The Back Story

The story of God's people has multiple plotlines, and one is God's plan to make us into a kingdom of priests.

 

God has always desired for his people to live distinctive lives in this world, so that they could be a shining light to those in their orbit. 

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Hebrews was their identity as an interdependent community under his direct leadership - a kingdom of priests.

 

Yet, Israel did not want to stand apart from the surrounding nations in this way. They imitated their neighbors instead. They begged for a king to lead the nation, to subdue their enemies, and to resolve their conflicts.

 

A priesthood, where they all had a shared responsibility, seemed like hard work by comparison. Such interdependence would require humility, vulnerability, sacrifice.

 

So yes, they negotiated with God and got their king. Ironically, under King David’s rule, God’s original plan for a distinctive kingdom of priests found glorious, if fleeting, expression.

Can you imagine the awkwardness of explaining their invisible king to their neighbors.

 

The entire nation moved past the protocols of Moses’ era and briefly brushed up against God’s tangible presence in David’s makeshift tent.

 

A thousand years before Jesus split the veil of the temple and gave every believer unlimited access to God’s presence, a generation of Jews engaged in worship as a community of priests!

 
 

Jesus

One of the great accomplishments of God’s redemptive work in the cross was the ordination of every single believer into the priesthood. The blood of Jesus is the seal for each certificate of appointment. 

 
 

The New Testament describes the worship gathering as an event where everyone came with something to share. Every believer came as a priest.

Middle Ages

That type of worship gathering did not last for long. Within a few hundred years the church had moved from the hospitality of homes to the formality of cathedrals. One man performed the ceremony in Latin, a language that commoners didn’t speak, while everyone else observed. For believers to continue as a common priesthood was going to be an ongoing struggle.

 
 

Reformation

At the end of the Middle Ages, the pendulum started to swing as believers started translating the Bible from Latin into the native tongues of lay people. More Christians could read scripture and engage intelligently in ministry. The resurgence of the “singalong song,” in those native tongues, soon followed. Believers could now join in the worship! For several hundred years, the promise of the priesthood of believers rose with the tide of the Reformation. 

 

Then, in the early 20th century, the “Holy Spirit” movement added to this momentum by re-introducing spiritual gifts that had gotten lost along the way. More avenues for “priestly” service opened up.

 
 

Contemporary Worship Movement

 

The irony of the worship movement of the last fifty years is that we have taken a step backwards. The current format limits participation. The role of “worship leader” was innovated in the 1960s.

In the 1970s, worship became a musical genre, and the worship music business took shape. In the 1980s the seamless worship set was introduced, and this format soon became the de facto liturgy.

 

In the 1990s, the worship leader evolved into the worship band, and the genre morphed into 'arena rock.' The notion of the ministry celebrity rose to a whole new level. 

 

In the 2000s, all the above elements coalesced into the highly produced worship service.

 

Meanwhile, we have moved away from the distinctiveness of a 'common' priesthood.

 

Musical worship has begun to resemble forms of entertainment popular in our culture. We have pumped up the production to the point that there is very little opportunity for layfolk, the commoners, to contribute in a meaningful way. 

Corporate worship can feel similar the Middle Ages. The entire service rests on the shoulders of a select few. It feels like we have a singular priest again. 

 
 
 

Recovery

It’s time for God's people to take some time to think things through. It would be wonderful if we could engage with God and each other as a collaborative priesthood, once again.