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Whatever happened to the fearless priesthood?

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Joe Boot argues that Christians, as members of a royal priesthood, are called to exercise godly rule in the world.

Christians in our time are not reminded often enough of our calling to be priests. Scripture tells us that as believers we are a kingly priesthood and holy nation of prophets – if we belong to Christ (1 Pet. 2:9). That calling and corporate identity is more far-reaching in scope, more privileged in terms of authority, and more glorious in power, than most of us dare to imagine. But because we forget this reality, when members of the new priesthood in Jesus Christ are marginalized and persecuted in the West today, all too many professing Christians either care to know nothing about it, or go discreetly running for cover, leaving the faithful ministers of reconciliation as solitary as the proverbial sparrow in the rain. Typically, Christians are not sufficiently engaged with the culture to even know when standing in solidarity with fellow believers is an urgent necessity. And many pastors do not know themselves, and do not inform their congregations, of the social, legal, educational and political changes taking place all around them and what it means for liberty, conscience rights, and the declaration of the gospel.

In recent weeks there have been difficult and sad developments for Christians on both sides of the Atlantic – news that should have been stirring to prayer and action those who hold, by grace, the order of Melchizedek. In Canada, for example, the Supreme Court finally ruled in the Trinity Western University case concerning their proposed law school, with a decision, in a radical departure from precedent, that strikes at the heart of religious liberty in Canada. TWU is a private, evangelical university located in Langley, British Columbia, whose proposed law school was initially approved by the BC Minister of Advanced Education and the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. However, it was met with severe opposition by the Law Societies of BC and Ontario, who objected to TWU’s “Community Covenant” (that is, ther Christian code of conduct), in particular, the biblical view of marriage expressed in it.

Incredibly, in their majority ruling, the justices acknowledged that the TWU community’s religious freedom was being “limited” by the Law Societies’ decisions, but found, in their view, that the limitation was justified. They even acknowledged that their decision was preventing prospective students from studying law at TWU with a mandatory covenant (para 86, TWU v LSBC). In essence, the court argued that students should just go and study law elsewhere and that the Christian community covenant at TWU was not ‘necessary’ for their spiritual growth – nor was it allegedly necessary for Christians to study law in their optimal or preferred religious environment. Apparently, Canadian courts are now competent to define the nature and scope of religion, to judge what is central or peripheral, primary or secondary to the Christian faith and what is or is not ‘necessary’ for spiritual growth. This radical over-reach of the court’s competence and sphere of authority is occurring in order to enforce the new sexual orthodoxy of the modern state.

The Christian Legal Fellowship, which intervened in the case at all levels, with executive director and lawyer Derek Ross bringing arguments and answering questions from the Supreme Court bench about the character of religious liberty and religious education, argued thatthe Law Societies’ public interest mandate cannot be used to override Charter rights: “The public interest is not a sword to enforce moral conformity with the Law Societies' approved values.”[1] Although it was a split decision, the sound arguments of Christian lawyers fell largely on deaf ears. As Ross noted with some exasperation, “Holding and expressing the view that marriage is a union between one man and one woman is constitutionally protected…; it is not inherently demeaning of anyone, and certainly does not violate anyone’s rights. Disagreement is not tantamount to discrimination.”[2] Yet these protections apparently don’t cover Christian institutions. Increasingly, disagreement is not tolerated by the progressive secularists on the bench in Western courts, nor by politicians in the corridors of power. 

On the other side of the pond in Britain, on Wednesday 11th July, Ferryhill Town Council held a special meeting about Richard Smith, the ex-mayor (who is also a pastor at the Emmanuel Christian Fellowship in the town), who was hounded out of office for posting Christian views of sexuality and Islam on Facebook. He faced loud calls to resign as Mayor after his posts were trolled and highlighted by a local drag queen named Tess Tickle. Despite the fact that Smith said the posts were personal views unconnected to his mayoral role, he faced repeated and unprecedented levels of intimidation and threats of disruption to his duties. His great crime was referring to homosexuality as "a sin." His opponents said he was allowed his personal views, but couldn’t share them in any sort of public domain – including Facebook. Smith is quoted by the BBC as saying, “To be denied the opportunity to hold personal views was never my expectation when I undertook the role of mayor, and it is a matter of sincere regret to me that those personal views have been so tragically and outrageously twisted and reported on in order to discredit both myself and my faith.”[3]

For Christians paying any sort of meaningful attention to what is going on around them in the culture today, these kinds of stories describing mind-boggling court decisions (this one being a particular landmark decision in Canada infringing on the religious liberty of Christians) and the hounding of Christians out of public office, are increasingly common fare. In the aftermath of these decisions and events, there are some muted expressions of concern from believers in certain quarters but for the most part, with notable exceptions, the silence is deafening. Few Christians, indeed Christian leaders, are even aware of these developments and even fewer are prepared to put their heads above the parapet to speak out clearly on the issues in defence of the faith; few come to the defence of those isolated and persecuted in such situations; few do more than a little private complaining after the fact as though something strange, unexpected or unanticipated were happening around them.

