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I’m tired of demolishing the sacred-secular divide: I believe in priesthood

Now that I have your attention...

I'm getting very wary of arguments that run like this:

"Hey man, we're not medieval, we're protestants, there's no secular / sacred divide.  Therefore it's not that everyone should join Navigators - they can join Goldman Sachs, it's all equally cool.  Cos, hey, Genesis, the Lord is a worker and gets His hands dirty and Adam was made as a worker.  There's a divine dignity to all work, don't try to put full time gospel ministry on a pedestal.  Everything's equal now."

There are parts of that argument to which I want to give a hearty Amen.  But...

It's interesting that Gen 2:15 might be more literally translated:

"The LORD God took the man and RESTED him in the Garden of Eden to SERVE and WATCH"  Or even you could say "to WORSHIP and KEEP."

All this has heavy temple/priestly connotations - just as the temple has lots of Eden connotations.

And of course when the true Man stands on the earth He describes His work (and that of the Father) in priestly (ie evangelistic terms) - e.g. John 4:23,34-38; 5:21-29).  And the kind of 'till the earth' stuff that Jesus does is, well, priestly (ie evangelistic) - e.g. Matt 9:35-38; Matt 13:1-53)

Now we together are a priesthood in Him declaring the praises of the Father that pagans may glorify God (1 Pet 2:9-12). That's true priestliness - bringing people  to God in the Priest - the Lord Jesus.

And that's the real redemption of our labours - whether labours for Navigators or Goldman Sachs (both need redeeming).  We are to sow gospel seeds on whatever soils we find ourselves as priests in The Priest.  Whatever else is involved in the redemption of our labours - that has to be a key part.

And absolutely you don't have to be ordained or "a full time gospel worker" (whatever that phrase means) to do that.  You might very well be ordained etc and not doing that.

But I just don't believe that Mr lonely lighthouse keeper is really glorifying God by sitting alone on an island but working really hard "as unto the Lord"!  The redemption of work that comes in the Redeemer will mean not simply being an honest accountant (or whatever) but by being a priestly accountant.  And so not all jobs are on a level.

We're used to saying "If you can't be moral in your job, it's not a job for Christians."  But I think we should be equally ready to say "If you can't be priestly in your job, it's not a job for Christians."

But demolishing the medieval divide is not accomplished by denying priestliness to people.  It happens by affirming the priestliness (i.e. the evangelistic character) of all activities.

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19 thoughts on “I’m tired of demolishing the sacred-secular divide: I believe in priesthood

  1. Matthew Weston

    Just to pin you down further: if I'm working as an accountant, and as such serving God in redeeming the world of business (being honest etc.), are you saying that job is only worthwhile doing that if I have opportunities to share the gospel with/evangelise/be priestly to my colleagues? Because surely that's exactly the problem that removing the sacred/secular divide deals with?

    Isn't it that there is no sacred/secular divide, and that everything is spiritual? If I am trying to be priestly (by which you seem to imply "explicitly evangelistic") in everything, surely I'm going to fall into the trap of wanting to do evangelism 24/7 and end up getting fired?

    Disclosure: after a year as a volunteer with UCCF, I'm now an accountant, and taking every opportunity I have to talk to my colleagues about Jesus, but wary of saying that's the only reason I'm there, because, well, it isn't... :)

  2. pgjackson

    Evangelism is certainly priestly but priestliness is bigger than evangelism surely? Which is the point of de-bunking the sacred/ secular thing.

    I agree though, we don't want to press this to the point that we aren't able to make judgments about priority in particular circumstances, or about the order and relationship of the different things we do that are priestly, though of course personal gifting/ opportunity/ responsibilities etc. will also factor in this.

    I see this is as very similar (in fact, the same?) as the whole 'everything is worship' thing - to which I want to say a hearty 'yes' and the immediately distinguish different types and occasions of worship and their inter-relationship, including the centrality of 'temple time' i.e. the gathered church on sunday.

  3. Glen

    Hi Matt,

    I think what I'm wanting to do is to add in "being a missionary" to your brackets in that first sentence. You redeem the workplace by being a witness to Christ, which will involve honesty and industry and fair-mindedness etc etc as adornments of the gospel you embody and proclaim. And just as "being honest" is not a discrete activity within your workplace endeavours, so "being a missionary" will be the characteristic of *all* that you do. And there is a whole lot of other stuff you will do and taking out a random slice of time from your working day will probably not uncover scientific evidence of "Matthew clearly being evangelistic" any more than it will uncover "Matthew clearly being honest" - at times it will, but in general it won't. But the evangelistic thing (which I argue is the heart of being priestly and the heart of redeeming work) will lie at the heart of it all.

    Again, when you say "everything is spiritual" I agree but reckon we can be more specific. I'd want to say "everything is missional" - the triune God is, Jesus is, His people are. And so I don't think we can be godly/moral/spiritual/Christlike without being missional. That might sound obvious - but I think too often we only think in terms of honesty/industry/justice/generosity rather than robustly evangelistic terms.

