I just finished reading The Priesthood by Witness Lee. It is an inspiring presentation of the centrality of the priesthood to the fulfillment of God’s purpose.
The concept of the universal priesthood of all believers has been central to the Reformation ever since Martin Luther spoke about it in 1520. In Luther’s teaching this involves much more than the generic understanding today of a believer’s direct access to God in Christ without a human mediator. For Luther the priesthood is related to public function. In his book, Concerning the Ministry, Luther lists seven common rights believers have as part of the universal priesthood:
- To preach the word of God
- To baptize
- To administer the bread and wine
- To bind and loose
- To sacrifice
- To pray for others
- To judge doctrine
However, in practice the universal priesthood was severely limited by Luther’s views that, to avoid confusion, only one person officially called (ordained) through the community would function in these roles. Hence the pastoral system.
Today, there is near universal paucity in practice and poverty in understanding of the priesthood of all believers, beyond merely having direct access to God in Christ. This is where Lee’s book, The Priesthood, comes in. The 20 quotes below hardly do justice to the scope of Lee’s teaching and vision here. It’s nearly impossible to convey the picture he paints of the priesthood without excerpting long paragraphs that allow his thought to develop. I tried to select quotes that were both personally inspiring and representative of the main points. Page numbers are from the CWWL 1966 edition. Enjoy!
According to the Bible, there are three main ministries in God’s divine dispensation: the priesthood, the kingship, and the prophethood. The priesthood is the leading ministry of the three and brings the kingship and prophethood into function. In other words, both the kingship and the prophethood depend upon the leading ministry of the priesthood. (426)
To realize what a priest is, we must first see God’s eternal plan… Man was destined to receive God, to be filled, saturated and permeated with God, and to have God flow out of him that he might be the living expression of God. This is a brief definition of a priest. (426)
All Christian work and service must issue out of this priesthood. (431)
The recovery of the church life is the recovery of the real priesthood. (440)
The problem with today’s Christians is that they have the knowledge of religion with its forms and teachings and spend much time in studying the Bible. However, not many will spend time to open themselves to the Lord and remain in the shekinah glory of God as a real priest. (445)
Doubtless, the church today needs the teachings and messages, but the most important thing the church needs is the living function of the priesthood. (448)
The throne of God is the center of the New Jerusalem. This is the kingship, the authority, the headship, and the lordship. Then from the throne issues the flow of the river. This is the priesthood. The throne is the kingship with the authority; the flow is the priesthood with the fellowship. When we open ourselves to the Lord, He is able to flood us with Himself that He may flow out to others. Then we are in the fellowship of the priesthood, and the flow of this fellowship brings the authority of the throne with it. The whole New Jerusalem is under the throne and the flow of the living water. This indicates that the whole building of God is under the priesthood with the kingship. (454)
We must be holy in order to be kingly. (463)
In the church life we must be holy priests in our private lives and kingly priests in the meetings. Day by day we must be in the presence of the Lord to bring our needs and all the brothers’ and unbelievers’ needs to Him… Then when we come to the meetings, we will impart something of Christ to the needy ones. (465)
There will never be a proper building up of the church until the priesthood is recovered. (465)
All service for the Lord must be priestly, regardless of what kind of service it is. (468)
In the Lord’s service we must first open ourselves to the Lord and spend time in His presence. This will enable Him to fill, saturate, and even swallow us up so that we may be one with Him. Then He will be our content, and we will be His expression. He will be able to say something through us and to express something from within us, whether we are fighting the battle, preaching the gospel, teaching the word, or serving as elders or deacons. Whatever we are will be a channel for the Lord to flow out. (469)
A strong local church is one that is full of praying people. (470)
The work, ministry, and commission of the priesthood are in Christ. Christ is the very ministry of the priesthood. (485)
The church life comes out of our experience of Christ as the inner life. (493)
The more we handle Christ and minister Him to others, the more we feed upon Him. We cannot minister an objective Christ, but One who is so subjective to us. (498)
The building up of the church is in the expression of Christ, and this expression comes out of the enjoyment of Christ. Therefore, the enjoyment of Christ is very basic. We all must learn how to enjoy Christ. (510)
The glory of God must be expressed in the church all the time. The church must be God manifested and God expressed—this is the measurement. The standard of morality is not the measurement of the church life. The measurement of the church life is God manifested… Regardless of how good we are, we can never compare our goodness with God’s glory. This means that we must have an absolute renunciation of what we are… Even our love is short compared to God’s glory and therefore must be forgiven. I believe we have asked the Lord to forgive us for our hatred, but have we ever asked the Lord to forgive us for our love? (517-518)
The full vision of the Scriptures… is that God must work Himself into us and that in His life we will be transformed into His image to exercise His authority. We will be absolutely mingled with Him as one and built up together in Him. (545)
The main commission of the priesthood is to burn the incense… which means to pray. (554)
To pray means to apply Christ as all the offerings, to enjoy Christ as nourishment, and then to utter something of Christ from deep within. This expression of Christ is the sweet incense ascending to God. It brings us into God and God into us… these three items are the three stages of real prayer. (556)
Kyle, thanks for sharing all these quotes.
In considering our priesthood recently, Rev. 1:5-6 became very important to me. John writes of “Jesus Christ, the faithful Witness, the Firstborn of the dead, and the Ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and has released us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father…” Every Christian believes that Jesus Christ loves us and released us from sins. Thus we must equally strongly believe that He made us priests. Thank Him! Our ability or inability, our high or low feelings, and historical traditions are not the determiners. What matters is His past accomplishment and His present flowing, as in your second quote, “Man was destined to receive God, to be filled, saturated and permeated with God, and to have God flow out of him that he might be the living expression of God. This is a brief definition of a priest.”
Realization is a must, although I think most Christians would agree to the fact that all believers are priests. What I am interested in is what that means to them beyond having direct access to God in prayer. The Bible has much to more to say about being a priest than that. Sometimes I imagine this scenario: What if the Bible said a kingdom of presidents instead of kingdom of priests. So everyone is a president (I know the example is a little unrealistic). Then the question is, when was the last time you were in the oval office functioning as president?
I agree with Don. The first mention of a priest in the bible was Melchizedek who came from God to minister bread and wine to Abraham. Melchizedek no doubt ministered what he received from the Lord. We all can do the same by first going to the Lord and then minister what we have from the Lord to others. Praise the Lord!
Ch 5 in this book has a lot of very good applications on this point. That’s where the quote above, “We must be holy in order to be kingly” comes from. Holy = priesthood of Aaron to be separated unto the Lord’s presence. Kingly = the priesthood of Melchizedek to minister among men. Check it out!
Thanks so much for the reminder to spend time with the Lord to have Him imparted into our being. This is the real priesthood. The highest profession on earth is to spend time being infused with God so that we can
glow with God and shine forth God just as Moses did after spending time with God on Mount Sinai.
Amen. Very true. I recently heard that Mt Sinai had 3 sections mirroring the tabernacle, with Moses at the top in God’s presence mirroring the Holy of Holies. This would mean Moses was a priest performing the fundamental duty of a priest. Pretty amazing view!
The recovery of the church life is the recovery of the real priesthood.
There will never be a proper building up of the church until the priesthood is recovered.
The church life comes out of our experience of Christ as the inner life.
Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for commenting! Check out the book. You won’t regret it.