Friday, September 05, 2008


[Subversive Underground] Presents

Hard Questions by Keith Giles

As I continue to study God's Word on the subject of the Church, I find myself confronted often by the genius of God's design for His Body and His plan for His Church. I can't deny that God had a specific plan for His Bride and He clearly communicated this to His Apostles and they clearly communicated and modeled this from the very beginning. We can see, in the book of Acts and in the Epistles, the way they loved and lived and worshipped. There really is no mystery as to what God had in mind when He breathed on His Apostles and sent them out.

"They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." - Jesus, from Matthew 23:5-12

The Doctrine of the Priesthood of Every Believer begins here, with Jesus. It's also evident when Jesus stoops to wash the disciples' feet, taking on the role of a servant. He humbled himself before them, served them as a slave would serve his master, and then said, "'Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them."You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.." (John 13:12-17)

This instruction by Jesus was intended to teach them the principle of humility and brotherhood among them as equals. It's not just for those who are in leadership, it is for anyone who has made a decision to be a follower of Christ.

Paul gives us an amazing picture of God's Church in 1 Corinthians 12 as a relational, interconnected organism empowered by the Holy Spirit and gifted to administer healing and encouragement and everything the Body would need as it lives out its mission. The only head of this Body is Christ Jesus.

The problem is that our traditional structures inhibit this design and render it useless. In the traditional church we have set up one designated person through whom all the gifts are expected to flow. If we have a need for counseling we call our pastor. If we need spiritual advice or teaching we look to our pastor. If we need prayer or encouragement or anything else we call our pastor. We do not expect that these things might come from the rest of those alongside us in the Body, which is what God intended.

This week I discovered a book written in 1956 by a theologian by the name of W.C. Ketcherside called "The Royal Priesthood". It has challenged me and rocked me in unexpected ways. One of the strongest quotes refers to God's DNA for His Church as found in the New Testament and concludes, "Any system which operates to forbid or render impossible the functioning of every priest according to ability is subversive of God's whole system...We are not left to test and experiment with other forms and ideas. God has established a system which is the climax of all his creative genius. The inferior priesthood of the past pointed toward this sublime age of universal priesthood. We are not to go back to the literal and limited ministry of the previous dispensation, but we are to implement and utilize the spiritual and comprehensive priesthood made possible by the one who first became both sacrifice and priest. God's plan will work for us, if we will work his plan for him."

*Read the entire book HERE

To be honest, this quote is stronger than anything I would ever feel comfortable saying out loud. But as I contemplate the quote I can't find a way to refute it.

Ketcherside goes even further to say, "When God had a limited priesthood, (in the Old Testament), Korah, Dathan, and Abiram sought to make it inclusive of the whole congregation, and perished for their evil attempt. Of what punishment shall he be thought worthy who now seeks to install a limited priesthood for the universal one which God has revealed?"

God's plan for His Church was radical. He would remove the Temple, and tear the veil separating Himself and the common people. He would fill each disciple of the Messiah with His Holy Spirit and empower them to live transformed lives of extravagant love, communicating the Gospel of the Kingdom with anyone in their path.

In God's new design the people are the new temple of God. The people are the new priesthood. The people are the carriers of the Kingdom message to the World at large.

The Doctrine of the Priesthood of Every Believer originates in the New Testament and was a foundational element in the development of the Protestant Church when Martin Luther argued against the medieval belief that Christians were to be divided into two classes: "spiritual" and "temporal" (or non-spiritual). Luther put forward the idea that all baptized Christians are priests and spiritual in the eyes of God.

*See Wikipedia entry on the Doctrine HERE:

"That the pope or bishop anoints, makes tonsures, ordains, consecrates, or dresses differently from the laity, may make a hypocrite or an idolatrous oil-painted icon, but it in no way makes a Christian or spiritual human being. In fact, we are all consecrated priests through Baptism, as St. Peter in 1 Peter 2:9 says, "You are a royal priesthood and a priestly kingdom," and Revelation 5:10, "Through your blood you have made us into priests and kings." - Martin Luther, from "To The Christian Nobility of the German Nation" (1520).

Two months later Luther would write in his "Babylonian Captivity of the Church":

"How then if they are forced to admit that we are all equally priests, as many of us as are baptized, and by this way we truly are; while to them is committed only the Ministry and consented to by us? If they recognize this they would know that they have no right to exercise power over us (in what has not been committed to them) except insofar as we may have granted it to them, for thus it says in 1 Peter 2, "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a priestly kingdom." In this way we are all priests, as many of us as are Christians. There are indeed priests whom we call ministers. They are chosen from among us, and who do everything in our name. That is a priesthood which is nothing else than the Ministry. Thus 1 Corinthians 4:1: "No one should regard us as anything else than ministers of Christ and dispensers of the mysteries of God."

Most Protestant Churches affirm this Doctrine of the Priesthood of Every Believer in some way. However, in practice the story is quite different.

In much the same way that Southern Baptists affirm the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit on paper and yet forbid the practice of public healing ministry, or speaking in tongues, or raising your hands over your head during worship, the traditional Protestant Church pays lip service to the Priesthood of Every Believer but in practice forbids the full exercise of this doctrine in their midst.

Essentially, Traditional Churches are uncomfortable with the Doctrine of the Priesthood of the Believer because at face value it threatens their structure and their clergy/laity division. It especially threatens pastors who support their families based on the salary they receive from their Church. Even the Wikipedia entry above affirms this point when it says: "This doctrine stands in opposition to the concept of a spiritual aristocracy or hierarchy within Christianity."