The real question for believers observing disturbing decisions and events like these is, where has the courage of the royal priesthood gone to stand for truth, justice and freedom in the name of Christ? Where is the service of a kingly order in the reconciliation of all things to God? To those who don’t believe that scriptural faith has anything authoritative to say to the culture because the Bible is supposedly only for the church institute and Christian faith for the private sphere of the ‘heart,’ not for the public space, little can be said. Though some moan about these sad and dangerous outcomes, such professing believers can have no legitimate complaint at all. Their expectation of marginalisation and persecution is simply a self-fulfilling prophesy, because if you surrender the world and culture to the spirit of darkness uncontested – in direct violation of the Great Commission – you can only expect that the enemies of the Christ and His gospel will run the whole field of culture and try to run Christians out of all areas of public and cultural life, or in some cases (as we see the parts of the Islamic and communist world) seek to destroy them altogether.

It is a false piety which simply throws up its hands and uses such instances as further evidence of why we are weary pilgrims passing through a veil of tears on route to another world and, therefore, another reason we should not try to apply God’s Word to the world at large. This attitude is an insufferable capitulation to pagan dreams of world abandonment, with no connection to scriptural faith. Believers who do not grasp their calling to be priests cannot be reasoned with in these situations, for many are seeking escape from the world, not its healing, renewal, and total reconciliation to God.

Yet the clear teaching of the Bible is that Christ is our prophet, priest and king; a priest forever of the order of Melchizedek. Psalm 110, which by no mistake, is the most-quoted Old Testament passage in the New, declares the rule and reign of the Messiah King, subduing and ruling over the nations, with a willing people serving him in that cause in the day of struggle. The apostle Peter affirms that we are a chosen kind of humanity, a royal priesthood and holy nation (1 Pt. 2:9-10) with a calling to declare the glory and Lordship of Christ. And it is very interesting that in Acts 1:3 we see that Jesus uses the time between his resurrection and ascension to the right hand of power, speaking with his disciples about the kingdom rule of God, not pragmatic strategies for church planting or recommendations for music in worship services.

That is not to say that the Kingdom Rule of the Lord Jesus is that of a warlord or Caesar ruling by military force. Rather, as Calvin Seerveld has tellingly put it:

The kingdom of the true God is a rule that sets things right in which the earthly vice-regents, those who are anointed as priests…mediate the bestowal of God’s blessings to other humans in God’s world…. The order of Melchizedek is God’s appointed commission for human leadership in history. We humans do not rule creation by divine right. And the rule on the earth delegated by the Lord to humanity since the fall of Eve and Adam is not one of domination, but one of reconciliation.[4]

If we could recover such a vision of our Christian calling, a commission from God himself as his new humanity to be officers, office-bearers, in Christ and priests unto God, we might begin to regain our courage, cure our timid piety and be willing in this day of battle to be ministers of reconciliation. If we do not know who we truly are and glory in that identity, if instead we are ashamed of our Father in Heaven and our commission to serve the Messiah King in all areas of life, on the day of reckoning, he will be ashamed of us (Matt. 10:33). If we do not pray for, stand with and speak out in defense of Christian mayors striving to serve and heal the land, or universities looking to educate under Christ’s lordship; if we do not seek to rule as an act of service in Christ’s name for the freedom, blessing and liberty of the community and nation, a liberty that comes when Christ is honored and God’s Word obeyed, then how are we part of the redemptive purposes of the Lord in the reconciliation of all things to the Father? We are merely civilian bystanders, spectators, even treasonous mutineers, if we reject our commission in the order of Melchizedek. We dare not cast off our priestly robes denoting godly dominion if we want to hear those words, “well done, good and faithful servant.”

