Every cult has a founder, and founders have to have a reason for people to follow them. This is usually some form of vision or miracle, which gives them a special calling to serve God and start somethingnew.”Everyone has gone astray,” they say, “and I have been called to set it right.”
The Mormon Church has a particularly formal and rigid structure of priesthood authority, and challenge Christians that they do not have the authority to act in God’s name. Many Christians have never thought this through, and are not sure where they get their authority from.
We will look at priesthood authority in the Old and New Testaments and the Church. You may find it useful to open your Bible at Hebrews chapters 5 to 10.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us (5:1-3), that the Old Testament priest was
To be called of God as was Aaron.
To represent men in matters related to God.
To offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
To identify with the weaknesses of the people so as to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray.
Speaking of the office of high priest, we read, “No-one takes this honour upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was.”(5:4). The next three words give us the true intent of the writer, “So Christ also…”. He is comparing the callings of Jesus and Aaron. It is the High Priesthood of Jesus that is being compared with the high priesthood of the Old Testament. The natural question is, how does Jesus’ priesthood compare with the priesthood of the Old Testament? In this answer the true biblical priesthood is understood.
Hebrews goes on to explain how Jesus compares with the points listed above. We find all these fully in Christ:
Called of God just as Aaron was:
But God said to him, You are my Son; today I have become your Father. And he says in another place, You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. (5:5-6)
He represented men in matters related to God:
Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (7:25)
He offered gifts and sacrifices for sins:
…he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears… and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of salvation for all who obey him… (5:7-9)
He identified with the people:
…For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. (4:15)
The Same But Different
The writer goes on to tell us about significant differences. It is these differences that explain the role of Jesus as our mediator with God. To miss this is to miss the point of the Gospel story.
Hebrews 10:1-3 tells of how inadequate the law was to bring freedom from guilt and sin.
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. …Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” (10:5-7)
The sacrifices of the high priests were not pleasing to God because they were temporal and temporary. They had to be repeated as a reminder of sins but were unable to take away sins (10:1-3). So Jesus as a high priest called of God offered a sacrifice that was sufficient. Having offered himself, “He sets aside the first to establish the second.” (10:9)
What is the first he sets aside? The priesthood of Aaron. It is made redundant at the cross because you see, day after day every high priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy. (10:11-14)
What is the second for which the first is set aside? The priesthood of Jesus who is, “…a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek” (5:6). That word “forever” is very significant.
The nature of the Aaronic priesthood is temporal. While the whole tribe of Levites had responsibilities in the tabernacle one family was set apart for special service, the family of Aaron. These were the priests. And while a whole family were priests only one man served as high priest. There was only ever one high priest at a time. Sacrifices had to be offered “again and again” by high priests who died and had to be replaced.
The nature of the Melchizedek priesthood is eternal. It is named after Melchizedek for this reason. Unlike the priests of Israel, Melchizedek has no recorded genealogy, making him “timeless” and a “type” of Jesus, and like Melchizedek, Jesus remains a priest forever (7:3). His priesthood was not passed on. See 7:23-25.
The function of priesthood was to intercede for men before God. Jesus’ sacrifice was once for all time, his priesthood is eternal, his intercession continuous.
In Exodus 19:6 Israel is called “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” This idea is developed in the New Testament in relation to the church. 1 Peter 2:4-5 speaks of believers as being “… a royal priesthood offering a spiritual sacrifice…” Peter goes on to say,
You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (v.9)
The Concise Dictionary of Christian Tradition points out that the New Testament uses “priest” only in the plural to describe Christians, further pointing out that a Christian is not a priest individually but only in so far as he is a member of the people of God.
The whole church is a priesthood… Believers offer sacrifices of praise to God and also intercede for human needs. The church in service of God in the world offers further spiritual sacrifice of obedi ence to God’s will in the love of the neighbour. (p.305)
The church is the body of Christ and so it is only as a body that we are priests. As a kingdom of priests we are called of God as was Aaron:
…that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)
We intercede for man before God:
…pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:18)
We offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God:
You…are…a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. (1 Peter 2:5)
We represent God before man:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)
Built On A Foundation…
Most cults teach that the true church is an “organisation”. Mormons point to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and commend a church “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (2:20) and “having some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers…”
However, as we have already seen, the church is not an institution but a “spiritual house” built of “living stones.” We are collectively “a royal priesthood.” The Ephesians 4 ministries are not offices but functions in which individual members of this royal priesthood operate for the building of the church. We are told that “It was he who gave some to be apostles…”(v.11) These then are gifts enabling us to speak prophetically, preach the gospel, shepherd and teach the saints. This, then, is the true priesthood of God, and it is operational in the Christian church today in its varied expressions.