Priests Before God

Dr. Clark Armstrong

Martin Luther felt strongly about the priesthood of all believers as it related to the Christian home. He believed that the parents – and particularly the father of each home – was the “priest” of that home.

Luther is the one who started the idea of the father or the parents leading their children in a time of family devotions or family worship every day. He wrote a book giving guidance for the parents as they would lead their children in the home. In the book, he gave some “Table Graces” to teach the children to give thanks by offering a prayer before they would eat any common meal (Luke 24:30). One of the most famous prayers was “God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. Amen.”

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I grew up in a family of six children (three boys and three girls). Our mother faithfully taught us to pray the “table graces” when we were very young. The boys would all say that prayer (above) when it was our turn and the girls prayed another one that went, “Thank you for the world so sweet. Thank for the food we eat. Thank you for the birds that sing. Thank you God for everything. Amen.” It is not so important that the prayer would rhyme although that helps the young ones to remember it. The important thing is to always stop and pray before we would eat. As soon as we were old enough, we were each encouraged to pray our own prayers from our heart when it was our turn.

Finally, Luther taught that as believers, we all are priests before God through our great high priest Jesus Christ. We can share our prayer requests with each other and pray for one another in the body of Christ. Today we have many small groups, Sunday school classes, discipleship groups, men’s or women’s ministry gatherings, or worship settings where we regularly lift one another up directly to the Lord in prayer as priests for one another. We pray prayers for healings, for the lost, for seekers, for saints, and intercession for all the problems in our world. We repeatedly have wonderful testimonies of miracles and transformation through our priestly ministry by all believers. Praise God for this truth!!!

ClarkA2.jpg*Dr. Clark Armstrong is a Missionary Professor at Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines where he has served with his wife Connie since September 2013. Previously he served as a pastor for 32 years in the United States.

The Priesthood of All Believers

By Dr. Clark Armstrong

Many people do not realize that the concept of the “priesthood of all believers” was also one of the main tenets of the Reformation from its very start. And many pastors or teachers have overlooked or downplayed that truth.

At its beginning, however, the Reformation’s main points were sola scriptura (scripture alone as our source of authority), sola fide (salvation by faith alone and not by works), and the priesthood of all believers. The other “solas” were added as the Reformation proceeded. All of these were in reaction to prevalent practices and teachings of the Catholic Church at that time. The great principle known as “the priesthood of all believers” was a reaction to the fact that the Catholic Church taught that prayers, confessions and ministry could only be done through or by the priests of the church.

The reformers believed literally that all believers are a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9). The book of Hebrews teaches that Jesus Christ is our one true high priest and that we can go straight to him with our prayers (4:14-16). The word priest means “bridge or mediator.” In 1 Timothy 2:5, it says that “There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” Luther taught that a sinner could confess personal sins directly to God through Christ and find forgiveness (Heb. 2:17-18, 1 John 1:9). That was a very radical thought at the time.

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The reformers taught that, as believers, we all have direct access to God through Jesus and there is no necessity for an earthly mediator. The prayers of the priests could be helpful, but Luther viewed the practice at his time as a perversion and misapplication of the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood which was clearly fulfilled in Christ and done away with by the New Testament. The practices that he opposed in his 95 theses were seen as blatant malpractice by the priests of the church.

Every time a sinner repents directly to the Lord; every time we offer prayers to God freely; every time we call on the name of the Lord personally, we should give praise to God for this wonderful doctrine of the Reformation!

*Dr. Clark Armstrong is a Missionary Professor at Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines where he has served with his wife Connie since September 2013. Previously he served as a pastor for 32 years in the United States.

 

Luther and Nazarenes

Today (October 13, 2017) we celebrate the 109th Anniversary of the founding of the Church of the Nazarene.  Happy Birthday, Nazarenes!

Throughout this month we are also celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, so we thought, “Why not combine the two celebrations today in one post?”

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Rev. Klaus Arnold is a German Nazarene and Rector of European Nazarene College on the German/Swiss border.  He is also a friend and he and his wife were commissioned as Global missionaries in our denomination together with Emily and me in February 2007.  Arnold recently wrote an article in Holiness Today entitled “Growing up in Luther’s Shadow” in which he concluded by comparing Luther’s theology with Nazarenes’:

In Germany all Christians, including Nazarenes, have grown up in the large shadow of Martin Luther. Of course, there are key differences. Like Luther, we Nazarenes believe that baptism is a sacrament: a time when God’s grace is present in a special way. However, Luther was known to assert that baptism was the means by which God cleanses us from original sin, and this is not a teaching consistent with doctrinal statements of the Church of the Nazarene.

