Kings and Priests by David R. HighDavid R. High’s Kings & Priests reminds us of an ideal worship scenario that was put into effect after David became king. This notion of full-time ministers vs. a supporting cast of lay people was really God’s idea given to Moses after the Exodus from Egypt. The LORD appointed the Levites in Numbers 1:50 to attend to the Tabernacle. According to Number 3:6-10, the Levites were given by God to help attend to the needs of Aaron the priest, his sons, and the congregation. Numbers 3:32 actually states that Aaron’s son Eleazar was in charge of all the Levite leaders. Numbers 8:14 alludes to the distinct separation of Levites from the rest of the congregation of Israelites. They were full-time ministers supported by the tithes of Israel (Numbers 18:21). In addition to taking care of the temple and temple treasuries (1 Chronicles 26:20), their duties included teaching the congregation (2 Chronicles 35:3; Nehemiah 8:7,9) and leading praise and worship (1 Chronicles 15:16-22; 2 Chronicles 5:12, 7:6, 29:25-30). The Israelites were even to give lands and cities for the Levites to live in, similar to the idea of modern-day parsonages (Numbers 35:2). God expected the Israelites to follow His leadership through “kings” like Joshua, priests and Levites. The priests usually went first, as when carrying the ark over the Jordan (Joshua 3) and during battle where they blew trumpets (Joshua 6). When they carried the ark, the people were to immediately “set out … and go after it.” (Joshua 3:3).
Throughout the Old Testament, however, the priests and Levites didn’t function autonomously. They were worked together with leaders like Joshua, who had been chosen from the tribe of Ephraim (Number 13:8), and Nehemiah, the governor of Jerusalem for 12 years who worked with Ezra the priest, a descendant of Aaron. [The Old Testament enlarges this “balanced reign” with the addition of anointed prophets of the people like Nathan who provided a “check” to King David when he committed sin. The New Testament tries to continue this “check and balance through pastors, elders, and deacons—similar to the structure of the United States government of president (executive branch), Supreme Court (judicial branch), and Congress (legislative branch). The pastor is the point man/teacher/leader of a church, the elders provided spiritual support and interpretation of Scripture, and the deacons dealt with practical needs of the congregation, often distributing resources collected for the benefit of the whole.]
Nevertheless, High is referring to a symbiotic relationship between full-time ministry and “kingly” congregational participation. This can be seen today in large, successful churches like Hillsong and Austin Stone Community Church (before Chris Tomlin left to partner with Louie Giglio in planting another church in Atlanta in 2008). Preachers, pastors, church administrators, and praise & worship leaders were supported by lay people so they can be most effective in their calling. This type of support even led to their churches reaching outwards to the nations as Hillsong and Tomlin have brought their music and pastors’ teaching to other nations through concert events that some may call “church missions.”
But the New Testament picture of church-life was not ideal. Scattered through persecution, the early church was surviving through house churches, community funds, and according to 1 Corinthians 9 only full-time pastors and teachers were to be paid (even though Paul and Barnabas still worked as tentmakers). In fact, according to 1 Timothy 5:17-18, the elders who labored in word and doctrine had the right to a wage. The New Testament Scripture is silent about full-time praise and worship leaders.
In most cases today, especially in small churches like mine, the Old Testament ideal of kings and priests is not a reality. In fact, except for our Senior Pastor and grounds-keeper, we have no paid staff teachers, worship-leaders, nor even a parsonage. Our workers consist almost entirely of tentmakers and volunteers. In some Chinese congregations, there may even be an unhealthy expectation that ministers should not get paid a salary if they can afford to live cheaply or if their wives have a good job.
I believe we can slowly return to this ideal. I believe we should try to return to this ideal. Perhaps more elders who are called to this office can quit their job so they can devote full-time to the house of the Lord. Perhaps more worship leaders who are called can devote themselves full-time to music ministry. Perhaps first, the congregation can assure them of their support by stewarding at least the Old Testament 10-22% of the income God is funneling through them from the world. Who will step up first? Are we holding back those who want to pursue full-time ministry because they know they cannot support their families? Is this even possible with our size church? If not, perhaps it is a judgment against the many churches who continue to split and divide and are left with limited resources.
Sure, there is overlap. Throughout the Bible, non-Levites like David and Solomon wrote some psalms and led praise and worship from time to time. They were truly gifted. There are people in the congregation that can preach and lead worship well. But there is a difference between giftedness and the office of ministry. The office is sacred and permanent, not a whim or need for popularity. One must make his calling sure before seeking an office.
In the end, we are left with the questions: “What does JESUS want us to do? What are His priorities?” All this Old Testament talk of kings and priests is very inspiring and we should strive for this ideal, but Jesus was more concerned with the lost than with the institution. The religious system that God Himself started supposed to be a means to an end, but not the end. The high priest, scribes and religious leaders during Jesus’ day had forgotten why God had set Israel apart—to win the nations. Although Jesus kept the law and went to Temple/synagogue, His main emphasis was bringing people to Himself. His priority was saving the world. Thus, we are left with this impossible fusion of being an effective church that reaches the world.
The last part of High’s book covers an important issue of cultural conquest—actively redeeming a worldly culture in order to retain more of a harvest in our age. This is another impossible vision of going against the natural flow of worldly influence by using our gifts and training in the world to reshape its direction towards that of Christ. This is already happening as more and more quality movies are being made to draw audiences to Christ (e.g. Facing the Giants, Passion of the Christ, Courageous, etc.) Musicians like LeCrae and others are giving teenagers a healthier, godlier alternative to secular rap and songs. Professional athletes like Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin are using their platform to share the gospel of Christ through books, media, and public testimony. Christian businessmen and professionals have formed to reach their field. We are taking back God’s world to retain the 75%!
It’s not just about transferring the wealth of the wicked into the hands of the righteous. It’s also about transforming the wicked into righteousness! With man, it’s impossible, but with God, all things are possible.
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