Some say that it is not for Christians to serve as mayor or build universities and schools, at least not in a distinctly Christian fashion, for these are supposedly ‘secular’ tasks and require earthly power. Earthly power, they say, is not something a Christian should exercise or pursue, as though power itself were evil and inconsistent with the gospel, or as though our royal commission as priests has reference to another world. Yet both of these ideas are a clear denial of scriptural teaching. Our calling as priests in word and deed is quite clearly for the present world. Nothing in Scripture shunts off our mandate to be Christ’s ambassadors and ministers of reconciliation to another age; we are new creatures and minsters of the new creation now!

The propagation of the Word of reconciliation, which calls and commands the world to be reconciled to God, is our present task; and our warfare which demolishes all the reasoned strongholds people manufacture for themselves in any area of life – including the idol of the ‘secular’ – taking every human conception and project in captive obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 5:17-21; 10:3-5), is the daily task of the Christian. We are told directly by our Lord to audaciously pray today for His kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Moreover, power itself is not an evil. All cultural formation of any kind requires various kinds of power:

There is no question in Scripture that the call for humans to rule creation takes power, the kind of power that cuts down trees into planks, milks animals, constructs dikes against floods, is able to fashion stories to enthrall listeners, a power that comes to project the human voice through the air to the other side of a continent, transport people on wheels, make plans against famine, stops aggression. To rule among creatures takes a measure of control, and control assumes an appropriate strength.[5]

In other words, as Herman Dooyweerd has rightly pointed out, “All historical formation requires power. Formation thus never takes place without a struggle.” There is a power struggle in the earth and in all of creation for the direction of culture – either in terms of the kingdom of light and the power of God, or the kingdom of darkness and the forces of evil. It is a cosmic conflict and to war as a faithful servant of Christ in this mighty conflagration requires courage. As believers we are all, without exception, called as a new priesthood into that struggle and therefore to serve as painters, poets, policemen and politicians under the rule of Christ and in terms of the principles of His word-revelation.

All those who have received mercy must contend with ideological principalities and spiritual wickedness. Cowardly clerics and piously fleeing pastors will not do; we need Holy Spirit-powerful priests who understand that the strongholds which oppress gospel truth and the Christian church seek to prevent human beings from discovering and living a redeemed human life. And so in this battle we take captive not to kill but to make alive. We do not fight fire with fire but with the Word of God, in the power of the Holy Spirit. All our work must be a reconciling act of mercy.

When we recover this sense of being commissioned officers, fearless priests in the battle for the reconciliation of all things to God, the church can again recover her courage, Christians can rediscover their identity, and be readied once more to stand for truth and justice. As we rediscover the true meaning of a spiritual life, the Christian Church can once again become a great and godly power for good in Western cultural life. As Herman Bavinck stated beautifully:

Spiritual life does not exclude family and social life, business and politics, art and science … Rather it is the power that enables us to faithfully fulfill our earthly calling, stamping all of life as service to God. The kingdom of God is, to be sure, like a pearl more precious than the whole world, but it is also like a leaven that leavens the entire dough. Faith isn’t only the way of salvation, it also involves overcoming the world … As a priest in the temple of the Lord, he who believes this is king over the whole earth. Because he is a Christian, he is human in the full, true sense.[6]

If you are a Christian, then you are a new creature in Jesus Christ and an inheritor of the whole earth. As human now in the fullest and truest sense, you are a priest holding by grace, the order of Melchizedek. You are an officer of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Indeed more, you are a vicegerent and lord of creation called to servant rulership. “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (Heb. 12:12-13). It is time for us to cease our faithless cultural abandonment, leave aside our faint-heartedness, our pious timidity, and despite the great challenges and difficulties in the modern West, start acting like the royal priests we are, for “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7).



[1]‘CLF Statement on the Supreme Court of Canada's Decisions in Trinity Western,’ Christian Legal Fellowship, last modified June 15, 2018,  http://www.christianlegalfellowship.org/blog/2018/6/15/supreme-court-rules-in-favour-of-law-societies  accessed July 17, 2018.

[2]See Derek Ross, ‘A Missed Opportunity to Affirm True Diversity,’ Christian Legal Fellowship, last modified June 15, 2018, http://www.christianlegalfellowship.org/twucasecomment.

[3]“Ferryhill Mayor Richard Smith steps down over 'sin' posts,” BBC, last modified July 4, 2018, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tees-44716795.

[4]Calvin Seerveld, On Being Human: Imaging God in the Modern World (Burlington, ON: Welch Publishing, 1988), 77-78.

[5]Seerveld, On Being Human, 78.

[6]Herman Bavinck, The Certainty of Faith (St. Catharines, ON: Paideia Press, 1980), 95-97.

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