Over the last couple of decades there has been a lot of discussion as to what exactly the church is never mind what it does. Such discussions often draw on the images of the church that are found in the New Testament. Some think of the church primarily as the bride of Christ. Others focus on the family image expressed in the teaching about God’s fatherhood and our new status as adopted sons and daughters. For others still the metaphor – and reality – of spiritual conflict makes them think of the church primarily as an army.
One strand of New Testament teaching that is frequently overlooked in the discussion is the presentation of the church as a spiritual priesthood.
It is both surprising and unsurprising that this aspect of revelation has been neglected.
Unsurprising, because of the complicated history of priesthood within the church and the misgivings many have about the catholic understanding of priesthood. And it is unsurprising that this aspect of revelation has been underplayed in the Western church as the alternative to Christianity until fairly recent times has been secularism; in the developing world the religious alternatives are usually some sort of religious system in which a priest or priestess is central.
It is also surprising, because in both the Old and New Testament, God reveals His intention that His people are to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19.6; Revelation 1.6). According to 1 Peter 2.5 the church is a holy priesthood and verse 9 of the same chapter describes the church as a royal priesthood.
So how does seeing ourselves as a priesthood affect the life and ministry of the church?
For a start, it directly connects us to the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus was and is our Great High Priest (Hebrews4.14). He is the priest who offered up Himself as a sacrifice for us. And according to Hebrews 7.25, He always lives to make intercession for us.
Jesus is Saviour, King, Redeemer, Prophet, Son of God. He is also Priest.
There are three things, amongst others, that a priest does, that have great significance for us.
Firstly, priests offer sacrifice.
What kind of sacrifice can we offer? According to Romans 12.1-2 we are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. In other words the sacrifice that we make is to use our bodies to glorify God. That is our sacrifice. Just as Jesus offered up His body as a sacrifice, so we offer ours as a living sacrifice.
Secondly, priests pray.
Hebrews 5.7 says that Jesus offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears.
In any religion the priest or priestess is seen as a mediator. Someone who stands between people and God. Who represents God to people and people to God.
The church is God’s representative on earth. The church is to bring the needs of the world to God in prayer. And to bring the God’s love to the world through evangelism and acts of service.
Finally, priests offer worship to God.
Hebrews 13.15 says “Let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that confess His name.”
The church is not only a praying community. God intends it to be a worshipping community.
God has placed His church in the world to represent His ways and to care for the people of the world. The teaching of the church as a priesthood captures this truth in a way that none of the other images of the church do. Perhaps it’s time we reconnected with our inner priest.