly perfect before God except for Christ - and that man's sin has separated him from God in a way that man cannot recreate the relationship he once had with his Creator. Further, our sin causes the absence of God from us, whether it is God in the Being of Father, Son or Holy Spirit. Because man is sinful and separated from God, we cannot know God, nor His principles, precepts, commands and guiding. The separation from God and ignorance of God is not from God, but from us who are in rebellion to God. This separation and ignorance of God, in turn, makes us hostile to God, for how can we be friendly to that which we cannot know because we have chosen to separate ourselves from God. Moreover, because we have ended the relationship and injured God by our rebellion, it is not in our power, as the offending party, to repair the damage that we have done. God has done nothing to us that we must forgive Him for, while our rebellion has done much to Him for which He must forgive us. Therefore, the only avenue(s) to repair our rupture in relationship with our Creator must come from Him; it cannot come from us. Once mankind has rebelled against God, then this separation from rebellion, unless God reaches out to us, is permanent and complete. To me, the scariest words in the Bible are not about Hell, but are where God says, in Romans 1, that He gives us over to our sinful natures when we reject Him. And since man is separated from God by his own volition, choice and rebellion, he may not even know when, during his rebellion against God, that God gives him over to his fleshly desires. Because the separated man is hostile to God, he does not care for spiritual matters, and being permanently separated from his Creator is something that may not even register on his conscience. So, for me, God's prevenient grace exists from birth as a longing and desire for Him that He creates within every man, and yet it is a longing and desire that we, by our conscious and willful rejection of Him, can completely silence.

From a Reader in Oregon:

The very first thing God did with man in the Garden of Eden was give him instructions about the care of the garden, including the instruction not to partake of a certain fruit. Immediately after God created man, He gave man choice: the freewill to choose whether or not to eat of the forbidden fruit. Man chose to disobey God. It seems to me that God, in His sovereignty, has chosen to give man choice from the very beginning. God has been calling mankind to repentance ever since, and will continue until Christ returns. If, however, some men were, and other men were not, predestined from eternity for salvation, then WHY is it necessary for God to call men to repentance?! For that matter, why was it necessary for Christ to come to earth and to die on the cross IF the fate of all men was already predetermined before the foundation of the world? Thanks for your Reflections, Al.

If you would like to be added to or removed from this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: