Housing Faith: The Priesthood of All..?

From 1998 to 2008, I was heavily involved in intentional house church communities, even moving from Georgia to North Carolina to help ‘seed’ a church plant consisting primarily of a dozen collaborators from my undergrad alma mater, Berry College. (We even had a launch conference at Duke, and everything) Long story short, somewhere around 2008 our church began to disintegrate, and we’ve all moved on. Even so, much of the core DNA of ‘house church’ (also known as ‘organic church’ and ‘simple church’) remain with me. This week, I want to revisit some of this still-central resonance, which I think can be a gift to the larger community of faith as we’re navigating 21st-century changes.

The mysterious PostScript (who on earth are ye??), asked something insightful in relation to yesterday’s post:

Random question…If the church is a community of priests, for whom is it interceding?

My first response is “the world!”

Of course, I’m not a Hebrew or Greek scholar (unlike my interlocutor, whose identity is actually not mysterious to me), nor am I versed enough in a religious-socio-historical account of the development of ‘priesthood’ concepts globally. But my gut instinct is that when people say ‘priest’ they mean ‘ministering,’ in a deep, true sense of the word. And this could be directed in, oh, any and all of four ways–ministering unto God, Godself; ministering unto one another, ministering on behalf of humanity, and indeed, creation and the cosmos.

The question takes on even more compelling twists in a “Jesusian” context as the author of Hebrews seems to invert certain commonly-held priesthood concepts. I’m not sure if the other New Testament authors follow suit in a similar way, but for all there seems to be an emphasis on Jesus as the High Priest (fulfilling and completing a certain epoch of God’s dealing with the cosmos and humanity), and us as a ‘kingdom of priests’…or are we?

Some, such as my friend Kevin, add another tantalizing idea into the mix: What if the priesthood, the ecclesia, as “called out” ones, were called out for an important but limited season in the first century: As a first-fruits signifying the whole harvest, or as some fore-running yeast giving rise to an entire loaf of Reality? In other words, what if now in the 21st century, the need for any priesthood has ceased as those in century one “made up for what was lacking” in Christ’s priestly sacrifice?

It is a strong possibility, methinks, though I’m well aware that there are many involved in the front lines of justice work who would beg to differ, saying that we still need a cadre of wounded healers–mediators, reconcilers, indeed, priests–today. And if this is the case, I hope we’re part of the healing balm rather than part of the problem.

I’d love for people representing different perspectives on this potentially-urgent matter of the nature and duration of priesthood to feel free and jump in. Share your wisdom!

Note: Andrew Tatum has written a reprise clarifying some of this thoughts re: clergy.

Recommended House Church Reading:
(Even for those in more bricks-and-mortar and institutional settings, there are spiritual, relational/organizational, and theological treasures to be mined from a house church critique of organized religion and its proposed alternative. One need not be a fundamentalist or a primitivist to appreciate these insights. Here are some of the best works available.)

This was originally posted on October 17, 2007. Except the recommended reading list, which is brand-new.

12 Responses to Housing Faith: The Priesthood of All..?

  1. Peter K Bell October 17, 2007 at 5:51 am #

    Response to P.S.

    Jesus is the high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek, ever living to make intercession for us after the power of an endless life. By that priesthood he holds all things together, and energizes the establishment of the new creation, the kingdom of God on earth, through the transformation he is working by the power of his cross (eternal sacrifice) and the victory of his resurrection.
    Our New Testament priesthood is a participation in his eternal priesthood. In short, we are interceding for everything and everyone that exists or could possibly exist in his kingdom.

    That’s pretty big–and plenty to keep us busy!

  2. kevin beck October 17, 2007 at 3:20 pm #

    this is an immensely important topic, I do believe.

    For practical purposes, I’d agree that people in the “front lines” of human rights work, eco-justice, etc are performing a priestly-type activity — serving on behalf of others/all. Take people like Leonardo Boff, Desmund Tutu, Aung San Suu Kyi (and millions of other people like them that remain “invisible”). Their service to humanity is invaluable and dare we day “divine”?

    When it comes to “priests” serving as local distributors for God, grace, forgiveness, etc — well let’s just say I see all that as bogus “hocus pocus” (which comes form the medieval critique of the priestly announcement at the eucharist “hoc est corpus,” this is my body).

    Going back to Hebrews (as you refer to in the post), 8:11 quotes Jeremiah and the ultimate eschatological goal of Christ’s priesthood as “all shall know me from the least of them to the greatest of them.” The transforming work of the ekklesia in that specific first-century setting (as I see it) created a new kosmic order in which “the dwelling place of God is with humanity” (Rev 21:3).

    A current-day priestly function could involve helping people see God with us (Immanuel), which is far different from what often gets termed as “evangelizing.”

    Sorry for rambling on.


  3. Brother Johnny October 17, 2007 at 4:46 pm #

    Interesting comments.

    I believe I will have more thoughts on this later, but for now I think it is important to see that the work of a priest was never to work from God, towards man (except for the fact that He established such a priesthood), but rather it was the priests duty to represent man to God…
    more later…

  4. Frank October 17, 2007 at 7:14 pm #

    Great topic, and I agree with Kevin. Those who are serving today are simply fulfilling humanity’s call toward one another, and this does not equate with the biblical definition of the priesthood that is being viewed here. I also agree that the priestly job was to present man to God, and this happened at the transtion from the Old to the New Covenant, many years ago! The “ecclesia” performed their work, just as Christ said they would, and this allows us to artake of the fullness of God throughout all of humanity.

    So, not only is the vision of the “priesthood” and the question of top-down leadership in view here, but the entire idea of “church” as well.

    (Ecclesia = church, church = priesthood, priesthood = first-fruits of the entire harvest, ffoteh = transitional tool). The bigger question may even be, what does our modern view of church do to the whole of humanity, and is this why we are even confused about the role of the priesthood in the first place?)

  5. Peter K Bell October 18, 2007 at 1:22 am #

    The great PROPHETIC work is to speak to man from God. The great PRIESTLY work is the work of intercession, bringing man to God, transforming the entire cosmos into the kingdom of God–and this is a work that is destined to continue indefinitely. It is for the benefit of all humanity and indeed all creation that we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan for the deliverance of ALL OF US from the bondage of corruption to the glorious liberty of the children of God.

    This is a very practical thing (despite what may sound like abstract language): working to help people see the dwelling place of God is working to change the way things are done (including governed) because we always act according to what we see, and if we see Reality (or Truth) then our works will be done in Truth and the result will be life, Kingdom of God life that is consistent with the promise of the Gospel, quality life, just life, mercy-filled life, free life, ultimately eternal life. This is not different from or separate from what we do every day, that is, if we act consistently according to that quality of life we have received from our perfect New Testament high priest who gave himself for us so that we can now share in his life, the life he had with the Father in the beginning. There are many ways to bring this to light, including works of service that uproot poverty and injustice and reveal mercy and the love of God to the poor. In Christ (according to his promise) we have the power to work miracles of healing and deliverance from bondage that will abundantly testify to the character of this new kind of life that is promised in the Gospel.

    This certainly is a new kosmic order!

    Peace in Jesus, Peter

  6. Amie October 18, 2007 at 4:08 pm #

    If you will,

    Wasn’t part of the work of old testament priests rulership and passing divine judgment?

  7. jim October 20, 2007 at 4:05 pm #

    The bigger question may even be, what does our modern view of church do to the whole of humanity, and is this why we are even confused about the role of the priesthood in the first place?</i< Frank

    I think this is an important and fundamental question. I’m a carpenter and I work for a contractor. There are a few other younger and less experienced guys working with us too. What is my role when I’m working with one or two of these guys on a particular project… do I have the responsibility to direct them, etc? Lack of clarity on this creates big problems. If it is expected of me and I don’t do it then I let down my boss. If it isn’t and I do it anyway (perhaps even with the noble intention of moving things along in order to benefit the company) I will likely cause all kinds of offense.

    What is my role at work? What is “the churches” role in the world? Important question?

  8. jim October 20, 2007 at 4:11 pm #

    oops… goofed on the formating and meant to end with … Important question. (statement not a question)

  9. Peter K Bell October 22, 2007 at 9:30 pm #


    Especially important in a world where traditional roles of honor, respect and accountability have eroded, and each one of us increasingly has to ‘prove’ our role in nearly every context, on the job, in the church, often even in our families…

    For starters, it kind of makes sense that the guys who have been around for a while may have some tips and some pointers and maybe even some natural authority that will help “the company” (the church, etc.) function better. It is becoming more essential that we share this in a non-confrontive, respectful way, but the years of experience are still of value in most of these settings. It is also a well-established pattern that the younger ones need to ‘buck the system’ to test and prove their own value, to see what they have in them and what their contribution will be…

    Important question, without an easy or automatic answer. The last thing I will say here is that if we have been “in Christ” for a while–that is, not just social members of a church club, or followers of a teaching or a personality cult, but “in Christ” for ourselves–if we have seen Jesus, met Him, come to know Him [in any measure] as He is, at the center of everything, and ruling everything by His supreme intercessory power and love, then we will have not only the sure substance of something to offer the church and the world, but an obligation to give away what we have been freely given: the vision of who He is and the contact with Him that has become our life and the source of our value and identity.

    I do not have anything to say about the structure or method of how to do this most effectively. I know only that it is what we have to do, it is who we are, and our effectiveness as well as our joy springs from the willing, free exercise of giving everything away as He has given to us–this is the mission of the church in the post-modern world!

    Bless you,

  10. Mark December 6, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    There is nothing in scripture to indicate that tge priesthood of believers both implicitly outlined by Peter or alluded to by John in Revelations has been disanulled or had any kind of time stamp put on it. Indeed Peter seems to indicate that, we are now intrinsically priests.


  1. Open Gatherings and Life’s Wisdom « zoecarnate - October 26, 2008

    […] it’s not just Paul who seemed to be asserting the competence of the Priesthood of All to be the […]

  2. Housing Faith: Open Gatherings and Life’s Wisdom | Mike Morrell - December 9, 2011

    […] it’s not just Paul who seemed to be asserting the competence of the Priesthood of All to be the Church. As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and so you do […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.