The church calls society to the accountability of God’s Word
“The Lord had said to Moses: ‘You must not count the tribe of Levi or include them in the census of the other Israelites. Instead, appoint the Levites to be in charge of the tabernacle of the Testimony…” Numbers 1:48-50
“The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.” Titus 1:5
“Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.”
1 Timothy 3:1
All the Israelites were Jews, but not all Jews were priests. Under God’s direction, Moses chose Joshua to continue political leadership while Aaron and the Levitical tribe are given the priesthood. From the earliest days in the wilderness God made it clear that government and the priesthood were two different and distinct institutions, both with clear Kingdom purpose and function. This concept of an ecclesiastical structure with an independent function, apart from the overall function of the body of believers, has been hard for Protestants to grasp since Luther nailed his treatise to the Wittenberg door in 1517. But understanding the institution of the church is foundational to understanding the unique, God-given functions of all the domains in society.
Today we use the words priesthood, believer, body of Christ, and church rather interchangeably. All Christians are priests, believers, the church, and part of the body of Christ. For clarity in this study, we need to differentiate between the people, the building, and the individual believers who work full-time in a particular function such as pastors, missionaries, and evangelists.
When Luther highlighted that we are all part of the priesthood of believers, he did not mean that there was no structure or leadership to the Church. He meant that we do not need a “priest” to represent us to God. Because of the work of the cross and Christ in our lives, we are all now free to come before God ourselves. Under Luther’s leadership and those who followed him, a church structure was created with pastors, elders, and deacons. As believers, we all are encouraged to fellowship on Sundays. However, some of us go to work on Monday at the same building where we went to church. The rest of the believers go to work on Monday in some other important role within their community.
All of Israel was taught to be holy, but the Levitical tribe (the priests) were to model holiness to the rest of the nation. The book of Leviticus focuses, in the main, on their unique role as an ecclesiastical institution.
Appointment Of The Priests
In Numbers 1:47-50; the selection of the priesthood is a completely different process than that for choosing political leaders. In Deuteronomy 1:13, God instructs Moses to have the people choose their political representatives. In the development of the priesthood, God made the selection Himself. The anointing to minister in the ecclesiastical order comes directly from God.1
The priests were not chosen on the basis of personal merit.2 God made priests of the entire Levitical tribe. This is not to say that character and virtue did not matter; scripture is clear that God desired a holy priesthood. But God did not choose the virtuous elite; He chose an entire tribe filled with every level of character and virtue. We have to stop and ponder: What was God’s point in selecting this way? Was He emphasizing that no one is holy? That He was able to make anyone holy? That holiness only belongs to Him and no one is innately worthy of representing His holiness? We don’t know all the possible answers, but this fact is clear: God sovereignly selected ecclesiastical ministers.
The priests responsible for the most holy things were not given carts in the wilderness.3As Israel moved around the wilderness for 40 years, they began to acquire things. Carts were divided out to each of the tribes. The Levites were given very few carts and the Kohathites, who carried the holiest implements of the Tabernacle, were given none at all. They were required to carry the Tabernacle and all of the utensils of worship and sacrifice on their backs. Over and over again God encouraged them to be satisfied with their unique inheritance in the Lord. The result of not being given carts, and additionally being required to carry the Tabernacle, put a limitation on the priesthood’s ability to acquire wealth. That did not mean that they were to live in destitution. However, it did limit their potential for financial power among their people.
The priesthood was to receive its provision from offerings and was given small plots of land for farming in each of the tribal territories.4 These directions made the priesthood uniquely dependent on the people to whom they ministered. They had all authority to speak for God and to represent Him to the community, but they did not have all authority. God limited their financial and political power in the community.
The priesthood was not given territorial land.5 On leaving Egypt there were thirteen tribes in Israel. Both of Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, were given tribal status by their grandfather Jacob. As they formed government and began to prepare for their future in Canaan, God made it clear that only twelve tribes would have territorial or tribal land. The thirteenth tribe, the Levites, would have their inheritance in God. This meant that the priests would never need to form a government, as the other tribes must. This meant that the Levites did not need to develop an army as all the other tribes were commanded to do. The Levites were to be split among the other twelve tribes and territories and be God’s priestly representation to all of them.
The priests were the first primary health care givers.6 Until the scientific community developed, the priesthood took care of the primary health care needs of the people. If they had an infection, they were to go to the priest. He was to put them in quarantine and inspect them again some days later. The priests taught the dietary laws, which were about nutrition and health. The priests prayed and took the needs of the people to God. The priests offered sacrifices for their sins.
