Tuesday, November 27, 2007


For many years, I heard the "brethren" say, "God is done with man in the flesh." I think I'm starting to see just a little bit of what they meant.

It seems when we try to approach God as "man in the flesh," we fall into one of two opposite errors. Either we are so aware of our own unworthiness to come into God's presence that we come in hesitatingly, groveling and bemoaning our worthlessness (like many or most traditional Protestant churches); or we come in self-confident and swaggering, sure that we're good enough to be there (like more modern "seeker-friendly" groups). Those who fall in the first group seem to be constantly looking for improvement in themselves, those in the second are characterized by an irreverent familiarity with God.

It's so very hard to learn the lesson that God has no intention of improving the flesh. God's purpose in Christ is to bring sinners to Himself: but it's not to leave them sinners. We are stuck in sinful bodies, it is true; but we are new creations trapped in an old creation's body. Eventually the body will be changed into incorruptibility, but that's still future. But until we get there, we carry around this thing called "the flesh."

The change from being an old creation to being a new one is significant, because it means we're starting something very new. God isn't looking to improve sinners, He's starting in a new place. It's true we all sin, it's true we all fall short of the glory of God, it's true we all carry the flesh around with us. But it's just as true that God's not looking on His children as sinners and setting out to make them better. And so we ought not to consider ourselves in that light either.

We who approach God are "purged worshippers," who, "once cleansed, have no more conscience of sins." We are to go confidently (not self-confidently!) into God's presence, because we are confident in our Great High Priest, who invites us in. We don't hang around the door nervously, waiting for God to make us worthy before we approach. I get the impression that a lot of pious Christians are hesitant to go in: maybe next Sunday they'll be worthy, but this Sunday they'd better hang back a bit. This behaviour is nothing else than trying to get to God on my own, rather than on the basis of His Son's blood: it's exactly the same thing as trying to swagger into God's presence, sure He couldn't possibly turn me back. While I'm sure the one who hesitates has a more Scriptural concept of God's holiness and man's worthlessness than the lout who presumes on his own worth; neither one of them is trying to approach God in the only way we have: the blood of Christ.

God is gracious, and will tolerate a lot from His children. I don't want to in any way cast aspersion on God's goodness. On the other hand, we need to take God at His word.

Monday, November 19, 2007


This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
--Hebrews 6:19--20 (NASB)

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
--Hebrews 10:19--22 (NASB)

I can't see that the apprehension of having the Son of God as our High Priest would be anything other than confidence. I admit that we often come cringing into God's presence, but that's not the affect the truth ought to have on us. If we really grasp the idea that the Son of God has come here to seek and save the lost, has died for us, and has gone back to Heaven to represent us there; then the logical outcome would be for us to approach God confidently.

Not that we approach Him flippantly---confidence and flippancy are not the same thing at all. But if we believe the Word of God, we must conclude that God wants us there.

Protestants seem to err in one direction or the other. More formal churches are so intent to emphasize our worthlessness, that they deprive the believer of confidence in God. Far from being the One who sent His own Son to die for us, God becomes an aloof and cold judge. The operational word in "Woe is me!" is pretty much "me." In the other direction, you have modern "evangelicals" who seem to think God is some sort of supernatural buddy in the sky.

The main idea we need to get is, we are not confident in what we are to God. That is, we do not approach in the confidence that we are precious to God. We are, but that's not the confidence we need to approach Him. We approach God, confident that the Son of God has made a way for us to go in: His flesh has been torn, His blood poured out; and we approach confident that God is pleased with what Christ has done for us.

We're not confident in our ability to get there, or even in our right to be there. We're confident that the Son who invites us is over the house of God. He has taken care of everything, and is welcoming us in.

It's not remarkable that the Son of God would go back to Heaven. He has every right to be there. What's remarkable is that He went back there to represent us. He went back for us, which ought to give us pause.

It's tempting to try and approach God as an equal: or at least to try and approach Him based on what we are. When we have a good day, we are much more confident to approach God than after we've just fallen into sin for the umpteenth time. But that's because we're looking in the wrong place. We're looking at ourselves, and measuring ourselves against what we see God to be.

