“WHY DOESN’T THE CHURCH OF CHRIST HAVE PRIESTS”

In the Scriptures, we read about priests from Genesis to Revelation. Melchizedek is the earliest one in history who is identified in the Scriptures as a priest, but he certainly was not the last. Some who are accustomed to hearing about priests in connection with modern-day religious matters wonder why we do not have priests in the Lord’s church. The truth is, we do – millions of them. Seriously?

Sometimes we have to separate human expectations from what the Lord expects. We also must distinguish between “what used to be” under the Old Testament arrangement from “what is” under God’s new-covenant plan for His church.

If we were to ask people what comes to mind when they hear the word “priest,” the concept of many folks is that a priest is a male who is identified as “Father” and serves as a leader in a particular denomination. While in the public eye or carrying out religious activities, such a one wears unique clothing that distinguishes him from others. Depending on his religious affiliation, he may or may not be expected to take a vow to remain unmarried. Sound familiar?

If, on the other hand, we let the Scriptures answer the question, “What does the New Testament teach about the priesthood of God’s church,” we find a different concept. The book of 1 Peter was addressed to those who were the Lord’s select, sanctified, and sprinkled-by-the-blood people (1 Peter 1:2). Yes, this epistle was written to Christians (1 Peter 4:16). In describing those Christians, Peter said, “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ . . . But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation . . .” (1 Peter 2:5,9; emphasis mine, rdc). In these passages, we see that Peter twice refers to Christians as a “priesthood.” Because a priesthood is made up of priests, the clear conclusion is that Peter was calling each of those to whom he wrote “priests.” That is correct: under the new covenant, all members of the Lord’s body are priests. This comes as a startling revelation to some, but it is a biblical fact.

If I am a Christian, I should not feel uncomfortable referring to myself as a priest. The same One who washed us from our sins by His blood is the One who makes us priests (Revelation 1:5,6). If Jesus made us priests, then priests we are. Of course, we ought not boast about such, and we may need to give a brief explanation to others who are unfamiliar with the Bible’s teaching, but this truth remains unchanged: in Jesus, all the saints of God are priests.

Under the law of Moses, it was the duty of Israel’s priests to offer animal sacrifices (Exodus 29:38-42). As priests, Christians do not offer animal sacrifices, but instead offer “spiritual sacrifices” (1 Peter 2:5) and “the sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15).

Old-covenant priests were expected to “teach the children of Israel” all of the Lord’s statutes (Leviticus 10:11). New-covenant priests also are to teach God’s word, both to the lost (Mark 16:15,16) and to the saved (2 Timothy 2:2). Let us embrace this aspect of our priesthood, too. The priests of Israel were to be unblemished in a physical sense (Leviticus 21:16-23), while the priests of Jesus are to be blameless in a spiritual sense (Philippians 2:15) as they remain unspotted from the world (James 1:27).

There are some obvious contrasts between our priesthood and what was required under the old law. Gender – in Israel, only males could be priests; under Jesus’ law, females and males are one priesthood (Galatians 3:26-28). Biological lineage – under Moses’ law, all priests were required to be from the tribe of Levi, specifically the descendants of Aaron; under the gospel, the door to the priesthood is open to people of all nations (Matthew 28:19). Age – in the Levitical system, priests began serving at age thirty; there is no such age designation under the new covenant. Attire – when performing priestly duties, Israel’s priests were required to wear special, “holy” garments (Exodus 28:1-4); there is no unique clothing requirement for Christians. High priest(s) – in history, there were many different ones in Israel, each serving until his death, and some of them were corrupt; members of the church have only one High Priest for all time – the sinless Christ (Hebrews 4:14,15).

In the New Testament, “priest” is not a religious title. It is a description of all who belong to the Christ.

— Roger D. Campbell

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