From the book, The Memoir of David King - Ministry in the Church of Christ.
Priesthood (pages 241-249).
"And Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought forth bread and wine; and he was the priest of the most high God." - Gen. xiv:18.
Thus early in the Bible do we find the priest. He stands before us a priest by divine appointment - as the priest of the God of Heaven. Animal sacrifices were no doubt instituted immediately after he first transgression; and it is most likely that as the human race extended, the head of the family and the chief of the tribe were required to fill the priestly office. But be that as it may, Melchizedek was the king of Salem and the Priest of God. But men wandered from God, set up their own gods, ordained sacrifices for themselves, and made their own priests. Early in the Bible we find traces of this apostasy. On the one hand, we behold worship and priesthood of divine appointment; on the other, will-worship and the unauthorized priest. The true priest and the false priest thus stand face to face upon the sacred page.
When the Patriarchal dispensation gave place to that of Moses, the priesthood underwent considerable change. The head of the family and the chief of the tribe were no longer eligible for priestly functions, but God limited priesthood to one tribe, selecting Aaron and his sons to minister in this holy office. Hence we read, "No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God as was Aaron." The priests were few, the people many, but the arrangements were of God, and death was decreed to the man who would deny the priesthood of God’s priests, by claiming their office for himself for others. The standing results of a priesthood are, that animal sacrifice is offered in order to approach God; man is not permitted to offer his own sacrifice; the priest stands between him and God, and only by the intervention of the appointed priest can he acceptably draw nigh. Now, though liberty for the sinner to approach by means of victim, altar, and priest is unquestionably a great blessing, it is, nevertheless, small in comparison with that of having at all times, by virtue of one who is both Priest and Sacrifice, and who has ascended to heaven, liberty to approach the throne of Divine majesty to obtain, without help or hindrance from any being on earth, all required mercy and grace - in other words, to be, each for himself, a priest to God - a nation of priests. Both these positions God has appointed - the limited first, the universal afterward. To the people of limited priesthood he gave a conditional promise to make them a kingdom of priests - that is, to take away all restriction, and constitute every subject of the kingdom a priest to God. This promise is found in Ex. xix.-
"Therefore if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure to me above all people; for all the earth is Mine; and ye shall be to Me a KINGDOM OF PRIESTS and an HOLY NATION."
The record of the sin and death-punishment of Korah, Dathan, and Company, is found in Num. xvi. The sin consisted in an attempt to change the appointed priesthood - the Lord had instituted a priestly order, but Korah proclaimed the nation holy as to priesthood, i.e., universal priesthood. The sin consisted not in an attempt to introduce what was bad in itself, for the Lord had promised that very thing as a blessing, but in the effort to set aside God’s then present appointment by the introduction of another, before its time, and in the absence of required conditions. The result was death to the entire company.
The nation, however, was not obedient, did not keep the covenant, lost the blessing, and never became a Kingdom of Priests. But was God’s purpose frustrated? Not at all! He constituted another Israel, substituting the FAITH of Abraham for the FLESH of Abraham - not excluding the fleshly seed, but granting alike to Jew and Gentile entrance by the "door of faith" into the newly-constituted kingdom. Hence a new Covenant was made, a new Mediator given, a new Law promulgated, a new Sacrifice provided, and a new Priesthood instituted. That this change has been made is clearly intimated by the apostle Paul -
"If therefore perfection were by the Levitical Priesthood, for under it the people received the law, what further need was there that another priest should arise after the order of Melchizedek and not be called after the order of Aaron, for the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law." - Heb. vii:11,12.
Christ then is our only and everliving High Priest, and in His Church all are alike priests, there being no priesthood but that which is common to every Christian. Hence it is written, -
"Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." Heb. x:19-22.
Here, then, the Universality of the Priesthood under this Dispensation is clearly stated. As all the priests, and only the priests, under the law, had access to the tabernacle, and as they came by the blood and the altar to the brazen laver, and washed in the water thereof, so Paul calls upon all Christians to approach with boldness, having their hearts "sprinkled from an evil conscience and their bodies washed with pure water;" thus making the limited priesthood of the old covenant typical, not of an order of priests, as distinguished from the laity, but of the whole Church of Christ. So, too, in Rev. i:5,6, where the song of the redeemed declares the universal priesthood,
"Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God."
So we read in the authorised English Version; but according to the Vatican Manuscript the reading is still stronger - "Hath made us A KINGDOM even PRIESTS."* [* See R.V. The Revisers adopted this reading.] It thus appears that the promise made conditionally to the ancient people, and not realized by them on account of disobedience, is fulfilled to the Spiritual Israel, so that now the priesthood is as wide as the kingdom - every subject is a priest - that which Korah sought to proclaim before its time, is now proclaimed and established by the Apostles of Jesus. The testimony of Peter is unmistakable -
"As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be that ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming as to a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, AN HOLY PRIESTHOOD, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." .... "But ye are a chosen generation a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of God." 1 Peter ii:2-9.
