“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….” What powerful words open the U.S. Constitution! Through the significance of this “immortal declaration”, the United States of America has long stood as a beacon for justice and equality in an oppressive world. Our government leaders have not always stood for the principles established in the Constitution, but through the years the centrality of the document has kept our nation from drifting too far into an immoral abyss.
Why are all people created equal? Because our Creator has decreed it to be so. Our constitution finds its core roots in biblical principles. One short, seven-word sentence says it all:
For there is no partiality with God. Romans 2:11 (NASB)
The gospel is the great equalizer because God is its author. The Creator of the Universe is no respecter of persons. What do any of us have that we have not first received from Him? How can we boast over that which has been given to us?
Sadly, in spite of God’s design, worldly mindsets have established themselves firmly within the organizational church. In many Christian circles, only those with “higher” education or special communicative abilities are given the opportunity to minister to others. It all speaks of elitism and it continues to undermine the advance of God’s kingdom on this earth. As a result, we all pay a steep price.
One of the most dangerous mindsets of the modern church promotes the idea that all ministry is to be done by professional clergy. I believe that this wrong way of thinking has incapacitated church members, destroyed pastors, and contributed to the decline of the church in the Western world.
The Priesthood of All Believers
The modern church is not the only one that has suffered. For centuries, much of Christendom groaned under the weight of a convoluted separation between priesthood and laity, between sacred and secular. As Martin Luther began to challenge his own denominational leaders, he articulated a doctrine which has since been called “the priesthood of all believers.”
Under the Mosaic Law, priests were mediators between God and the common people. They were chosen specifically by lineage from Moses’ brother Aaron and had to follow strict rules in order to maintain their roles. Only the priests were able to enter the temple and come into the presence of God.
Jesus changed all of that! Because of the cleansing power of Christ’s blood, all Christians are able to directly access the presence of God. The church universal had become a royal priesthood. We need no mediator apart from Christ. In fact, we become the mediators between Christ and the world.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9 (NASB)
Could Peter have written sweeter words?
Function Does Not Equal Value
Does this mean that it is wrong for us to have professional clergy? Not at all. The key lies in understanding the way God has designed the church to function. We can indeed find a hierarchy of sorts in biblical teachings about the church, but it is a hierarchy of function—not one of value.
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NASB)
The point is that God will call certain individuals to what some deem the “five-fold” ministry offices—not for the purpose of self-elevation—but so that He can use them to equip others to do the work of the ministry. It doesn’t mean that five-fold ministers are more special, or of a higher status, only that their primary roles are different. Those who are called to five-fold ministry are given the grace to effectively equip others and they are essential if the body of Christ is to be healthy and grow. Still, they never stand alone as the only “ministers” of God.
The priesthood of all believers is a New Testament reality. God’s design for ministry gifts has nothing to do with status and everything to do with effectively touching the lives of people and meeting their needs. All sons and daughters of God are kings and priests in His eyes, but not all serve the same function. If only we can move beyond our innate human tendencies to measure and compare, we will see the church come together and make an impact in this world beyond what any of us can imagine!