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Willard: How Brokenness Thwarts Community

10 June 2008

An interesting start on a syllogism by DW:

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[B]rokenness manifests itself as an inability for people to do what they know to be right, and the ability to do what you know to be right is a prerequisite for true community.

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That is worth pondering.

This morning at our men’s Bible study, we put I Peter 2 in dialogue with Hebrews 7 and asked the question:  Setting aside the ceremonial offering of sacrifices for others, what is the specific content of our “priesthood?”  What is the priestly function, and what is the nature of its authority in the body of Christ?

In evangelical circles, we have outsourced the priestly function to the professional specialists, to whom we grant increasing authority as they bring in the harvest we have hired them to bring.  

  • Priests mediate our access to God; so the rhythm of our lives as disciples centers on the weekly gathering where the priests do their thing.  
  • Priests are a Darwinian meritocracy; so we gravitate toward the winners so that we can be identified with them (I Corinthians 1-4, anyone?).  
  • Priests have a special dispensation of access to the ongoing speech of God to his creation; so we unquestioningly defer to them when they claim to have “a word from the Lord.”  
  • Priests paradigmatically represent the God’s faithful stewards, to whom more is given; so we treat small churches as farm teams where the priests learn to ply their trade, and then we call them up to the major-league megachurches when they’ve proven themselves worthy.  

The church thus organizes itself around – would it be too strong to say, “centers itself on?” – the demonstrably successful, professional priest.  The community is priest-centric; the rest of us are, in large measure, off the hook.  (That is, unless we exercise a prophetic function and critique the priest.  Then, we are called rebels and agitators.  Reminiscent of good ol’ Ahab’s greeting to Elijah:  “what’s up, you troubler of Israel?”)

But that is not the picture of the “priesthood of all believers” that emerges from the dialectic of Hebrews 7 and I Peter 2.  Here we find one High Priest, and then a sea of under-priests who serve one another and submit to one another voluntarily, ushering one another and being ushered ourselves into the deeper presence of God.

If this latter vision is correct, we are decidedly not off the hook; your responsibility as my priest is to seek God and to love him with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, so that you can edify me – build me up, and usher me to God.  Likewise, I am responsible to you as your priest to do the same thing, however that is expressed with the gifts God has given me.  

The healthy community of faith requires individuals who are learning to be whole – spiritually formed in Christlike integrity, humility, and holiness –  so that each one can be vested and trusted with authority when the circumstance requires it.  There is no place for a pecking order under Christ’s high priesthood, which was Matthew’s quarrel with the scribes and Pharisees in chapter 23.  There is, accordingly, neither male nor female, neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free; instead, the kingdom of God is available to all, and each of us is expected to seek God’s will and character so that each of us is:

  • ready and equipped to serve as the others’ priest when we are called upon to step forward; and
  • ready, able, and willing to step back and step down when others are called to step up and forward.

Random thoughts:

The priestly title is of no use if the priestly function is not being exercised.

It is no wonder Jesus came to heal.  Broken people cannot serve the community well; they are, in general, unable to surrender themselves or to step forward for others as priests.

Yeah, I know it’s not a very coherent post yet.  Too much swirling around in my mind.  I’ll come back and clean it up when I get some clarity.

qb

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