Another difference is in the doctrines of justification and sanctification. We believe (like Luther) that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone because of what God has done through the person and work of Jesus Christ. However, for Luther the change of relationship between a believer and God is only relative, but there is no real change in the believer.

He believed that a Christian is always “sinner and justified” as long as he/she lives. The Church of the Nazarene believes that while there is a relative change in justification, there is also a real change taking place: we become a new creation.

Sin does not need to reign over us, and we do not have to sin deliberately or consistently. With the infilling of God’s love through the Holy Spirit, our sinful nature is cleansed in entire sanctification.

God’s mission is the renewal of his creation. And part of that is transformation of believers into the image of God (Christlikeness). As we are filled with God’s love, we want to share that with the rest of creation and truly make a difference in our world and participate in God’s mission wherever we are! We affirm, with Luther, that our new life begins and continues by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

The Worst Brand Ever

By Rev. Brady Wisehart

Dying to live

I was greeted this morning as I sifted through my inbox with an email titled “We can HELP your Church’s brand” sent from a church branding company. I had not solicited help form this company and I was about to move the email to the trash folder when I paused and was captivated by the following thoughts… 
What is the brand of the church? Not just my local church but the Church of Jesus Christ. Is there a difference between the brand of the broader Church of Jesus Christ and my local church? Have we in western culture elevated our local church brands above the core brand of Christianity? 

My thoughts were not debating denominational distinctions, or dumping on marketing or branding as tools. My thoughts were quite the opposite. I believe denominations are helpful to the Body of Christ, and I believe that the greatest news in the world, the gospel, is worthy of our best efforts to communicate as effectively as we can. 

Marketing consultants tell us that your brand is very important. It’s what tells the story of the core of your message. It’s what you present to the marketplace as who you are, what you are all about, and what you have to offer. 

For centuries, the brand of the Church of Jesus Christ was embodied by the cross. Atop of a cathedral or a country church the branding was consistent, a cross. For centuries, the image of the cross has been universal. Not limited to one culture but around the world the cross communicates the message of Christianity.

But think about that with me for a moment. The core branding image of Christianity is an execution device. Can you imagine a marketing consultant encouraging your institutional identity to be an electric chair? Welcome to our Church, the church of death! Yet this is the message! When Paul says “I did not come to you with persuasive words of wisdom but…I preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2-4) The message of the cross is one of death to sin and life in Christ (Eph. 2:16; Heb. 12:2; 1Cor. 1:17-18; Gal.511-14; Phil. 3:18).

It is in the death of Christ that we find freedom from sin and life in Him. This brand of the cross is not just a symbol of what Christ did for us. Jesus clarifies the message when He says “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35) Jesus calls us to choose. When I choose to accept Christ by grace and faith alone I walk with Him as a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).

The Apostle Paul writes, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24) “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:20-21).

That’s a lot of death talk for a core brand. I can see how some may be tempted to “refresh” the brand and give a lighter spin on the message. But Paul helps us in Galatians 2:21 see that if righteousness could be gained some other way other than Jesus, then Christ died for nothing.

In short, a “refreshed” or “touched up” brand, sanitizing the uncomfortable parts of the message and replacing them with a more “crowd friendly” narrative is not only dangerous but completely undermines the entire gospel. Leaving us with a “product” that is powerless. 

I came across this graphic today depicting how the Apostles died. Suddenly it hit me, they lived the brand! They all gave up their life for Christ. This was not just a testament to their devotion to the brand, but more so… they “lived” the brand in their deaths. 

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While I’m not suggesting God is calling each of us to be physically martyred for our faith in Christ, I do believe the core brand is clear. Through the cross I find life in Christ. When I am in Christ the old has gone and the new has come. Truly following Jesus leads us to a dying out to self and sin. To the point… If you are not ready to die, you are not ready to truly live. 

Are you a Christian? Are you a true follower of Jesus Christ? If yes, are you living the brand of the cross of Christ? Or have you drifted into a fixation with your own unique niche articulation of your preferred “idea” of Christianity? Has your faith become more focused on your preferences, your interests, your agenda? Has there been an erosion of the call Christ gives to love Him so much that by comparison it’s like you hate everything else? (Luke 14:26)

I have amazing news for you friend! There is no better way to live than to die! When we allow Christ to save us from our sinful selves, when we allow the power of His spirit to lead us to crucify our desires so we can embrace the desires of God… We start TRULY LIVING! The old has gone and the NEW HAS COME!