This is the fifth in a series of articles dealing with the uniqueness of the church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 20:28). Unfortunately, this church remains unknown to most in the religious world. Very few people, and this includes too many New Testament Christians, don’t have a clue as to what the church actually does (I’m speaking now of the church in the local sense). This is caused, at least in part, by an institutional concept of Christianity. This kind of thinking has resulted in two tragic consequences:
- Many feel that every responsibility of a Christian is to be discharged as a part of the church (as a group)—these folks “practice” their religion only as a part of a group, church, or institution, and
- If the local church is not big enough to do what some Christians want, larger institutions are formed in order to accomplish the desired goals.
The problem lies in the failure to understand the responsibility of the individual member of the Lord’s church (I’m here referring to the universal body of believers). Consequently, it is important to keep in mind, as we’ve already learned, that the individual is the unit of membership in the universal body of Christ and, as a result, has duties that must be personally discharged, no matter what others may do. Yes, a Christian certainly has duties to discharge as a member of a local church, but for the moment I want us to focus our attention on the Christian’s responsibilities separate from the local congregation.
To make sure all minds are right, it must be reiterated that one does not become a Christian by belonging to a local congregation, or because his parents were Christians before him. One becomes a Christian when he personally obeys the gospel. When he is saved, he is added to the universal body of Christ: “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b). Therefore, people who believe they are Christians because they were born in a “Christian home,” live in a “Christian nation,” or attend a “sound church” are greatly mistaken. In order to be a Christian, one must be “born again,” which was described by the Lord as a birth “of water and of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:3-5). One becomes a Christian by personal faith in and obedience to Jesus Christ, who is described as the Author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him (Heb. 5:8-9).
In Galatians 3:26-29, the Scriptures say: “For we are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
As we are individually called by the gospel, a Jew has no advantage over a Gentile, a slave stands on equal status with his master, and a female stands on an equal basis with a male, in that she does not come to Christ through any man, but by exercising her individual will in obeying the gospel.
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9)…“and has made us kings and priests [or a kingdom of priests] to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:6). The Scriptures go on to say: “You [Jesus Christ]…have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10), and “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Rev. 20:6). All believers have access to the Father through Jesus Christ and are called upon to make “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks…for all men” — “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). No one stands between these priests but Jesus, the High Priest: “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus” (Heb. 3:1) and “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” (Heb. 4:14).
Christians, by virtue of who they are, are involved in a priestly ministry to the world. There are obvious ways we may do this, such as helping the helpless. There are also strategic ways such as asking why the poor are poor and dealing with the structures and powers of our societies that marginalize and depersonalize people; thus we become priests to the principalities and powers. Paul wrote, “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). In Ephesians 6:12, he said, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Describing this ministry, Jesus said it would be like leaven: “Another parable He spoke to them: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened’” (Mt. 13:33). Consequently, our job is to change the world. We do this as priests of the kingdom of God, serving a lost and dying world that is sin-sick and on its way to hell.
As priests of the Most High God, we must minister to those around about us, doing good to all men as we have opportunity (Gal. 6:10). Ours is a high calling that must not be taken lightly, for to do so will cause us to fail in our service/ministry, the majority of which takes place apart from the local church. Again, I wish to make it very clear that nothing I’ve said here in anyway demeans the local church, a relationship that is, in all but the most extreme of cases, an important part of every Christian’s life. Nevertheless, much of our ministry stands outside of the local church. This may sound strange to you, but it is, nevertheless, true. With this in mind, notice the following chart.
What we see from looking at this chart are our duties as members of the universal body of Christ, the “My Church” of Matthew 16:18. One aspect of our total duties is to the local church. These duties, along with the relationships we have with other members of the local church, are extremely important. But as you can clearly see, they make up a rather small portion of our entire duties and responsibilities.
As can be seen from the following passages, our priestly ministry is to be a ministry of compassion: “He has shown you , O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8), “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (Matt. 23:23), “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27), “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:9-10). This kind of ministry, particularly because it is to be done in the midst of a fallen and broken world, is not easy. For example, your child watches television in a neighbor’s home and you discover later that some of the material was pornographic. Your boss requires you to do work for a business known to have connections to the Mafia. The school system teaches a godless, secular approach to all subjects, including the creation of the world. Your purse seems to have holes in it and your money seems to purchase less and less because of global economic factors over which you have no power. These complexities come not simply from the perversities and sins of individual human beings, but from something more systemic, more all-embracing. For behind every visible foreground to a person’s life — family life, work life, community service, citizenship, and church life — there is an invisible background, not seen with the human eye, but profoundly influential. We want to do good, to serve God and our neighbor, to do an honest day’s work, to fulfill our citizenship responsibilities, and to meet our obligations to our family. However, we find ourselves confronted almost on every hand with resistance. Why? Because the “principalities and powers in heavenly places,” “the rulers of the darkness of this age,” and the “spiritual hosts of wickedness” are arrayed against our God-ordained ministry to a lost and dying world. Satan and his demonic forces are at work in the heavenly places, and in the world, to destroy our priestly ministry.
Unsuccessful in destroying the Christ, Satan and his horde seem bent on destroying Christians, who are, as living stones, the building (or body) of Christ here on earth. Left here in the world, Christians do not feel in control of the circumstances surrounding their priestly service. They encounter unjust and unloving structures, principles of conformity (e.g. professionalism), cultural expectations, social patterns, law without moral foundations, customs and traditions, escalating pressures for performance, technology as master and not servant, seemingly intractable institutions, professionalism and careerism, images, the almighty dollar, red tape, and spiritual forces. The last enemy, of course, is death, an enemy that seems to lurk everywhere.
Even when one’s primary focus is the local church, service there is not free from resistance. To be faced are the powers and principalities in disguised form: power, conformity, legalism, institutionalization, and sometimes outright demonic attack. Consequently, there is no escape from the many faceted powers and principalities that are determined to resist the Truth of God and our priestly service to Him and His creation. Having attacked our Lord and failed, and now intent on destroying Christians who are, as living stones, the building (or body) of Christ here on earth, Satan roams about as a roaring lion seeking whom he might devour (1 Pet. 5:8). However, with the help of Him who overcame Satan and his ungodly horde, we too can overcome the powers and principalities in heavenly places, namely, “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). But if we are to do so, we must be willing to do our part, which is described in Ephesians 6:10-17 as a taking up and a putting on of “the whole armor of God.” This is the only way we’ll be successful in doing the work the Lord has prepared for us to do. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). “Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:11-13).
The great apostle Paul, who was a fine example of what I am here calling “knightly priesthood,” said this in Romans 12:1-2: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
The Christian who is called to a priestly ministry is also described as a soldier engaged in spiritual warfare. Consequently, it seems correct to think of the Christian as a chivalrous knight engaged in those duties involving special service to the King. Webster defines chivalry as “the qualities (such as bravery, honor, protection of the weak, and generous treatment of foes) of the ideal knight: chivalrous conduct,” all of which seem to be the subject of what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8-9: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”
The apostle Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13) and then, “What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rm. 8:21). He then made it absolutely clear that all of us are to be assured that God will continue to aid all His children, by saying: “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm. 8:37-39). The following Chart graphically reminds us of this enduring assurance.
“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Eph. 3:20-21). “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pet. 1:2-4).
We’ll have more to say about this in the next article, Lord permitting, as we concentrate specifically on the work we are to do in connection with the local church.