What Does the New Testament Say About Temples and Priests?

Through Jesus we become his priests and his temple, which should change everything

Jesus makes us his priests and his temple.In the Old Testament the people go to the temple to encounter God. The priests help them in this; they act as a liaison between them and God.

In many ways we still do this today. We go to church to encounter God. We look for our ministers to help us in our quest, to act as a liaison between us and God.

But this is a wrong perspective. We cling to the Old Testament practice and largely forget how Jesus fulfilled it. Peter helps us understand this in his first letter. He says we are living stones built into a spiritual temple, prepared for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus (1 Peter 2:5).

Yet from our perspective of going to church to encounter God, this verse is confounding. It turns what we do upside down, and that’s the point. Jesus came to turn the old ways upside down and make something new for us.

We need to embrace this. We need to change our perspectives.

Living Stones: As living stones our actions matter. We live for Jesus. We live to honor him, praise him, and glorify him. We live to tell others about him through our actions and even through our words. Our faith is alive, and our actions must show it.

Spiritual Temple: As living stones we become part of the construction of his spiritual temple. And if we are part of his temple, we don’t need to go to church to meet him because, as his temple, we are already there and can experience him at any time.

Holy Priesthood: As living stones we are being made into a holy priesthood. If we are truly priests through what Jesus did for us, then we don’t need ministers to point us to God, explain him to us, and assist us in encountering him. God is preparing us to do that for ourselves as his holy priests.

Spiritual Sacrifices: As living stones and holy priests, serving God in his spiritual temple, we offer to him a spiritual sacrifice. This spiritual sacrifice negates the need for many of the animal sacrifices and offerings we read about in the Old Testament.Through Jesus we do things in a new way. Click To Tweet

This thinking is so countercultural to the way most Christians live today that it bears careful contemplation. Through Jesus we do things in a new way. We are living stones built into a spiritual temple, being prepared for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices.

This can change everything—and it should.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 1 Peter 2, and today’s post is on 1 Peter 2:5.]

Do We Ever Place Our Traditions Over God’s Commands?

Jesus condemns those who supersede the Word of God with their religious practices

Do We Ever Place Our Traditions Over God’s Commands?Jesus asks the people, “Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your traditions?” (Matthew 15:3). He goes on to give an example that is culturally relevant to his audience, but which doesn’t connect so much with us today.

Of course we would never do such a thing, would we? Sadly, we too place traditions over God’s commands. Consider these examples:

Vain Repetition: Jesus tells the people to not pray using vain repetition (Matthew 6:7), yet in church growing up we did this every Sunday, repeating a prayer from rote memory, as well as the Ten Commandments and often a creed. Yet he commands us to avoid vain repetition. Other translations say “meaningless repetition” and “babbling many words.” The Bible says to not do that, but we do.

Do Not Call Anyone Father: Jesus specifically teaches us not to call anyone Father (Rabbi or Teacher) because only God is our Father. The principle seems to be against elevating our spiritual leaders with titles, perhaps suggesting we should avoid “Pastor,” “Reverend,” and “Doctor,” as well as “Father” and “Rabbi.” Yet we do this (sometimes at the insistence of our spiritual leaders), and some traditions specifically use Father, but Jesus says not to (Matthew 23:8-10).Jesus tells us to give anonymously, to not call attention to our charitable giving. Click To Tweet

Give in Secret: Jesus tells us to give anonymously (Matthew 6:3-4), to not call attention to our charitable giving. Yet our Sunday offerings are a public event and certainly not done secretly. Yet our tradition trumps God’s command.

Seek Man’s Approval: Though it’s not a direct command, Paul condemns those who try to win the approval of people. Instead we should follow his example of trying to please God (Galatians 1:10). Yet how often do ministers water down sermons in order to avoid human offense, which might cause parishioners to get mad, cause a stink, or withhold their donations?

These are a few ways we put our own preferences above what the Bible says. I’m sure there are many more. Be on the lookout for them, and then seek to do things God’s way, regardless of tradition.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 14-16, and today’s post is on Matthew 15:3-7.]

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What Do You Expect From Your Pastor?