The result of this was that the priests had to constantly deal in the pragmatic, material world of God’s laws of nature and in the unseen world of God’s sovereign intervention. God did not allow the Levites to develop a mindset that the seen and the unseen world were secular and sacred, one under God and one under man. Every day, as His representatives, they had to minister to the practical, physical needs, as well as the needs of the inner man.
The prophets anointed Kings but they did not appoint them.7 This is most clear in the process of Israel first wanting a king. Israel goes to Samuel, the prophet of the day, to consult God. Samuel consults God and God says that this is not a good idea. But the priests and prophets do not control this decision. The people do and, finally, Israel decides that they will have a king in spite of the fact that this is not God’s desire. God then tells Samuel to go and anoint Saul and pray for him, because if Israel insists on having a king, Saul is the man God wants them to choose. But, still, Saul is not officially “appointed” King when he is anointed. Only the people can give Saul authority to rule. Saul wasn’t appointed king until “all the people went to Gilgal and confirmed Saul as King in the presence of the Lord.”8 Virtually this same process took place in the selection of David and Solomon. The Levitical tribe had political influence, but it did not have political control. The authority of the priesthood, like the authority in every other domain, was limited.
The confusion of political authority and priestly authority in scripture resulted in severe consequences. Two examples of this stand out. The first is the incident that we are so familiar with in 1 Samuel 13:1-13. Saul had been to war and won a victory. He and his troops were waiting on the battlefield for the prophet Samuel to come and offer the sacrifice to God before they could return home. Samuel was delayed and Saul grew impatient. Finally, Saul decided he would offer the sacrifice. When Samuel arrived, he asked Saul, “What have you done? Today your Kingdom is taken from you.” Saul was not satisfied to be given political leadership by God. He wanted more power. He wanted priestly authority over the people as well, and he lost his kingdom for confusing the two God-given domains. We find a similar confusion in the life of David.
David loved God and he loved worship. He used his political power to help build up the priesthood, the Tabernacle and also helped prepare the way so that his son could ultimately build the Temple. This support did not seem to be criticized in scripture. However, on one occasion David confused his role as king and the role of the priest. The consequences were very serious. David had been appointed king in Israel and had successfully conquered Jerusalem and defeated the Philistines. An invading army had taken the Ark of the Covenant. In 2 Samuel 6:1, David decided it was time to take back the stolen ark. “David again brought together out of Israel chosen men, thirty thousand in all.” David approached this task as a military endeavor. He used the might of the army and his political authority to bring the ark back and God could not bless it. “When they came to the threshing-floor of Nachon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled.” When the man who tried to steady the ark dropped dead, David knew that God was not with this venture. He cried out, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” (2 Samuel 6:9) David stored the ark in the house of Obed-Edom and returned to Jerusalem in defeat. But the story did not end there. In the same chapter, David went again to retrieve the ark, but this time he went with the Levites who offered sacrifices every six steps.This time the ark was carried, as it would have been carried by the priest, as Moses commanded in Numbers 4:15 and Deuteronomy 10:8, and as Solomon understood in 1 Kings 8:3-4. David wore a linen ephod of worship, not battle clothes, and the people went in a procession of worship and praise, not military might. God had answered David’s question of how to move the ark in 1 Chronicles 15:2, and He made it clear that He gave that authority to the priests, not the king.
The prophets were advisors to the king, but they were not kings. God did not give all authority in His kingdom to any one domain or person. The priesthood had authority, but not all authority. The political authorities in Israel had authority as well, but it was different from the priests’. Under God, they had to work together in a system of checks and balances. All of Israel was to be holy, but the priests were to be models of holiness to the community. The book of Leviticus contains instructions primarily for the priesthood regarding how they are to live and how they are to conduct themselves. They had a unique role in the community, but they did not have the only God-given role.
Secular Vs. Sacred
Our split thinking between the secular and sacred is probably more revealed in our thinking about the ecclesiastical order than any other domain. Today it is common among Christians to think that if you are really “spiritual,” really “obedient” to God, you will be a pastor, missionary, or evangelist. Many Christians feel that all other vocations are less important. The end result is that the majority of Christians today are sitting in pews with no idea of what God has called them to do, expecting the pastor and church leadership to do everything. This was never God’s intent. In God’s design, every believer has a role to play in reaching and teaching the community. The “priestly” role was unique, specific, and just one of many roles.