    But once we're clear on missional stuff at the heart - then, absolutely, forget the ordained/lay division, forget full-time-gospel-worker versus the rest. *Those* are unhelpful distinctions. But what should hold it all together is not so much the abstract idea of "everything is spiritual" (which is true). But I'm arguing for a more particular dynamic that "everything is (or ought to be!) missional."

    Hi Marc, I'd say priestliness is irreducibly evangelistic. Bringing God to the people and the people to God. Mr Lighthouse Keeper might have lots of time on his hands to write a brilliantly evangelistic web ministry or something but in all, I would not counsel any of our church members to take up such a job.

    Hi Pete, thinking of Exodus 19 and 1 Pet 2 I'd say priestliness is extremely closely linked to evangelism.

    The parallel with 'everything is worship' is helpful (esp as the two are so linked in Ex 19; 1 Pet 2 as well as John 4:24). Good one.

  4. Marc Lloyd

    James Jordan's got some interesting stuff on what priesthood meant in the OT, doesn't he? Does he say its to do with keeping / guarding, that the priests are essentially Yahweh's household stewards / servants?

    I think I'd say Mr Light House Keeper could glorify God in that occupation even if there were no internet or phone or postal service etc. Of course that doesn't mean that a particular person should necessarily seek such a job, but if the job needs doing and you are well placed to do it for certain reasons etc. I would say it could be a god-glorifying job and choice.

    Doesn't all the creation mandate stuff suggest that life is not just about evangelism? And evangelism is not just snatching souls by verbal proclamation etc.? Culture building is valid in itself and also could be the best long-term means of evangelism?

  5. Dave K

    I just tried to work this post and the comments through my head, and this is the order it came out in:

    I think it is fair to say that the priest's work was both vertical and horizontal (love of God and love of neighbour).

    So there are two possible problems with the lonely lighthouse keeper:

    1. He is just doing Godward work, 'unto the Lord' and not serving his neighbour... in which case he is not honouring God at all.

    2. He is doing both vertical and horizontal stuff, but his horizontal stuff does not include any explicit witness to Christ ... in which case the implicit witness to Christ (in his serving ships that would otherwise run aground) is nulified and there is no witness to Christ at all.

    What we should be aiming for is work:

    1. Honest, creative, and good work serving the world 'practically';
    2. Centred around explicit witness to Christ
    3. all 'unto the Lord' and to his glory.

    Every individual should be doing both 'practical' and 'evangelistic' work, but it is not necessary for us all to be doing the same balance because we are a body, each performing a part (although there always has to be some explicit witness otherwise no-one will identify us as part of that larger body).

    MY conclusion: I like Glen's post once it was clarified by his comment :-)

  6. Heather

    But I just don’t believe that Mr lonely lighthouse keeper is really glorifying God by sitting alone on an island but working really hard “as unto the Lord”! The redemption of work that comes in the Redeemer will mean not simply being an honest accountant (or whatever) but by being a priestly accountant. And so not all jobs are on a level.

    If Mr. Lonely Lighthouse Keeper fails to properly attend his work, an entire shipload of lives could be lost. ;)

  7. Glen

    I'm very dubious about 'culture building' - especially if it's given an "in and of itself" kind of status. 'Works of the flesh' aren't just a danger in our personal lives but also in the mission of the church. To avoid this and make it 'fruit of the Spirit' requires it to be tied explicitly to the word.

    And I think the Lighthouse Keeper e.g. (which I got from Paul Williams by the way) is a good one precisely because it *is* a life-saving good work but one which is possibly devoid of witnessing possibilities. I still think that's reason enough to rule it out as a vocation for a Christian.

  8. Heather

    Aw Glen,

    I wasn't trying to wreck your illustration. Just feeling a little contrary, yesterday.

    I guess, the thought in the back of my mind was that we don't always know why the Lord places us in certain vocations/situations. It is true that the lighthouse keeper may not be personally evangelizing someone while doing his duty. But he might, by faithfully doing his job, be keeping safe someone who is on the boat witnessing to someone who desperately needs to hear the truth about Christ.

    It was just a thought. And I'll admit my brain is wired a little differently than most. :)

  9. pgjackson

    I'm feeling sorry for the lighthouse keeper.

    ;)

    And I think we should take a bigger picture ( for e.g at the level society/ civilisation/ christian community) view of things.

    Yes there must be a link between the word and any culture-building, if it is to be Christian. But I reckon the link can be 'obedient servant-hearted response to the word and possible longer-term/ bigger-picture contribution to the witness of the body.' And I can well imagine how a lonely (but godly, prayerful, church-attending) lighthouse man could fit into that.

  10. Steve Jeffery

    Hi Glen,

    I'm intruiged by this statement (below), which if I understand you correctly is quite important to your argument that "priestly work" = "evangelistic work":

    “The LORD God took the man and RESTED him in the Garden of Eden to SERVE and WATCH” Or even you could say “to WORSHIP and KEEP.”

