Why I Am Not a Priest

David said, “The LORD, the God of Israel, has given rest to his people, and he dwells in Jerusalem forever. And so the Levites no longer need to carry the tabernacle or any of the things for its service”… For their duty was to assist the sons of Aaron for the service of the house of the LORD, having the care of the courts and the chambers, and cleansing of all that is holy, and any work for the service of the house of the God. Their duty was also to assist with the showbread, the flour for the grain offering, the wagers of unleavened bread, the baked offering, the offering mixed with oil, and all measures of quantity or size. And they were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the LORD on Sabbaths, new moons, and feast days, according to the number required of them, regularly before the LORD (1 Chronicles 23:25-31).

As the years passed, the priests’ roles changed. Originally, they were responsible for carrying God’s tent through the desert; now that had God set up a home for his people in Jerusalem, their job changed. They maintained the courts and the chambers. Soon, they would keep up the temple. Most importantly, they would “stand every morning, thanking and praising the LORD.” We should respect and learn from this, the recognition that God deserves continual praise, that we should figure out how to make sure He gets it.

When I tell people in the Northeast (barbers or seat mates, for example) that I’m in seminary, they typically ask if I’m going to be a priest. I often say something like “Basically, though as a protestant I’ll be called a ‘pastor.'” There is a difference, though, and it does matter. Roman Catholic priests have some similarities to the Israelite priests that Protestant pastors do not take on. Like the Israelite priests, I respect and learn from my Roman Catholic brothers, but I would not take on that office myself.

Like the Israelite priests, the Roman Catholic priest is responsible to lift up an offering to God, the mass, each day. They consider the mass the body and blood of Jesus Christ because they believe it is Jesus’ sacrifice (not essentially their sacrifice) that pleases God; they believe it is Jesus’ sacrifice that pleases God, so they consider the mass they lift to be the body and blood of Jesus Christ. They recognize that God deserves continual praise, and they make sure that He gets it, through the mass that the priests perform.

However, there’s a verse in Hebrews that suggests the leaders of God’s people now have a different role:

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feed. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified…

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25).

When Hebrews says “us” and “one another,” I believe it’s talking about all of us. All of us are to draw near to God, all of us are to stir one another up to love and good works, all of us are to encourage one another. This is how we praise God, how all of us take part in the praise God deserves. All of us are to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (13:15).

The devotion of the Israelite priests and the Roman Catholic priests should remind us that God’s praise is more important than we likely remember on a day to day basis. We are responsible to make sure that God is praised every day, but thanks to Jesus we can give that praise. Because of Jesus, we must not delegate that praising to chosen clerics; because we can each praise God, we are each responsible to praise God. We are each responsible to praise God, and thanks to Jesus we can.

Christ is not an agitator. He offers no new, intense experiences. He does not sell anything. He is, and that is all–like a flower on the restaurant table in the midst of the smoke and the talk. This is not what everybody else is promising today. In the advertisements, in the porno papers, in the new spiritual movements the message is clear–we have exactly what you have been looking for! Here is the answer to all your questions! We’ll straighten out the mystery of life for you! This simplification turns everyone into nothing more than a shallow consumer. Christ is not for consumption but for worship (David Wells, Turning to God, p.128).

Leave a Reply