Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Priesthood of Believers

Here's a link to a paper I recently finished on the priesthood of believers. Here's the upshot:
It seems that when the Bible speaks of the priesthood of believers it most often associates it with the believers’ responsibility to love and serve one another and their neighbors. This means that, far from being an individualistic doctrine, the priesthood of believers means that “God has so tempered the body that we are all priests to each other.” Instead of a solitary priest representing the people before God, or the believer acting as his or her own priest, all believers may represent one another before God. The priesthood of all believers is more a commission to undertake than a prerogative to claim. Thus the definition proposed above seems correct: the priesthood of believers is the right of all Christians to relate freely and directly to God and to offer spiritual sacrifices to him through Jesus Christ for the good of one another.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Willow Creek Rethinking Its Approach

Out of Ur reports that Bill Hybels & Company at Willow Creek Community Church are rethinking the way they do ministry, after a multi-year studied revealed that their approach wasn't helping their members grow spiritually. Hybels in his own words:
We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.
This quote from Willow Creek executive pastor Greg Hawkins is even more amazing to me:
Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet.
Read on . . .

(Hat tip: Between Two Worlds)

Friday, October 12, 2007

In Praise of Gretchen

"An excellent wife is the crown of her husband." ~ Proverbs 12:4

Twenty signs of grace in Gretchen's life that have influenced me to be more like Christ:

1. She strives to love Jesus Christ above all things and to tear down idols in her life.

2. She is very generous and flexible with her time, while I tend to guard my time jealously.

3. She is patient and kind to people who aren't thinking right, or who are making poor choices.

4. She loves the Word of God.

5. She is dissatisfied with the sin she sees in her life.

6. She loves children and takes them seriously, which is what Jesus did.

7. She reaches out to people and makes friends easily, while I (proudly) tend to hang back and wait for others to approach me.

8. She strives to be content in whatever circumstance she finds herself, and rarely complains (I complain enough for both of us).

9. She gladly submits to my leadership and encourages me to lead. She avoids saying "I told you so" when my decisions don't work out as I'd hoped.

10. She is patient with my impatience.

11. She is very affirming when I'm freaking out or feeling insecure, while I tend to want to "help her think straight" when she's experiencing similar emotions.

12. She actively seeks to nurture the faith of others, while I'm given to pointing out the faults of others.

13. She strives to be content with the possessions the Lord has given us, while I tend to be discontent and thus an impulse buyer.

14. She doesn't make fun of people who are different in some way.

15. She has a generally happy disposition, while my default mode is somewhere between serious and grouchy.

16. She forgives when wronged--I should know, I've been forgiven by her seventy-times-seven. She doesn't bring up past offenses.

17. She will call me out when I have a sinful attitude or when I sin in some other way.

18. She is an encourager, listener, and trusted counselor to her sisters.

19. She strives to make the best use of her time, daily bringing her body into submission by rising at 5 am for devotions and household chores (she sometimes goes to the grocery or washes and dries our laundry before I even wake up and realize she's been gone).

20. She loves Christian worship and fellowship. She worships earnestly. She is aggressively hospitable.

That's my girl!

The State of Preaching

In his latest blog, Dr. Mohler reflects on the state of evangelical preaching. He says in part:

Focusing on so-called "perceived needs" and allowing these needs to set the preaching agenda inevitably leads to a loss of biblical authority and biblical content in the sermon. Yet, this pattern is increasingly the norm in many evangelical pulpits. Fosdick must be smiling from the grave. . . .

The problem is, of course, that the sinner does not know what his most urgent need is. She is blind to her need for redemption and reconciliation with God, and focuses on potentially real but temporal needs such as personal fulfillment, financial security, family peace, and career advancement. Too many sermons settle for answering these expressed needs and concerns, and fail to proclaim the Word of Truth.

Read on . . .

Book Review: I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist

You can read my review of I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek HERE.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Seeker Sensitivity

I've been thinking about church growth methods in recent days. Here are some provisional thoughts about the seeker-sensitive approach:

What I appreciate about the seeker-sensitive model:

(1) It reflects a sincere and earnest desire to see lost people converted, and a willingness to work hard to see conversions happen.

(2) It reflects a willingness to try new things instead of clinging to "the way we've always done it."

Some questions about the seeker-sensitive model:

(1) The Bible seems to teach that the weekly gathering is mainly a time for believers to worship God and build up one another, and not mainly a time for evangelism. Unbelievers can't worship God, can they? If the worship gathering is meant for believers, should we gear it to appeal to unbelievers?

(2) This model seems to assume that there are many sincere "seekers" out there. I'm not so sure. The Bible teaches that "no one seeks for God" (Rom 3:11) and that unbelievers are "enemies" of God (Rom 5:10) who are "hostile in mind" (Col 1:21); no one comes to Christ "unless the Father who sent [Christ] draws him" (John 6:44). On the other hand, we must admit and rejoice that there are people with whom the Spirit is dealing, who are in the process of coming to faith. But which category do most people fall into? I think most fall into the first grouping--most people are non-seekers.

