When we use labels like “priest”, “pastor”, “teach” and “father” to refer to leaders and ministers in the Body of Christ, our speech often serves to perpetuate the clergy/laity system of religion. Here are three specific issues that arise when we demote ourselves to laity and elevate others to the level of clergy.
We place others between us and God
As we have said before, under the Old Covenant, the Jewish priests served as intermediaries between God and man. “For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.” (Hebrews 5:1-3) Under God’s new covenant with mankind, we can dispense with the intermediary and approach God directly. Because of the work of Jesus on the cross, we now have direct access to God. Paul writes of this access and encourages to take full advantage of it and to come boldly before God. “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22)
Unfortunately, many Christians still live as if under the Old Covenant; seeking others to intermediate their relationship with God. We claim to know and love God but we are more comfortable approaching God through another rather than on our own. For example, ask yourselves the following questions.
- When I have a difficult decision and am in need of counsel, do first set up an appointment with my pastor to discuss the situation or do I first go to God in prayer?
- When I am sick, do I find myself in a prayer line asking for healing before I have asked God directly for my healing?
- Is my main source of scriptural teaching that which I glean from my pastor or another teacher that I admire or is it from my own personal study of the scriptures?
- Am I so satisfied and comforted by the love and fellowship of the brethren that I often neglect spending time with God; loving Him and being loved by Him?
- When I sin, do I confess my sins to a priest or someone else close to me, yet forget to first confess my sins to God and ask Him for His forgiveness?
This is not to say that those who function as pastors, teachers, counselors, and ministers are not important or that they do not have a place in the Body of Christ. Rather, it is to say that we should never allow them to become a substitute for God in our lives. The gifts, anointings, and callings that God has give to individuals in His body can never replace our need for a personal and intimate relationship with God Himself. Far too often, the people of God have misused and abused the giftings and anointings God has place in the Body because they sought them as a substitute for their relationship with God. The truth is that the one you call “pastor” is not your “pastor”, God is, and until we come to know our heavenly Father as “wonderful counselor” (Isaiah 9:6) we will not know how to relate to those whom He has called to be His under shepherds. Those who lead your church are not your “elders”, Jesus is, and until we are willing to yield to the authority of our “elder brother” (Romans 8:29) we will not know how to respond to those whom He has chosen to delegate some of His authority. Those who teach you are not your “teachers”, the Holy Spirit is (1 John 2:27), and until we train our ear and learn from Him, we will not be able to discern the spirit of truth from the spirit of error in all that we hear.
The message in all of this is that Jesus wants us to come to Him directly, without feeling the need for someone to intermediate our relationship with Him. Jesus told His disciples, “In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.” (John 16:23, 26-27) When we have a need, we don’t need to find a friend, make an appointment with the pastor, or seek out the man of God, we can go to the Father directly for everything we need. When we pray, we don’t need to pray to a saint, to Jesus’ mother, or even to Jesus, the Father has invited us to pray directly to Him for all our needs. What a wonderful blessing we have received under this New Covenant, that we can have our own personal relationship with God. Let us not despise this privilege by seeking others to serve as our intermediaries.