Rulers and Priests

There is a verse in the book of Revelation, and parallel passages elsewhere in the New Testament, that tell Christians that Christ “has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father” (Revelation 1:6, NIV). This appears to indicate we are to have, in addition to other things, a particular duality in our role as Christians and in how we exist as individuals. We appear to be part of a collective (kingdom) consisting of a vast diversity of people who all have two common functions.

There are all kinds of people who due to their new birth in Christ have become citizens of the kingdom of God. All of us are given a sovereignty that frees us from all competing claims of sovereignty. This does not mean we should not recognize and submit to legitimate forms of authority even though we are citizens of the kingdom of God. In most cases there are good reasons to obey and do what is good for us and for our society.

Jesus Christ is our example in regard to living in the kingdom of God.as in all else He told Pilate that he was the king of the Jews (Mark 15:2) but that did not cause Pilate to make him a ruler over Israel. However, it was given to Pilate to acknowledge his kingship by putting an ironical sign over his head on the cross that read “THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Mark 15:26, NIV).

There are people who think of kingship in terms of telling other people what to do. I think we should think of it in the way it worked for Jesus when he was on earth. That is, it gave him the freedom he needed to do the will and to accomplish the purposes of God the Father. He possessed a higher sovereignty than any that could be used to cause him to deviate from his obedience to God’s will. It seems we are to possess that same level of sovereignty although it may bring with it the same or lesser consequences.

As for all of us being priests, how can that be so? The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:1 (NIV) “to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” Who can offer a sacrifice except a priest and who can offer our lives to God except each of us as we chose to make the sacrifice. This is not a sacrifice for our sins. Jesus did that. This is a sacrifice of devotion, consecration and dedication. We are the only ones who can make this sacrifice for ourselves. Like the priests in the Temple, this is a sacrifice that must be done daily. I think it was C. S. Lewis who wrote that he arose each day full of his plans and ambitions and then each day came to the realization that his day belonged to God.

In 1 Peter 2:9 (NIV) we are told we “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” In this verse we learn that living out our identities as rulers and priests is not impossible because we are enabled to do so by God the Father though faith in Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.

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A Reformation of American Christianity

I think I would like to make a serious proposal for the reformation of American Christianity. It will be harder for me to get people to respond to the call than it was for Martin Luther. When he nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the Wittenberg church, there was already widespread discontent with the corruption in the Roman Catholic Church. The problem now is that the people in organized Christianity are, for the most part, happy with their situation, and those who are not happy pay a very small price when they abandon formal Christianity. The easy part for me to propose reformation is that I do not have to risk my life and my livelihood as Luther did.

American Christianity is also not like the situation in the churches of second-century Asia Minor when John wrote the book of Revelation. However, I think I can define my own list of seven contemporary churches in need of reformation. These are not identified by denomination, institution, closeness to tradition, or history but by their attitude concerning Christianity. They are not separate physical churches as one or more of these churches may be gathered at the same worship service. The accommodation of a variety of beliefs is a characteristic of present-day Christianity so individuals in the same congregation can be far apart in their thinking yet safe from any serious challenge to the quality of their faith.

You may be wondering what these seven churches are that I have experienced and that I would have you consider as needing reformation.

Self-Centered Church

As a member of the self-centered church, I found my life centered on me. It was all about my security, my relationship to God, what God thinks of me, how I might hurt him, my time, my possessions, my personal peace. Me, me, me! I needed some inspiration to lead a different life. I wanted to be surrendered to Christ and be doing things in the purposes of God.

Secular Church

When I was in the secular church I learned much about the Bible, but very little about the reality of God, particularly the Holy Spirit. The information was useful, but not transforming. It was easy to see “spiritual” success as living well. This agreed with my natural inclination. In fact, it taught me I was to do things in my natural ability.

Super-Spiritual Church.

In the super-spiritual church I waved my hands in the air, sang with joy and stringed instruments, heard people speak in tongues but grew little in the knowledge and practice of Christianity. It was just children’s church with grown ups.

Self-Righteous Church

The self-righteous church was set on saving the world, not from sin, guilt and eternal damnation but from poverty, disease and carbon dioxide. I didn’t feel up to the task.

Saintly Church

The saintly church saw holiness in self-sacrifice, abstinence and being different than others. I only measured up on the last count.

Pseudo-Christian Church

The pseudo-Christian church was nice, tolerant and very proud of having adopted the worst tenets of humanism. I found it had kept the name Christian while losing the reality. It would have come out well in a hypocrisy contest with anybody, because it professes to be what it is not.

Servant Church

The servant church was like C. S. Lewis’ good religious people. You feel they are good rather than them telling you so. They are full of love, joyful, peaceful, patient, kindly and self-controlled. You enjoy their presence, though I did not deserve to be there. They are not self-promoting, self-serving or boat rockers. They are what all the churches should be—and are ineffectual at reforming Christianity. Otherwise the other churches would not exist.

Each of these churches will defend themselves against being the subjects of reformation and no reformation will happen in any of them until a crisis comes from outside themselves that forces them to be what God would have them be or cease to exist.

Reading the Book of Revelation in Our Churches

I think the following paragraph from G. K. Beale’s commentary on the book of Revelation is relevant to all those whom he calls “genuine saints” and thus worthy of being posted on my blog.

In this respect [seeing the eternal perspective of their new home], the churches are to read and reread the book [Revelation] in their assembly so that they may continually be reminded of God’s real, new world, which stands in opposition to the old , fallen system in which they presently live. Such a continual reminder will cause them to realize that their home is not in this old world but in the new world portrayed parabolically [that is as parables] in the heavenly visions. Continued reading of the book will encourage genuine saints to realize that what they believe is not strange and odd, but truly normal from God’s perspective. They will not be discouraged by outside worldliness, including what has crept into the churches, which is always making godly standards appear odd and sinful values seem normal. John refers to true unbelievers in the book as “earth-dwellers” because their ultimate home is on this transient earth, They cannot trust in anything except what their eyes see and their physical senses perceive; they are permanently earthbound, trusting only in earthly security, and will perish with this old order at the end of time when the corrupted cosmos finally is judged and passes away. On the other hand, Christians are like pilgrims passing through this world. As such they are to commit themselves to the revelation of God in the new order so as progressively to reflect and imitate his image and increasingly live according to the values of the new world, not being conformed to the fallen system, its idolatrous images, and associated values (cf. Rom. 12:2).