March 12, 2008

Evangelical Priests?

Last Sunday, preaching on Jesus as our Great High Priest from Hebrews 4.14-5.10, I made the following statement:

A priest is a go-between, arbitrating between God and man. This is why the Roman Catholic Church calls its clergy priests. Having rejected the idea that there is only “one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2.5), the Roman Church is still in the business of appointing religious go-betweens “on behalf of men in things pertaining to God.”

Make no mistake. Whether the reason is misinformed theology, a play for hierarchical power, or just a lagging tradition, this is what the Roman church believes and practices. The average Joe cannot approach God completely without the aid of his local priest. Thus the confessional, where the priest doesn’t simply offer counsel and prayer, but grants “absolution” – or forgiveness of sins – on God’s behalf. Thus also the mass, which is said to literally become the body and blood of Jesus when the priest blesses it. Why? Because the priest, in the manner of the Old Testament, is offering up “sacrifices for sins” (Hebrews 5.1). In the Catholic system, the common folk need these men to intercede, to absolve, and to offer sacrifices for sins – and thus the people are robbed of Christ, the one mediator. Instead of the infinite, sinless, all-compassionate, nail-pierced Savior, they are left with Father Bill, who may be a wonderful man, but who has his own sins and weaknesses to deal with. It is an empty system.

‘Thank God we don’t think like that’ someone says. ‘We Evangelicals know better than to offer salvation in the form of a priest. We know that only Jesus saves.’ Do we really? Let me tell you a little story that might make you think otherwise.

Some time back I was having coffee with an astute clergyman of another denomination—a self-described liberal. I was explaining to him why I could not, in good conscience, participate in the local gatherings of various ministers, pastors, and priests. After having drawn a line in the sand between his beliefs and mine (on things like the infallibility of the Scriptures, virgin birth, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the deity of Jesus, etc.), he threw me a curve ball: ‘Well, the Roman Catholics believe all those things, and Father ______ still comes to our meetings.’

‘I have to tell you that we are about as far from the Catholics as from yourself’ I told him, going on to detail, among other things, the unbiblical and Christ-obscuring nature of the Roman priesthood. End of conversation, right? No. Without flinching he said: ‘Come on, you Baptists do the same thing.’ ‘How is that’ I asked? ‘Do you mean to tell me that you don’t give an altar call, and have people repeat a sinner’s prayer at the end of your services? That is the same thing.’ Here he thought he had me – except that I must have been the first Baptist preacher he met who doesn’t do those things! ‘No’ I said. ‘I preach Jesus and ask people to look to Him.’

So he couldn’t nail me to the wall. But do you know what … he could have seven years ago. And he could have nailed most of our denomination, even today. For when we say to people: ‘If you want to be forgiven, come down front and the preacher or one of our counselors will lead you in a prayer for salvation’, we may as well be asking them to come into a confessional. The message is the same isn’t it? ‘Salvation is in Jesus, sure. But to get to Him, you need to come to a certain religious place, talk with a certain religious person (priest, counselor, pastor, whatever you want to call them), pronounce a certain religious formula, and have someone assure you that, having gone through the right motions, you are now absolved of sin.’

Is that the gospel? May it never be! As I pastor, my door is always open to listen to people in need of help. But my job is to point you to the Great High Priest, not to become a makeshift priest myself. My job is to point you to the Forgiver, not to assure you that you are forgiven. My job is to point to the Savior, not to try to do the saving. So, God give us more pastors, and fewer priests!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your ministry Brother!

Dave Hildebrand