God's not looking at us, He's looking at the One who died for us, The One inviting us to come in.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.
-- 1 Timothy 2: 5--6 (NSAB)

I've been contemplating the concept of priesthood recently. Part of that is because I've no longer been gathering with "brethren," but have been attending services in a liturgical church. I don't bring that up to rub salt into any wounds or anything, but to be open about it. I wanted to share some scattered thoughts about priesthood.

Like all protestants, I believe (or claim to believe) the "priesthood of all believers." That is, all Christians function as priests. This is honestly interpreted differently by different people: Baptists take "priesthood of all believers" to mean every Christian is responsible for the Scriptures: you need to read and understand the Bible for yourself. "Brethren" take that to mean there ought to be no clergy in the assembly: every Christian is (at least officially) on the same level, anyone in the assembly can preach or pray. Lutherans take it to mean anyone can pray, and you can confess sins directly to God. I suppose all those interpretations are correct, although whether they sum up the concept is debatable. I think there is more involved than that.

As far as I've been able to find, believers are only called priests in 1 Peter (chapter 2) and the Revelation (chapters 1, 5, and 20). Darby groups Hebrews 13:15 as another "priesthood" verse, but the word "priest" is not explicitly used in that passage (Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Vol. 10, pp.209--212, "Who is a Priest and What is a Priest?"). I am convinced from 1 Peter that all believers are priests: there is no exception clause in 1 Peter that I can find. Hebrews, while not explicitly naming all believers as priests, certainly makes the point rather clearly that we are to function that way: we're called to worship in the Holiest, which is strictly a priestly function.

The first priest mentioned in Scripture is Melchisidec. He appears for just a few verses of Genesis 14, then disappears until Psalm 110. After that, the Scripture is once more silent about him until Hebrews, which he becomes central to the explanation of Christ's present ministry as our High Priest in Heaven. But the narrative of Melchisidec is instructive:
18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High.

19He blessed him and said,
"Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
20And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand."
He gave him a tenth of all.

-- Genesis 14:18--20 (NSAB)
So Melchisidec, the proto-priest, does four things.
  1. he provides Abram with physical food (bread and wine),
  2. he blesses Abram,
  3. he blesses God Most High, and
  4. he receives a tithe from Abram.

It is significant, as Darby points out (see "The Melchisedec Priesthood of Christ", Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Vol. 2), that Melchisidec never makes an offering for sin. That is, where we tend to see priesthood as primarily one who offers sacrifice for sin, the original priest did not. He was a priest who stood between God and man and blessed them both. Aaron's priesthood consisted largely of sacrificing for sin: Melchisidec's apparently did not.

Christ, according to Hebrews, has acted in fulfilment of Aaron's priesthood, but His priesthood is "after the order of Melchisidec" (see Psalm 110, Hebrews 5:6). That is, His priesthood is of a greater, higher, and more permanent nature than Aaron's. Christ's offering for sin has happened once according to Scripture, "And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high," (Hebrews 1:3, NASB), "but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD" (Hebrews 10:12, NASB). There can never be another offering for sin. The very best that can possibly be offered has already been offered: there is nothing else to do, no other offering to make. But Christ's having offered Himself for us does not imply His priestly ministry is over: on the contrary, Hebrews makes a great deal of His acting as our High Priest to bring us to God.

Now, our having a Great High Priest means that we have constant, irrevocable access to God. We are certainly all priests, but that priesthood is practiced under the auspices of the Son of God, who is sitting at God's right hand. He welcomes us to come into Heaven, worshipping God there. We can come in as worshippers because He is there: His sacrifice has dealt with our sins permanently "By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:10, NASB). His body was offered for us, His blood is our "new and living way" to come into God's presence. He represents us in Heaven, but the urging of Hebrews is not to be satisfied with that (as it were), but to actually go in there and worship ourselves.

Since we are priests of God, and since our Great High Priest is sitting at God's right hand, we have no need of another priest to stand between us and God. No one else can do a better job than the Son of God who became Man, we don't need anyone else's help to come into God's presence.
If I am brought to God, I do not want a priest: to go to Him for me. If the veil is rent, and I am told by God to enter into the holiest through that new and living way, I do not want another to go there because I cannot — another who could not go either if I cannot.
--J. N. Darby (Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Vol. 10, pp.209--212, "Who is a Priest and What is a Priest?")
That is, there is no need of a priest to stand between me and God. Or more accurately, there is already a perfect Priest who stands between me and God, and I don't need anyone else.