Thus are applied to the Church of Christ the very terms of the promise given to the people of the former covenant - Kingdom of Priests - Holy Nation - Peculiar People. There is, then, now no priesthood but that which is common to all Christians. In other words, literal and limited priesthood is abolished, and only spiritual priests and spiritual sacrifices remain.*
*What are these "spiritual sacrifices" that all the members of the Church of God can now offer without distinction of sex, or any restriction whatever? 1. They offer their "bodies" "living sacrifices" in contrast to the bodies of dead animals, offered by the Jewish priest. - 2. Their faith is a sacrifice. Paul wrote, "And if I be poured out upon the sacrifice and offering of your faith, I am glad." Phil. ii:17. That is to say, Paul was willing that his blood be poured out, like the wine poured on the meat-offerings to render them acceptable to God, if by that means he could render the faith of the Gentiles more firm, and, therefore, more pleasing to the Lord. - 3. Contributions in support of needing preachers of the gospel. Phil. iv:18. - 4. Praise to God, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. Heb. xiii:15. - 5. The doing of good generally, and particularly by communicating or attending to the fellowship. Heb. xiii:16. It must be remembered that the whole of the offerings of God’s Spiritual Priests are of the nature of thank-offerings - none are for atonement. The one and sufficient offering of our Saviour, who is both priest and victim, has perfected for ever those who are sanctified and also, for ever, made an end of offerings for sin.
Yet, plainly as these truths are set forth in the Bible, they are not understood by those who are taught by modern priests, because they seek not to obtain the truth directly from the Word of the Lord. They have a notion that the claims of these men are sustained in the New Testament. But surely, if in our approach to God we are now handed over to priests, as were the whole people under the former dispensation, the fact must appear somewhere in the New Testament. A fact so important must certainly stand out in all clearness. Let us see. In the New Testament the words high-priest and chief-priest, counted together, occur about one hundred and twenty-three times (mostly in the gospels): the whole, with the exception of some ten in the Epistle to the Hebrews, are historical allusions to the high-priest and chief-priests of the Jews. The ten excepted instances refer to the Lord Jesus, and present Him as the anti-type of the Jewish high-priest. There is not, then, in all the one hundred and twenty-three instances the slightest allusion to a priest in the Church of Christ, save and except the Lord Jesus Himself. The word priest occurs in the New Testament some thirty-three times, of which eighteen refer to Jewish priests, one to the priests of Jupiter, eight to Christ, three to Melchizedek, and three designate the entire body of Christ’s Church "priests unto God" - Rev. i:6; v:10; xx:6.
The word priesthood occurs some six times; four times in Heb. vii, all of which refer to the Levitical priesthood or to that of the Lord Jesus Himself. The remaining two declare the whole Church the holy and royal priesthood of God - 1 Peter ii:5-9. Priest’s office occurs twice - Luke i:9, Heb. vii:5 - both referring to the Levitical priesthood. It thus appears that in the New Testament there is not even ONE allusion to the existence of a priest in the Church of Christ, other than those which refer to the Lord Himself as our High Priest, or those which designate the entire Church a Spiritual Priesthood to offer Spiritual Sacrifices unto God by Him. Priesthood, then, as the Roman, Anglican, and other priests impose it upon their followers, has no Scripture warrant, and is but a worthless sham. The first Christians knew nothing of it; and their Pagan neighbours proclaimed the fact that the disciples of Christ had neither material altar, nor sacrifice, and were wholly without a priesthood. Impartial history thus records -
"The Christians had neither sacrifices, nor altar, nor images, nor oracles, nor sacerdotal robes; and this was sufficient to bring upon them the reproaches of an ignorant multitude, who imagined there could be no religion without these. Thus they were looked upon as a sort of Atheists; and by the Roman law, those who were chargeable with Atheism, were declared the pest of human society. But this was not all. The sordid interests of a multitude of lazy and selfish priests were immediately connected with the ruin and oppression of the Christian cause. The public worship of such an immense number of deities was a source of subsistence, and even of riches, to the whole rabble of priests and augurs, and also to a multitude of merchants and artists. And the progress of the gospel threatened the ruin of this religious traffic. This raised up new enemies to the Christians, and armed the rage of a mercenary superstition against their lives and cause." - Mosheim.
Surely the alarm of the Pagan Priests would have been avoided had the early Christians met them in their own line with a ritualistic worship. Take a few lines from Haweis’ Church History: -
"Nothing could be more unadorned than the primitive worship. A plain man chosen from among his fellows, in his common garb, stood up to speak, or sat down to read the Scriptures to as many as chose to assemble in the house to hear. The idea of a priesthood had yet scarcely entered the Christian sanctuary, as there remained no more sacrifice for sin, and but one high-priest, Jesus Christ. But, on the dissolution of the whole Jewish economy under Adrian, when the power of the associated clergy began to put forth its bud, the ambitious suggested what many of the rest received in their simplicity, that the succession of these honours now devolved upon them, and that the bishop stood in the place of the high-priest; the presbyters were priests; and the deacons Levites; and so a train of consequences followed. Thus a new tribe arose, completely separated from their brethren, of clergy distinct from laity - men sacred by office, exclusive of a divine call and real worth. The altar, indeed, was not erected, nor the unbloody sacrifice of the eucharist perfected; but it approached by hasty strides to add greater sanctity to the priesthood, and the most unpleasant adjunct of the divine right of tithes to the divine right of episcopacy.
It then follows, that wherever the church consists of priestly and unpriestly members, apostasy prevails; that there you have a compound of Judaism and Heathenism; and there the Church of Christ is not.
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Article on the Clergy