Where is the church, at this time of national crisis?
But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God's very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for He called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light.
1 Peter 2:9 NLT
The OT idea of separate priests offering worship on behalf of the people ended with the destruction of the temple. Believers in Christ, each with their own worshipping relationship, are the new priesthood, God’s chosen people who walk in His light. All Christians share the responsibility to show others the goodness of God.
Where is the church, at this time of national crisis? Where is the call to prayer, as in the dark days when a different invasion threatened in 1940? What is God saying, and how do we respond?
These questions, or versions of them, are being asked both by people who profess a Christian faith, and those who would stand back from that. These questions are shared by those who are church or chapel attenders, and those who might come to a carol service (remember those?) or a funeral (they were big gatherings then). Children and young people have their own questions about God at this time which add up to the same uncertainty.
Some churches have people designated as priests, who are selected to perform worship rites witnessed by others. Other churches have ministers (the word means servant) or pastors (meaning shepherd) where the emphasis is on equipping and encouraging people to become Christians and live out Christian values and beliefs in a world that often opposes them.
What ever the terminology, the concept of priesthood changed dramatically at Jesus’ death. The woven barrier that separated in the inner part of the temple as a holy place that only priests could access was ripped apart even as Jesus gave up His life. The separation was over, God was out of the temple, and the caste of priests from a special tribe was no longer needed.
Following the resurrection, three things changed in the space of a generation.
- Jesus was alive! The same Jesus was very much living and active, although spiritual rather than human — and He was everywhere, not limited by location and travel or where you were in the crowd.
- The Holy Spirit was poured out and given to those who identified themselves as believers in Jesus, Son of God and sacrificial Lamb of God. Now every believer was spiritually awakened and enabled to live in two connected dimensions -- feet on earth, with all that entails, but heart in heaven, able to receive revelation and perceive God’s kingdom beginning to unfold.
- The temple, national identity of Israel would be razed to the ground and broken up by the Romans. That kind of priesthood was finished, and many former priests became believers in Jesus and needed some help to see how they fitted into the body of Christ which had no need of people to perform rites. The Book of Hebrews was written with them in mind.
Priesthood, however, was not over -- just changed. The need was greater than ever, for people belonging to God to represent event Him to others trying to find Him, and to represent people of little or no faith and bring them into God’s presence prayerfully. This awesome, vital duty became the shared responsibility of every believer in Jesus. Every believer has their own personal relationship with God through Jesus. Every believer can intercede for others. Every believer can tell others about Jesus and help them find God for themselves. Every believer is a worshipper and where two or three are gathered, worship takes on a particular dynamic which attracts the presence and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
This is why Peter, a father figure of hard-earned wisdom and maturity in the early church, writes to encourage believers who are working out what following the Way of Jesus means — there wasn’t a pattern to follow and they were, in some ways, making it up as they went along. But this strand of understanding was key. Every believer shared in the responsibility of making God known, and helping others to pray and to find Him. Here are his words in The PassionTranslation:
You are God’s chosen treasure — priests who are kings, a spiritual “nation” set apart as God’s devoted ones. He called you out of darkness to experience his marvellous light, and now He claims you as His very own. He did this so that YOU would broadcast His glorious wonders throughout the world.
As a comedian would say, “no pressure then...!” except that there really isn’t a pressure if we have awareness of the Holy Spirit within us, showing us who needs a bit of shepherding, giving us the words to pray, being a source of God’s love welling up within us for others, and inspiring the joy that characterises true worship.
And what about churches and how they operate? All believers have gifts, whether latent or being realised, and those whose gifts are recognised in particular ways will be the ones looked to as leaders, and in some cases, set apart. Some will be sent out as ground-breakers and planters, others will be communicators as exhorters and challengers, some will excel at making Jesus known to others; others will be the shepherds of the body and some will be gifted at making what seems complicated, accessible and easy to understand. These ministries, all described as being to facilitate or equip the people of faith (rather than perform functions for them) are explained in Ephesians 4.
The bottom line is, we as believing followers of Jesus have a responsibility for all the others — to tell them and to pray for them — especially as a time of anxiety and uncertainty and a desperation to find answers.
We are the ones hearing from God as we walk with Him, and we are the ones held by His love and with a confident expectation of Him because we know Him. That’s called hope. We are the ones who can agree together in prayer for our community.
God has allowed a severe difficulty to be a test of whether we will turn to Him, or not. We who have already done the turning, are there to encourage others so need a bit of a steer.
We are the ones “called for a time such as this”.