As believers in Christ, we face many challenges in our walk with Him. One of these challenges is the tendency to drift away from the living person of Christ to religion, which is a matter of doing things for God but doing them apart from Him. In particular we tend to be unconsciously influenced by elements of Judaism, which is based on things God gave to His people in the Old Testament—mainly the temple, the law, the priests, and the earthly promises. As New Testament believers, we should be clear about the essential differences between Judaism and the church so that we may recognize and reject religious elements in ourselves and turn back to the living person of Christ.
In Judaism there is a mediatorial class of priests, but in the church all the believers should be laboring priests of the gospel of God, a holy and royal priesthood (Rom. 15:16; Rev. 1:6; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9). According to the New Testament, there is no mediatorial class in the church. Instead, every believer is a priest who should contact and serve God. What does it mean to serve God according to the New Testament? Consider 1 Peter 2:9, which says that the believers are a “priesthood…so that you may tell out the virtues of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” To tell out the virtues of Christ is to proclaim His virtues to others as the gospel. Moreover, the subsequent verses imply that this telling out includes our becoming one with Christ so that others may see His virtues lived out through us. Verses 11 and 12 say, “Beloved, I entreat you as strangers and sojourners to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul, having your manner of life excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the matter concerning which they speak against you as evildoers they may, by your good works, as they see them with their own eyes, glorify God in the day of His visitation.” The believers’ excellent manner of life here, which the unsaved ones can see, is a telling out of the virtues of Christ. It is Christ living again in His believers and being expressed through them (Phil. 1:20-21). Therefore, our priestly service includes contacting Christ, spending time in the light of His presence, being filled with Him, and abstaining from fleshly lusts in order to allow Him to be expressed through our living.
An individual believer alone cannot fully tell out the virtues of Christ. Each believer is a priest, but God’s goal involves a corporate priesthood. For this reason, 1 Peter 2:5 speaks of the believers “as living stones…being built up as a spiritual house into a holy priesthood.” Just as a single stone cannot be a house, an individual priest cannot be a priesthood. All the believers need to be built into one priesthood, which has the capacity to express the virtues of Christ in full.
We must reject the Judaistic thought that only certain believers are priests or that any believer, including ourselves, is not a priest. We need to see that we are all priests. We also must reject the Judaistic practice of leaving the function of the priesthood to others. We should each take up our responsibility to labor as priests but never individualistically. In this way the church will become the holy priesthood that the Lord is seeking for His glorious expression.
Witness Lee, The Priesthood, Chapter 1—“The Priesthood Defined and Illustrated” (Print)
Witness Lee, Functioning in Life as Gifts Given to the Body of Christ, Chapter 7—“The Priesthood (1)” (Print)
(Most references in the Further Reading can also be viewed on www.ministrybooks.org.)