But having said all that, there is a sense where we act as priests for someone else. That is, we intercede for others. When we ask another Christian to pray for us, we are asking that person to be our priest. Priesthood is not (or ought not to be) limited to what happens in the gathering. It includes what we do throughout the week: in our daily lives, we are to stand before God for one another.

When someone in a "brethren" assembly stands and prays, he is acting as a priest for everyone sitting there. But if that is the sum of his priesthood, he is falling far short. He ought also to be bringing others to the Lord throughout the week, interceding on their behalf. Similarly, when a Baptist prays for her pastor, she is effectively acting as his priest, representing his interests to God. When the Anglican priest asks the congregation to pray for the bishop, he is asking them to be the priests for the bishop: representing the bishop's interests to God.

Again, this priesthood is practiced under the auspices of the Great High Priest in Heaven, but it is priesthood nonetheless.

There is another function of the priest under Levitical law: the priest is to eat the sacrifice on the altar.
Then the LORD spoke to Aaron, "Now behold, I Myself have given you charge of My offerings, even all the holy gifts of the sons of Israel I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual allotment.

"This shall be yours from the most holy gifts reserved from the fire; every offering of theirs, even every grain offering and every sin offering and every guilt offering, which they shall render to Me, shall be most holy for you and for your sons.

"As the most holy gifts you shall eat it; every male shall eat it. It shall be holy to you.

"This also is yours, the offering of their gift, even all the wave offerings of the sons of Israel; I have given them to you and to your sons and daughters with you as a perpetual allotment. Everyone of your household who is clean may eat it.
-- Numbers 18:8--11 (NASB)
It is certainly true that we participate in the sacrifice of Christ by eating the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 10:15--18). But there is a sense where eat the sin offering for one another too. That is, when there is sin that has crept into the assembly (not formally, but in the sense that another believer has fallen into sin); part of our acting as priest for that believer is to eat the sin offering. We stand in place of that believer and intercede for him or her with God, but we also eat of the sin offering. That means, we are affected by their sin: we can be dirtied by it, but we can also come into a sense of fellowship with their forgiveness.

We can't offer sacrifices for sins: there is no more sacrifice since Christ has offered "once for all time." But there is still eating from the altar: this is partly to feed us (John 6), but it's also an expression of fellowship, of communion. And that's not only fellowship in a "good" sense, but in a "bad" sense too. There is the common responsibility and care for one another: the responsibility we have to one another as fellow-members of the household of faith.

As I've been contemplating the role of believers as priests, I've been struck that all the priesthood I need comes from the Great High Priest in Heaven: the Son of God is there to represent me and my interests to God. But there is any number of other priests, functioning as His under-priests, who are my priests too. Every Christian who prays for me, who takes my name to God, is acting as my priest. My wife and children pray for me, my family and friends, even people I've never met act as my priests when they get on their knees and pray to God for me after reading my blog. They can't act independently of the High Priest: Eleazar and Ithamar were priests under Aaron. All my priests are priests under Christ. But priests they are, and they take my interests to God.

Friday, November 9, 2007


We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.
-- The Book of Common Prayer

"Grace" is essentially God acting toward us as He wants, regardless of what we deserve. It's God acting according to His own goodness, not our merits.

As I was driving in this morning, I was thinking about a hymn in Spiritual Songs:

And in past and distant ages, in those courts so bright and fair,
'Ere we were was He rejoicing, all He won with us to share.

That is the grace of God: that in eternity past, the Son of God was excited to share glory with us.

I remember several years ago, in the middle of a rather messy assembly controversy, I made the remark to someone, "A little grace goes a long way." The other brother responded, "Is it really grace to ignore it when someone is wrong?" Over the years I've contemplated that question, and have decided the answer is "Yes!"