Jesus understood the importance of keeping each domain in its proper place. When he saw that the moneychangers had moved their business inside the walls of the Temple, He threw them out. He did not say that money changing was wrong. He said that it had no place in His father’s Temple. He emphasized the role of this ecclesiastical meeting place as a “house of prayer.”9
If we are to see “every creature reached” and “every nation discipled,” we must learn again the specific role of the “ecclesiastical” institution and how it relates to the calling and authority of each of the other domains.
Themes to consider when studying and coloring the ecclesiastical order in scripture: religious rituals, prayer, offerings, sacrifices, priests, worship, tithes, feasts, idolatry, covenants, the Tabernacle, the Temple.
The domain of church reveals: The Great High Priest
The primary attributes of God revealed in the church: Holiness and Mercy
God governs this domain through: His sovereign choice and anointing
The color I used: Gold
WORKING VOCATIONAL MISSION STATEMENT:
The ecclesiastical order is called to represent God to the people, and the people to God, providing for the discipleship of all believers in the whole nature and character of God and His Word applied to the work and walk of faith, to facilitate the expression of that faith in the worship and sacraments of the church, and to be a moral model of God’s absolute standards of truth. Great issues include: Calling society to accountability to the Word of God.
A NOTE TO ALL BELIEVERS:
Many Christians are sitting in the world’s churches today wishing they had a “real” calling to be a pastor or a missionary. They feel they would be more “spiritual” in these callings. Many feel that they are not called to be pastors or church workers because they are less worthy. All of this is the by-product of “split thinking.” It results from the idea that the “secular” is bad and the “sacred” is good. This is not biblical thinking. If you are called by God to give your working life to family, or government, or business, or science, or teaching, or arts, or communication, you are not called to a lesser vocation than ministry within the church structure. You are called to a different vocation than ministry. Your calling is equally from God, equally vital to that of those called to serve the church. Discipling the nations is a saturation strategy of getting the truth into the fiber of every layer of society through the lives of every believer.
For too long we have put all the weight of the work of God on the shoulders of the pastor or church worker. It is time for us to bear our own weight. What has God called you to do in society? It is time to get grateful for the doors God has opened for our life work and to be determined to carry out our job as a calling unto God Himself.
A NOTE TO THE MINISTRY PROFESSIONAL:
Some of you in the ministry today will be relieved by what I have said in this chapter, and some of you will be threatened. The pastor and missionary in the 20th Century have been expected by many to be all things to all men. For some, when we discuss “discipling the nations,” they think all the work will be their responsibility. Some are hoping it will be. Whatever your perspective, I encourage us all to pursue God for a clear revelation of a working job description for ourselves and for each of our followers. Only when the 80 percent of the body of Christ not called to the ministry of the church are released to do what God has called them to do, can those of us in full-time ministry in the church begin to focus on our call.
Some in the ministry have asked, “Why are we out there talking about discipling the nations instead of doing it?” I am not sure what they mean, however, this I do know: it is the responsibility of the “priesthood” to teach and clarify for the body of Christ its job. It is not our job to start businesses and banks; it is our job to teach and disciple business people and bankers in the full counsel of God as it relates to their calling. It is not our job to run the government and write the constitutions; it is our job to teach those who are called of God into those vocations how to carry out their responsibilities in accordance with the Word of God. It is not our job to be the father to the family, but to teach the father God’s way of fathering. This is so clear and simple that I am sometimes flabbergasted by all the confusion. The only explanation I have for the volume of confusion is that we have so bought into the secular/sacred split we are unable to conceive of the call of God on those outside the “ecclesiastical” institution. We are not to bring all the domains under the church structure; we are to send the body of Christ away on Sunday prepared to be Christ’s ambassadors of wisdom in their individual and specific domain callings. If we are to launch a generation prepared again to see qualitative differences in not only their lives, but in their communities, we must reintroduce an adequate theology of the laity, as well as of the “priesthood.” The institution of the church has a pivotal role in discipling the nations if we understand what our role is and is not.
1. Numbers 3:12
2. Numbers 3:12 ; 18:6-7
3. Numbers 7:9
4. Numbers 18:21,24; 35:2-3; Deuteronomy 18:1; Joshua 14:4
5. Numbers 18:20; Deuteronomy 12:12; Joshua 14:4
6. Leviticus 13 & 14
7. 1 Samuel 9:16; 10:1
8. 1 Samuel 11:14-15
9. Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46