Feb 15 2010

Have Free Church Worship Leaders Become Protestant Priests?


The priesthood of the believer is one of the foundational doctrinal tenets of congregations in the Free Church culture.  Our belief is that in the new covenant Jesus became our mediator and serves as the intercessor for the people of God.  An earthly priest is 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.  We adhere to this precept but do we really practice it?  Have congregants abdicated their responsibility and have worship leadership designees guarded that territory as a place reserved only for those called and trained? 

The attitude that worship will occur when leaders create worship flow has consigned the accountability of the individual worshiper to the leadership of an earthly high priest reminiscent of the old covenant.  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 has become our Liturgist and serves as our mediator in worship preparation and implementation.  As the tabernacle and its elements are described, the author 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).

Additional justification for passivity of the untrained worshiper is often found in the feeling of unworthiness, which contributes to the relinquishment of responsibility to others more qualified to perform the functions of worship.  Have worship leaders unwittingly or perhaps intentionally perpetuated that understanding?  Is there anyone who should feel more unworthy than the one God has trusted with the responsibility to lead?  The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we can enter the presence of God with boldness not available in the restrictions of the old covenant.  He writes, “Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus” (Heb 10:19).  Who reads, speaks, prays, testifies, leads, sings, exhorts, offers communion, baptizes, encourages confession, blesses, offers thanksgiving, and mediates in your services of worship?  Can we expect participative worship when the only participation available is observation?  Can some of these elements traditionally presented by leaders be presented by the people?  The new covenant has provided access to all who follow Christ.  Genuine participation is limited when worship is done for us by a select few.