A Royal Priesthood

What is your place in the church?

The sad reality is that many are spectators, watching others doing the work of ministry. They might feel as emotionally involved as those watching the footy, but not actively involved.

Others, consciously or not, behave as consumers. Even more detached than spectators, they come and go, feeling ‘topped up’ for another week in the world, but lack the emotional engagement of even the spectators.

Is this our calling? Consider what Peter calls Christians scattered throughout the regions in the Roman Empire: ‘You are … a royal priesthood’ (1 Pet 2:9).

This is a high calling; to be a priest of God, under the High Priesthood of our brother and Lord, Jesus Christ (Heb 2:17). What does it mean to be a priest?

In the Old Testament, priests cared for the temple. Playing music, singing songs, performing sacrifices, teaching and praying. Theirs was a busy life, full of worshipping God and serving his people.

Our role is different than theirs, of course. The church building is not a temple; there is nothing sacred there. It is merely a meeting place. The sacrifice for sin has already been made.

But there is a pattern for us to follow. Priests are actively engaged in ministry. They are not spectators or consumers. They are workers, joining together with the rest of the church to actively worship God and serve one another and the world.

What might your priestly service look like?

Could you be involved on Sunday? Welcoming others, helping at the sound desk, reading the bible, praying, preparing morning tea?

Outside the service, could you commit to praying daily for the ministry and people of the church?

We are all called to serve. If you are not yet serving, what one thing could you take on?

The church’s foundation

‘So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone’ (Eph 2:19-20).

Jesus said he would build his church (Matt 16:18). But what is he building his church upon? There have been many so-called churches that have not been built on the correct foundation and so have been found not to be true churches at all!

What is the foundation Christ is building upon? ‘The apostles and prophets’ (Eph 2:20). Who are these apostles and prophets?

While in one sense all Christians are apostles of Jesus, when it is used in its more formal, specific sense it refers to the 12 who were directly chosen by Jesus (Judas Iscariot replaced by Matthias), and also Paul (the exception to the rule, one ‘untimely born’ (1 Cor 15:8)).

In one sense all Christians can also be called prophets; ‘the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’ (Rev 19:10). Obviously there are prophets in the Old Testament. But in Ephesians, prophets always refer to a specific group of Christians, gifted to speak new revelation from God to guide the church.

Are there apostles and prophets (with those specific definitions) today? No. They were the foundation, bringing direct revelation from God to lead God’s people. Now the foundation has been laid, and is being built upon.

Jesus is building on their testimony, as recorded in the New Testament. This is why we are devoted to God’s word – a true church is not built by attraction or motivational speeches, but by God’s word. Specifically, God’s word about Jesus Christ, the cornerstone. He builds his church as she calls people to repentance and faith in him.

God’s Plan A

Was the church always God’s Plan A? Was it always God’s intention to have Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female (Gal 3:28)? To have a hodgepodge of people from different backgrounds and experiences, many of whom were weak and unimportant to the outside world (1 Cor 1:26)?

There are Christians who believe the answer to those questions is ‘no.’ That God sent Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah, and when he was rejected by his people God then turned to the Gentiles to start his church. This church is viewed as the great parenthesis, the brackets in the sentence detailing God’s grand plan for Israel. They believe that one day soon God will close those brackets and begin again with the Jewish nation.

But this is not a natural reading of the Old Testament promises, or the New Testament reality. Consider Gen 12:1-3. God promised Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him. When he was given the sign of circumcision in Gen 17 there were people outside Abraham’s family who received the sign. When the Israelites came out of Egypt, some Egyptians came with them (Ex 12:38). We have the stories of Rahab, Ruth and others who joined Israel. Israel was never ‘pure’ racially. There were always Gentiles included.

Think also of the New Testament church. The first Christians were Jewish. The Apostles called the Jews to join the church. James even declares Amos 9:11-12 (where David’s tent would be rebuilt) is fulfilled as the Gentiles enter the church.

Just as Israel can be called the congregation/church in the wilderness (Acts 7:38), so the church can be called the ‘Israel of God’ (Gal 6:16).

It was always God’s plan to have one people of God united together in Christ. We are God’s Plan A.