Ministers toil under a load of heavy demands that shouldn’t be there, and we need to change that

What Do You Expect From Your Pastor?I have read two stats about ministers that chafe at my soul.

The first is that most pastors have no real friends. When you remove the relationships they have with their congregation and denomination, where they must always guard what they say and act in expected ways as a spiritual leader, they have no friends. They have no relationships where they can be themselves. They have no place to relax with those who will accept them for who they are. They have no confidant to share worries and struggles with who will not judge them. Despite all their social interaction, being a minister must be a lonely job.

The second is that of seminary graduates entering the ministry today, only one in forty will retire from it. The other thirty-nine will switch careers. That’s 97.5 percent who will leave the job God called them to do. First, this doesn’t say much about the success rate of seminaries in preparing people for ministry. Second, this hints that a job as minister carries near impossible expectations, which is to our shame as laity, because:

We Expect Our Pastors to Spiritually Feed Us: How many times have you heard someone leave a church because “I’m just not being spiritually fed?” Have you ever said that? I have, and I was wrong to do so. My minister isn’t supposed to give me a week’s worth of spiritual nourishment on Sunday morning. I’m supposed to be mature enough to feed myself throughout the week, eating solid foods and not relying on milk as a baby. Expecting our pastors to do this for us is unfair and unbiblical.

We Expect Our Pastors to Always Be Available: Most congregants assume their pastor is there to meet their needs at any time. This puts ministers on call, 24/7. As someone who was continuously on call for years, I know how draining it is. (My on call was primarily for technical issues; people issues could usually wait until business hours.) I would cringe when the phone rang and eventually drafted my wife to screen calls. It took me years to recover. It’s not healthy to require ministers to be available at all hours, to jump when we call.

We Expect Our Pastors to Align With Our Interests: If we are passionate about a cause, we presume our ministers will share our fervor. But if they did this with everyone in the congregation, they would need to align with every movement and care about every good initiative. We have unique, God-given interests and should allow our pastors to do the same.

We Expect Our Pastors to Solve Our Problems: We assume ministers will provide counseling when we need it, meet with us whenever we want, and answer the phone every time we call. We expect a one-stop solution to whatever ails us, with our pastor as the answer. But there are not enough hours in the day for one person to meet everyone’s needs to their complete satisfaction.Instead of expecting our ministers to serve us, we need to serve one another. Click To Tweet

These expectations don’t come from God. They come from society, church culture, and past practices. But instead of expecting our ministers to serve us, we need to serve one another, to become priests to each other (consider the “priesthood of believers”). We start by consulting the Bible and looking at all the verses of how we are to treat one-another: to love, accept, instruct, submit, forgive, teach, admonish, encourage, agree, give, and so on.

If we do this, when we do this, we will place fewer expectations on our clergy. They will have less stress, and we will more fully align with what the Bible says we are supposed to do.

[This is from Peter DeHaan‘s September newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

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The Truth about Seminary

Seminary doesn’t prepare people for ministry; it merely meets manmade expectations

The Truth about SeminaryI know many people who have gone to seminary. And I have friends who are going to seminary. I encourage them, pray for them, and once even helped pay the tuition. I respect those who have gone to seminary and graduated. Yet for most ministry-minded people seminary is a waste of time. Truly.

Seminary Is Man’s Idea: Attending seminary is a human concept. Nowhere in the Bible is there a command to pursue advanced education in order to minister to others. Jesus doesn’t say, “Before you go into the world, spend three years in advanced studies,” he just says, “Go.” We made up the seminary part because it seemed like a  good thing to do, but it isn’t God’s idea.

Seminary Isn’t Required: None of the disciples, apostles, or elders went to seminary or received any sort of special religious training (Acts 4:13). The only one requirement is that they had spent time with Jesus. Yep, that’s it. The one essential qualification to ministry in the New Testament is having spent time with Jesus (Acts 1:21). Paul barely qualifies because, as one too late, he lacks one-on-one time with Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:8-9), but…

Seminary Knowledge Confuses People: Paul is the closest example in the New Testament to having a seminary degree. However, this detracts rather than helps. After Paul talks to Felix, the governor exclaims, “Your great learning is driving you insane,” (Acts 26:24, NIV). Yet Felix is an outsider. What do insiders think? Peter, the church’s first leader, writes this about Paul: “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand,” (2 Peter 3:18, NIV). At best, advanced learning creates a gulf between ministers and other people.