(3) This model seems to equate success with growth in numbers, and to assume that if numbers are not increasing we must be doing something wrong. But this doesn't seem to agree with the Apostle Paul's thinking. Consider his comments in 2 Tim 1:11-12: "And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am." People reacted negatively when Paul preached the gospel. In fact, they threw him in prison. Did this cause Paul to waver, or to think he was doing something wrong? Not at all, for he goes on to say, "But I am not ashamed," (v12)--meaning he was confident before God that he had done nothing wrong--and to exhort Timothy to hold fast to the pattern of sound teaching he had received from him (v13)--the same teaching that got Paul thrown in prison.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Here's Dr. Saxon's gracious response to my BRAPSISS critique (see previous post):


Thank you for referring me to your blog. I appreciate your interaction with Brapsiss. Just a few thoughts:

First, the instruction on the priesthood of the believer that is given in Baptist Heritage class is much broader than the few lines penned in that Sunesis article. The phrase, borrowed as you noted from 2 Cor. 5, that believers carry out a “ministry of reconciliation” expressed in brief form a section of the priesthood lecture that emphasizes the idea you brought forward in your critique. I certainly agree that our priesthood has significant horizontal implications and is tied in key NT texts to evangelism.

Second, however, the idea behind our priesthood is present in various NT texts (such as Heb. 10:19-20) that have vertical significance. I don’t think the one obligation of personal priesthood (evangelism) should be set against the other opportunity of personal priesthood (access). This is not an either/or, but a both/and.

Third, the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of the believer, as enunciated by Luther and all of the other Protestant reformers placed primary focus on the individual before God (and not before a Catholic priest, an authoritative church, etc.) as a corrective to medieval doctrine and practice. The horizontal implications were not omitted, but the vertical relationship was emphasized. (Note also that a quick check of Erickson’s Christian Theology [1085-1086] also emphasized the vertical rather than the horizontal dimension of this teaching.)

In short, I think your conclusion that “BRAPSISS needs to be amended … to better reflect the Bible’s teaching” may be a bit hasty. Both dimensions of the priesthood of the believer are biblically valid and useful, and I try to reflect both in my teaching, and I even tried—albeit briefly—to reflect both in the Sunesis article.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention and for the respectful way in which you expressed your view.

Lord bless you,

David Saxon

Monday, October 01, 2007

BRAPSISS Revisited

At my alma mater we were given the handy acrostic BRAPSISS to help us remember the Baptist distinctives:
  1. Bible as only rule of faith and practice
  2. Regenerate church membership
  3. Autonomy of the local church
  4. Priesthood of the believer
  5. Soul liberty
  6. Immersion & Lord's Supper the only ordinances
  7. Separation of Church and State
  8. Separation Ethically and Ecclesiastically
On the whole this seems like a pretty good summary of what it means to be Baptist. I'm not sure about point 4 though. In an article on BRAPSISS, David Saxon defined the "P" this way:
"P—the priesthood of the believer" is the personal application of the principle implicit in the autonomy of the church. Just as local churches cannot be made to answer to man-made institutions, such as the papacy, other episcopal overlords, or extra-church presbyteries, so the individual believer within the context of the local assembly answers to Christ alone. We do not need the church to give us authorized interpretations of Scripture or a priest to hear our confession or dispense grace to us; we ourselves exercise the ministry of reconciliation. In short, we do not need a priest because we are priests.
This definition emphasizes that through Christ every believer enjoys direct access to God. I can represent myself to God because I'm my own priest. This truth is taught in passages such as 1 Tim 2:5 and Rom 5:1-2. But is "each is his own priest" what the Bible teaches when it mentions the believer's priesthood?

We know that Christ, the great High Priest, has put himself forward as a final sacrifice for sins (Heb 10:10). Furthermore, those who are reconciled to God through Christ's blood are also called priests (1 Peter 2:5, 9; Rev 1:6). When the NT calls believers "priests" it must mean that in some sense believers have a ministry like that of OT priests. The priest's role was to represent the people to God, and God to the people. Through their work the people of Israel were put right with God. The priesthood of NT believers seems to have a "for others" dimension as well, in addition to the teaching that "each is his own priest." When Dr. Saxon mentions the "ministry of reconciliation," he is alluding to 2 Cor 5:11ff. This passage seems to teach that our ministry as God's priests is not mainly for ourselves but for others. Paul explains in 2 Cor 5:19-20 that those who are reconciled to God are in turn charged with a ministry of reconciliation: "[I]n Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."

And 1 Peter 2:9 says much the same thing: "But you are . . . a royal priesthood, . . . that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light."

As priests, we pray for others to be reconciled to God and go about proclaiming the message of reconciliation through Christ. We go to God on behalf of people, and to people on behalf of God, and through our prayers and the message of Christ's once-and-for-all sacrifice people are put right with God. This is the biblical meaning of the priesthood of the believer. The NT seems to emphasize the "for others" dimension of each believer's priestly work, and to teach also that "each is his own priest." I would suggest that BRAPSISS needs to be amended on this point to better reflect the Bible's teaching.