Bible Think Tank

This site is designed to help you interact with others about God's Word. I further some thoughts we developed during morning and evening gatherings at church. I have my NT translations from the original Greek to English. Also, I have book reviews and other current events.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What the Reformation is Working Out Today

Introduction: Review of the Outworking

My thesis over the past posts on this topic has been: the spirit of the Reformation is never done. Luther began a discussion that he did not finish. He called into question the authority of tradition over that of Scripture. When tradition taught that one was justified before God through a rigorous process of mortifying the flesh, he read the Scriptures which taught that one is justified by the grace of God. The verse that became the driving force for his departure from the Roman Church was Romans 1:16-17
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.”
He could not get out of his head this notion that God offers us His righteousness for the purpose of our salvation. So this took him and the other Reformers on a path to seeking truth and practice from the Scriptures rather than from status quo.

As I have said before, Luther and his contemporaries did all they could in their day. But in the finitude, they unknowingly held onto many of the practices and teachings of their old culture: Rome. The one concept that Luther began which I would like us to consider is “the Priesthood of All Saints.”

The Priesthood of All Saints

Martin Luther was a professor of theology, Augustinian monk, and priest in the Roman Church before October 31, 1517. As a priest, he interceded for the people before God and brought God’s counsel to the people. The concept of priesthood is central to the Old Testament structure of faith and rightly so, since it was God’s revealed methodology for interaction between God and man in that period of time. The question we need to ask ourselves is: has Christ changed anything in the interaction between God and man?

We need to read Hebrews to gain understanding into the divergence Christianity took from OT Judaism. The book begins with this saying “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Hebrews 1:1). He then tells us in chapter four, “since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16). In the OT era, only the high priest had access to the “throne of grace” which was ontop the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies. Now we all are called to draw before it BOLDLY. The high priest once a year would draw near with trepidation since they always knew if they did “it” wrong, God might kill them like He did with Nadab and Abihu. Now we all are called to approach boldly. We all have access into God’s presence in that spiritual and mystical sense. Peter tells us that we Christians are “a chosen race, A royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Luther picked up on these distinctions between Roman practice and Scriptural admonition. He told his fledgling movement that they all were priests to God, representing Him to the world. But I think where he and the Reformers failed to apply this teaching, today’s Church is beginning to enact all the nuances of the doctrine of the Priesthood of All Saints. Whether you embrace the charismatic movement or not, I think we can all agree that they have brought the Protestant Church (for that matter, Roman Church) far in its understanding of spiritual gifts and the deployment of said gifts. They have forced us all to reread Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4, asking the all-important question “what does it mean and what does it look like to practice this?” We can agree or disagree on revelatory and sign gifts, but on the whole, charismatics have forced non-charismatics to read the text. For this, we must praise them.

The Priesthood of All Saints and the Role of Vocational Pastor

I have been asking myself since my ordination back in April (2007), “what sets an ordained pastor apart from volunteer lay ministry leaders?” Traditionally speaking, I am in good company. Biblically speaking, there is not a lot of evidence for (or against) vocational ministers. Read my Biblical Relationship of Elders, Pastors, and Deacons here.

Within the Bible Fellowship Church conference, we see leadership as coming from a group called elders. All pastors are on the board of elders (but the lay elders select which pastors are voting members of the board). So the lay and vocational elders eld the local church. How does and elder eld? What does it mean to eld. Eld isn’t a verb, but I think you understand what I am driving at. How does a pastor differ than any lay elder? Traditionally, a pastor has more real or perceived clout than does a lay elder. But Biblically? Nothing…. Does the Pastor shepherd the church, does the elder board shepherd the church? Let’s look at the word shepherd in the NT. Only twice is the word used in reference to someone other than Christ in the NT. Once in Acts 20 and once in 1 Peter 5.

Acts 20:17-18, 28
“From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said to them, … ‘Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.’”

1 Peter 5:1-4
“Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
Notice who it is that shepherds God’s Church? The elder. The title of the office in both instances is “Elder” and the tasks in both are “shepherd” and “overseer.” Consequently, the English word “pastor” only shows up once in the Bible and it is in Ephesians 4:11 and in Greek, it is the noun form of the verb in Acts 20 and 1 Peter 5 “to shepherd.”

So What?!?!

If Luther was right in saying that Priesthood is a position for all saints than let me word it in modern lingo: “If you are a Christian, you are a minister.” I hate being called Reverend, Minister, and the like. Only God is to revered, all Christians are ministers. Call me a pastor if you need to call me anything (just don’t call me late to supper). Discover how God has wired you to serve His kingdom and get busy! What is the unique role of the pastor? We are gifted to equip you for your work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). But you, me, all Christians are busy in the harvest field, or at least should be.

Let me close with Jesus words on the harvest. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38).

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