    That's not actually what the text says. The verbs "serve" and "watch" are transitive, and have "the garden" as their object. So while Adam's vocation was indeed priestly (as the vocabulary indicates) it cannot be equated in this way with evangelism, since you can't evangelise a garden.

    You tend a garden and bring it to maturity (cultural mandate stuff); you don't preach about Jesus to it.

    Blessings,

    Steve

  11. Matthew Weston

    Pete said: "And I think we should take a bigger picture ( for e.g at the level society/ civilisation/ christian community) view of things.

    Yes there must be a link between the word and any culture-building, if it is to be Christian. But I reckon the link can be ‘obedient servant-hearted response to the word and possible longer-term/ bigger-picture contribution to the witness of the body.’ And I can well imagine how a lonely (but godly, prayerful, church-attending) lighthouse man could fit into that."

    I've found that knowing God is sovereign means that I can take (and create!) opportunities to tell people the gospel whenever I have the chance, but trust God that in situations when I can't, he's still working out his sovereign plan. The lighthouse keeper might have no idea about his bigger-picture contribution to the witness of the body, but knowing his sovereign God he can trust that somehow it will. Of course, it might be he's perennially frustrated that he's not having any gospel conversations with people, in which case he should find a deputy and a local pub. (I can't think of many jobs that cut you off from everyone completely any more...)

    In other words, God's sovereignty means that I don't have to fret about evangelising. I pray for (and create) opportunities, then take them. Some of us will be able to do that more than others.

  12. Marc Lloyd

    Doesn't Christians culture building just mean something like conforming our habits of life, including as families and societies etc. to the Word?

    Presumably if everyone were Christian then a Christian could become Mr Lonely Lighthouse Keeper if one were needed?

    (I can live with being a lighthouse keeper might not be the top priority for many Christians at this stage of world evangelisation, or something like that, more easily than its always a bad idea for Christians to keep lighthouses since there's no one to evangelise. Though come to think of it, perhaps its never good for a man to live alone. Lighthouse communities?)

  13. Heather

    @ Matthew Weston,

    I appreciate your comment @ 11:37 am.

    And I think (I can’t think of many jobs that cut you off from everyone completely any more…) pinpoints the reason I reacted to the disparaging remark about Mr. Lonely Lighthouse.

    Christians are to be in the world--reflecting the light of Christ TO the world. You can't do that if you're a deliberate hermit. But what if one's daily contact is only 8, 3 or even one other person? Does that automatically mean the individual is ignoring the need to evangelize? Or does it just mean God doesn't have him out doing the more visible work we all like to admire?

    I do believe that asking and looking for opportunities to share Christ regardless of one's occupation is essential.

  14. Glen

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for pulling me up on my quotation- I shouldn't have missed off the object of the verbs - the garden.

    I'm not using Gen 2:15 to say priestly = evangelistic, I am just saying Gen 2:15 is priestly. (And it's helpful to be reminded that the locus of this priestliness is the garden). I'm not sure either that I'd make a strict identification of priestly = evangelism but I would say (from other verses, not from Gen 2) that priestly involves at its heart evangelism (cf Ex 19; 1 Pet 2).

    As for proclamation to the garden I'd say that's precisely the work Adam does in the rest of the chapter. He doesn't just talk to the animals, he names them. Not at a distance but, as head of the old creation, Adam graciously speaks their true Adam-determined identities into existence. By his effective speech-act he declares who they really are - he preaches to the whole creation (cf Mark 16:15).

    You could even say that all Adam does in his pre-fall priestliness is preach to all creation and then "die" for his bride! :)

    Thanks to all for lots of comments - please do keep them coming and talk among yourselves, I won't have lots of time to interact though.

    I'd just say that much of this discussion depends on whether we think Jesus 'adds to' the cultural mandate (whatever that is) or 'recapitulates it'. I go for the latter.

    I'd just also reiterate that we need to maintain the category of 'works of the flesh' (as distinguished from 'fruit of the Spirit') when it comes to cultural engagement, and that we need to have criteria in place to be able to identify and repent of such works.

    But that's all from me for now...

  15. pgjackson

    "I’d just say that much of this discussion depends on whether we think Jesus ‘adds to’ the cultural mandate (whatever that is) or ‘recapitulates it’. I go for the latter."

    Surely it might also be about what shape any 'recapitulation' takes?

  16. Glen

    Pete - yes indeed, there's still much to discuss. But at least 'recapitulation' closes off those conversations that assume our mission in the world is "cultural mandate" PLUS "great commission".

  17. pgjackson

    In my experience, the 'plus' rhetoric usually emanates from debating with those who see the two in dualistic terms, or the GC as excluding all that the CM is deemed to be about. E.g. the 'plus' element only comes because he GC has been understood reductionistically, therefore factoring anything in there that's not evangelism and bible studies comes across as a 'plus' when in actual fact what's being really called for is a reconfiguration of the whole.

    But, yeah, I see what you're saying.

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