Dr. David W. Manner is Director of Worship and Administration at the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists. He blogs at http://kncsb.org/blogs/dmanner . You can follow him on Twitter: @dwmanner.
Evangelical churches have rejected the old covenant practice of designating priests as a special class of religious hierarchy. And even though Anglican and Episcopal congregations have retained the title, their priests function in a pastoral role as ministers rather than interceders. The belief that someone else must mediate our relationship with God for us or dispense God’s grace to us was set aside through the foundational doctrine of the priesthood of every believer. In the new covenant, Jesus became the mediator and serves as the intercessor for the people of God. An earthly priest was no longer required; the sacrifice was complete; Jesus’ blood was offered; the veil was torn in half; and the way was now open for all to worship him without an earthly mediator.
Most churches embrace this shift theologically and doctrinally but continue to function with leaders who serve as earthly high priests. In practice, these congregations have figuratively reattached the veil and have reverted back to the functions of the old covenant. This regression is evidenced when pastors guard their hierarchical territory as being the only ones to rightly divide the Word of truth; when worship leaders perpetuate the impression that worship will not occur until they create worship flow; and when insecure or maybe even slothful congregants abdicate their individual priestly functions to those who lead them. That is, until they don’t particularly like the mission or the music.
The new covenant outlined in Hebrews 9 and 10 offers Jesus as “a minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man” (Heb. 8:2). In this place of ministry, Jesus became our liturgist and serves as our mediator. As the tabernacle and its elements are described, the author of Hebrews points out that the old covenant limits access to God. Only the high priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies one time a year with a blood offering (Heb. 9:3, 6-7). The place where God’s presence was most realized was not available except through the high priest and only at certain times of the year.
The new covenant through the blood sacrifice of Christ gave and continues to give believers access to the presence of the living God. The earthly high priest was no longer needed for access to God since “Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come” (Heb. 9:11).
Your congregation and its leaders may have reverted to a priestly hierarchy if only a select few are allowed to read, speak, pray, testify, lead, sing, exhort, offer communion, baptize, lament, encourage confession, bless, praise, and offer thanksgiving. Congregants will never completely surrender to the mission of your church and worship will never be truly participatory if everything is done for them.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that all may enter into the presence of God with boldness not available in the restrictions of the old covenant, “since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19).