So far I have done my best to avoid this controversy. In my articles and in my public speaking I've gone out of my way to be gracious to the Traditional Church and to point out that God loves His entire Bride, not just those in the House Church. I really do believe that, by the way. God has shown me time and again that the Gospel is preached and the Kingdom is advanced through the Traditional Church. I cannot deny that, and I have no personal grudge against my brothers and sisters in the Traditional Church.

In fact, God has also made sure to place me in several ongoing relationships with traditional churches and pastors. For example, every other week I meet at 6am to pray with the pastor of a large, local Lutheran church. He's my friend and my brother in Christ and I have been very blessed to pray with him and I am honored to know him.

For the last year I have also been invited to preach once every quarter at a local traditional church. This is a church I love dearly. I love their pastor and I love those people very, very much. I am honored to know them and to cheer them on as they follow Christ and advance the Kingdom and live out the Gospel in their daily lives. Many of them are personal heroes of mine, in fact. They are a church full of remarkable men and women who live incredible lives of service and devotion to God and to the Kingdom of God.

So, when I say that there is a tension between the house church and the traditional church, I am speaking very personally. I am sharing with you that I am the one who is feeling pulled in two directions at once. This tension is painful to me, and it threatens to harm my friendships with people I love very, very much. This is not easy for me to talk about. Not at all.

So, honestly, what am I to do with this? How do I respond? What do you think the implications are for us as believers if we willfully ignore God's clear intention for His Bride to operate as a family of equals with every member a priest, and every priest a member?

On one side we could say that we need to repent and to make every effort to reform the Church from within. Others might suggest that we should simply "Be the Church" as God intended and let God sort out everyone else in His own time and in His own way.

If we look at Martin Luther we see a man who publicly opposed and confronted the established Church of his day in order to bring a reformation whereby each Believer could have a Bible and study God's Word without the permission of a priest. He also condemned the selling of indulgences (forgiveness of sins) by the clergy. Without Luther's actions we'd never have known the religious freedoms brought about by the Protestant Reformation.

Should we follow his example in this case? Should we raise our voices and publicly debate and defy the established Church of our day as well?

What about St. Francis of Assisi? He felt a strong compulsion to embrace the plight of the poor and gave away everything he owned in order to follow Christ in radical poverty and service to others. His reaction to the extravagant, excessive wealth of the Catholic Church in his day was to simply embody the change he longed to inspire in others. Rather than write letters to the Pope condemning the excesses of the Church, or standing on the street corners shouting sermons against the Catholic leaders, he simply and quietly lived out his convictions and inspired a movement.

Granted, Francis didn't change the excesses of the Organized Church in his day, or in ours, but he did model another way of following Christ that involved embracing the poor and touching the least in our community. To this day people are discovering his story and following his radical example of Christian compassion.

Perhaps our best course of action in this situation would be to live out the convictions we have in full view of those we love, whether they agree with us or not?

Do we need a public reformation or a quiet revolution? Or maybe just a softer reconciliation within God’s Family where Brothers and Sisters in Christ embrace one another in love?

What do you think?

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Van said...

I really appreciated this article. I've just recently discovered this whole simple church thing. I've been wondering what our response to the institutional church should be as well. I've already encountered the resistance to these ideas from some clergy, and those inside the institutional church - mostly people I've met online, but nevertheless...
I guess as you have the privlege to minister in both settings, this is certainly personal to you. I've known so many good people inside the institutional church, it's often difficult to challenge them. So far, I've found myself struggling with wanting to be bold and wanting to be gentle. These truly are some hard questions, and I look forward to seeing how the community thinks we ought to address it.

D. L. Webster said...

Once a person sees these truths about the church, I feel that's it's all too obvious to deny. However I'm sure that there are many people who are not ready to hear or accept it. Many people have spent their lives in church and have invested a lot in the traditional or institutional church. Of course it's not easy to just change a large part of what you believe in and are doing. Those of us who have accepted this generally have journeyed for several years in order to arrive where we're at.

It would be a mistake to circumvent the Spirit's leading by either trying to force things to happen or by not doing anything. We have to try and see the Spirit's leading, to see where God is working and to jump on board there. Personally, I think it's a matter of discernment, to try and determine when and which people may be open to teaching. And I think the best approach is not to be critical (there's too much of that already), but to simply present the information and vision, and allow people to come to terms with it as they may.

Like a Mustard Seed said...

This was such a hugely encouraging post, as we've really been wrestling with this whole issue a lot lately.

Not long ago, I read a line in a book (won't mention which one it is...) that seemed to really sum up the difficulty of engaging with those who are heavily invested in the institutional form of church, specifically when it comes to pastors:

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

We find ourselves in the unenviable position of trying to help people understand parts of the scripture which threaten their entire way of life, even the manner in which their families are fed. I'm starting to realize that this will never be easy. It hits too close to home for so many people.

It's true we can't force people to accept the truth. And we have to love them as brothers and sisters. It is the Spirit that works in the hearts of men and women to open their eyes and ears. But we can't pretend that what God has to say about his Body isn't clear and plain for all to see either....

God give us more grace, give us wisdom, fill us with your love....

Are Karlsen said...

I was employed in a 2500 member norwegian pentecostal church as a manager, before I decided to quit and establish a house church. My road to that decision was very long, many years. I have taken care of my old social network, with many pastors and leaders. I am blogging my experiences and opinions, but do not try to convince other about my point of view. That is, of course, if someone want to discuss this with me, I am happy to do it.

My experience is that the distance between my opinion about non-hierarchical community and non-institutional church, and the traditional views, is so wide, that a dialogue very soon appear to be meaningless. It will soon develope into a confrontation about Bible and historical interpretations.

Earlier I hoped for a quiet revolution in traditional churches. Now I have no illusion about that, as I see a development in the opposite direction in Scandinavia. I am very happy to participate in our house church, and am experiencing that God has placed me just there.