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The Priest

Should there be priests in the Church?

It now became the bishop's job to administer the Lord's Supper, to preach, to conduct baptisms and marriage ceremonies, to lead prayers, look after discipline and generally dish out advice. So a 2nd century bishop was much like a 21st century vicar, but the Bible speaks of neither.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:27-28)

Then there was a shift. Bishops were elevated in rank, given responsibilities for groups of churches, even whole cities (or the whole World, in the case of the Pope - the Bishop of Rome) and their place was taken by priests.

So, priests, eh? Isn't the priesthood something out of the Old Testament, done away with by the death of Jesus? No, there is still a High Priest ...

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. (Hebrews 4:14)

And there are ordinary priests, too ...

... you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)

... and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father -- to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:6)

Yes, Jesus Christ is the great High Priest, having made the ultimate and lasting sacrifice for our sins, he is able to intercede for us with God the Father.

Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (Hebrews 7:23-25)

And all who profess faith in him are his priests, each of us gaining access to the High Priest, offering our sacrifices of praise (Hebrews 13:15) and our bodies as living sacrifices to him (Romans 12:1).

So where do these other priests come from? We get some clues from the writings of Cyprian of Carthage, in the 3rd Century:

"For neither have heresies arisen, nor have schisms originated, from any other source than from this, that God's priest is not obeyed; nor do they consider that there is one person for the time priest in the Church, and for the time judge in the stead of Christ; whom, if, according to divine teaching, the whole fraternity should obey, no one would stir up anything against the college of priests; no one, after the divine judgment, after the suffrage of the people, after the consent of the co-bishops, would make himself a judge, not now of the bishop, but of God. No one would rend the Church by a division of the unity of Christ." (Epistle 54)

So bishops by then had been promoted to leadership of a network of churches and a whole caste of middle-men, priests, had sprung up. The ordinary Christians were now told that they - mere laity - were not meant to approach God directly, instead all of the "spiritual" duties - confession of sin, communion, prayer etc - were now performed on their behalf, by the clergy, specifically the priest.

The rest of Church history, right up to modern times, is just a variation and development of this basic theme. Whether it is the vast hierarchies of the Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox Church, or the structures of the various modern movements - apostolic, house church etc. - the middle men, or intermediaries, are still with us, replacing the simple truth for every Christian. As a reminder:

... you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)

Steve Maltz

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book To Life!)

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