Last Sunday we thought through what worship was, a response to the grace God has shown to us. And as part of that discussion I mentioned in passing that I was not a priest, but a pastor. This blog post aims to expand on this a little for it can often be misunderstood.
In the Old Testament, the priests in the people of God had an important role. They were the mediators between an unholy people and a holy God. You could not perform sacrifices yourself but would bring them to the priest who would perform them on your behalf. They were the connection between you and your God.
In some ways what the priests did looks similar to what ministers do. We come to a service and the person up the front prays for and with us and he explains the Scriptures. He looks like God’s special person like the priests were.
And it doesn’t help that the Roman Catholic Church calls their ministers ‘priests’. And this labelling is no accident. It reflects what they believe. When you take part in communion, for example, the priest has his back to the congregation offering it up before God. They believe that the priest is mediating at that point between the people and God much like the OT priests did.
In the Protestant tradition we do not hold to this. We do not believe that is what the Bible teaches.
In the most important sense, ministers are just like all other believers. They are sinful people with temptations and struggles with sin. They are only saved by the grace of God through salvation in Jesus. They are therefore not inherently more holy or special than other believers.
Ministers in churches (and other full-time gospel workers) do however have an important role to play. They are to teach the gospel and shepherd God’s people. This is often a difficult task. But it does not make them closer to God inherently or better in God’s sight.
Although in some ways ministers and priests might both stand at the front, there is no direct link between them in terms of mediation. The ultimate high priest that mediates between us and God is Jesus, not some minister or pastor.
What is the value of knowing this? Some important truths:
- If the pastor is not a mediator between you and God, it means you can pray to God anywhere by yourself. Praying in a church building or in the presence of a church pastor is not more effective. God hears you because of Jesus’ sacrifice for you, not your pastor.
- Although your minister is worthy of respect and support for his position, we must be careful not to overstate this. Asian culture also plays in this direction with its high view of authority figures. Remember that your pastor is just like you, and pray for his faithfulness and perseverance knowing he struggles with similar things to you.
- As a Bible teacher, the pastor is not infallible. Read the Bible text which the message is based on and be convinced yourself. The authority is in the Word, not the preacher.