Of course, no sooner do I say something like that, than people decide I'm advocating continuing with known sin. That's not really what I'm trying to say. The scripture is very clear that we are to separate from sin that has come to light (I mean, we can't possibly separate from sin we don't know about, right?): 1 Corinthians 5 is explicit. But what about in cases where someone is repentant. Or maybe someone is unknowingly involved in some sin, or perhaps it's not exactly clear what the "correct" thing is: maybe it's in a grey area. In those cases, we are very quick to draw a line and demand people choose a side. At any rate, forming parties around a controversy is always wrong: always the opposite of grace.

The fact is, we show very little grace to one another. Showing grace to one another would start with accepting one another as accepted by God: God accepts us because of Christ; we ought to accept one another the same way.

But in the end, the example of Grace is Christ: the Son of God came down to a wicked world specifically to die so that reprobate sinners could be forgiven. Nasty, dirty, vile sinners were the reason the Son of God came here. And He didn't come with an agenda to reform them; He came with an agenda to die for them.

That is God acting toward us according to His own heart, rather than our merit.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Well, we've attended the services at a continuing anglican church two weeks in a row now. The first week was out of interest and curiosity, this morning was at least partly because of a time constraint: they have a "spoken" service (no singing, no choir) at 8:00 AM, and I had to be at work at 9:30. So we were able to go to the service without making me late for work.

At this point, I question whether we can fit into the continuing anglican church, and I am genuinely sorry for it. Of course the Lord is the one whose will we're seeking: if this is where He wants us, it's where we need to be; but there are a few things I can see getting in the way.

But rather than come at this with a critical spirit, I'd like to list out some things I have really enjoyed the last two weeks; things I'd miss if we never return:
  1. They have a strange mixture of formality and casualness. That is, the services are steeped in ritual and ceremony; but there is a genuine love and sincerity that drips from them. One gets the impression that they genuinely care about how one is doing, rather than just caring how the attendance is looking.
  2. Both times I've heard a short homily/sermon in the service, it was very pointedly an acknowledgment of the Gospel: the Son of God has come here to die for worthless sinners; there is nothing we can do to earn salvation. There is love in God's heart even for the likes of me, and they revel in it. Last Sunday's homily included the lines: "The Son of God came here to die for us, and all our worth is in that. There's no room for pride when all your worth is in Another." This morning, the homily ended with "He came here to save sinners, not to be glorified." That my friends, is more to the heart of the Gospel than so much I have heard in many evangelical churches.
  3. There is a level of outward piety that I take as sincere expressions of genuine love for the Lord. One example is, every time the name "Jesus Christ" is mentioned in the liturgy, everyone bows. Another example, while reciting the apostle's creed, everyone kneels when the Incarnation is mentioned, and stays kneeling until the Crucifixion. Sure, some of that can be superstition. But on the other hand, there is a certain familiarity in evangelical christendom that I find repugnant. These people have some sense of the majesty of the Son of God that is all but forgotten in the church today.
  4. One of the priests seems genuinely concerned that we haven't asked him any questions yet. I assured him that it's really just my work schedule, and we'll have a conversation once things calm down a little. Another priest reproached me for not coming up for a blessing today. The personal interest is intense, and I really value it.
  5. They are determined to include the kids. Where so many churches pack the kids off into a "junior church" to get them out of the meetings, this bunch is determined to include the kids too. Today one priest reproached me for not going forward for a blessing (they practice a closed table, so they don't offer me communion) and then he berated me about not hauling the kids up there too.
  6. They practice a closed table. You can read my blog to understand my views on reception: I think these guys might actually have it right.

Now, all is not sunshine and roses in our two weeks' experience with this bunch. This particular gathering leans fairly heavily to anglo-catholicism; I'm okay with that in principle, but there is sometimes a bit much "catholicism" and not enough "anglo" for my "brethren" blood. And frankly, I'm not into stained glass windows.

About the closed table: they explicitly ask that people not in their group receive communion up front. But they also offer: anyone who wishes may go up front, kneel with everyone else, cross their arms in front of their chest, and receive a blessing. That is, the priest puts his hand on your forehead and blesses you. While this may freak out many of my "brethren" friends, I find it intriguing and frankly refreshing. It's a good balance between being careful about reception on the hand, and demonstrating the love of God to "outsiders" on the other.

In the end, I have serious misgivings about being able to continue with anglicans, so to speak. But if nothing else, the last two Sundays' services have been time very well spent.