Seminary Doesn’t Help: I read that ministers who haven’t been to seminary are happier in their jobs than ministers with religion degrees. Furthermore non-seminary ministers are deemed more successful in ministry than their diploma-toting peers. So it seems seminary prepares ministers who will not be as happy or as successful.

Seminary Delays Ministry: I’ve had my heart broken too many times by people who say, “God has called me to full time ministry – so I’m going to seminary.” The first part excites me. The second part vexes my soul. If God calls you to full time ministry, then obey him and go. Don’t waste three years to get more schooling that doesn’t really matter, because…

Seminary Trains the Wrong Things: Seminary does little to draw students into a closer, personal relationship with Jesus, help them connect with God through prayer, or partner with the Holy Spirit. And it doesn’t focus on the essential people skills needed to lead a congregation. The one thing seminary is good for is to prepare people to teach at the college level. A seminary graduate possesses the academic credentials universities require. Of course to actually teach seminary requires a PhD, but an MDiv does give great credentials to teach at a Bible college.

Seminary Wastes Money: While a few seminaries are free, most cost money to attend. Spending money on something that isn’t commanded or required by God, delays ministry, and prepares for the wrong things is foolish and an example of poor stewardship. Instead invest that money in kingdom-facing initiatives that will actually do some good.

If God actually tells you to go to seminary, then go. Otherwise just start serving him. Click To TweetThe one thing seminary does accomplish is that it fulfills the expectation of people that their clergy have endured the rigors of advanced education. Indeed, in some religious circles a seminary degree is a necessary document to gain entrance. Yet this manmade requirement does little to equip ministers with the skills needed to do their jobs well.

If God actually tells you to go to seminary, then go. Otherwise just start serving him and leave the advanced education to the academics. Jesus is all you need.

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Don’t Be a Baby Christian

Learn how to eat spiritual food and feed yourself

Don’t Be a Baby ChristianThe author of Hebrews (who I suspect was Paul) warns the young church, the followers of Jesus, that they need to grow up. Though many of them should be mature enough to teach others, they still haven’t grasped the basics themselves. They persist in drinking spiritual milk when they should have graduated to solid food.

When most people hear about this passage, they assume the baby Christians, those subsisting on milk, are other people. They reason that this verse couldn’t be a reflection on their own spiritual status – or lack thereof. The truth is that I fear the church of Jesus is comprised of too many spiritual infants.

If you don’t believe me, let’s unpack this analogy. In the physical sense, babies drink milk and are wholly dependent on others to feed them. As babies grow they graduate to solid food and begin to feed themselves, first with help and then alone. This is how things function with our physical bodies and how things should function with our spiritual selves.

So when people go to church on Sunday to hear a sermon, they expect their pastor to feed them. They subsist on spiritual milk. Instead they should feed themselves and don’t need to hear a sermon every week in order to obtain their spiritual sustenance.

When pastors feed their congregation each Sunday, they keep their people in an immature state (albeit with more head knowledge) and help justify their continued employment. Instead pastors should teach their church attendees how to feed themselves, to not need a pastor to teach them. If ministers do this, they could work themselves out of a job. But that’s okay, because there are plenty of other churches in need of this same teaching.Mature Christians can feed themselves and don’t need a sermon every Sunday. Click To Tweet

Some might infer this means that the mature Christians, those who can feed themselves, don’t need to go to church. This is only half correct. Mature Christians can feed themselves and don’t need a sermon every Sunday, but they do need to meet together and be in community with other believers.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Hebrews 5-7, and today’s post is on Hebrews 5:12-14.]

[This is from Peter DeHaan‘s August newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

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Are You a Pastor?

It’s time to reframe our idea of what it means to be a pastor

Are You a Pastor?

I am not a trained minister, an educated member of the clergy, or a professional pastor. These titles all unnerve me. I am not a pastor, at least not in the traditional sense.

About a decade ago a woman left me completely flustered when, full of sincerity, she asked, “Are you a pastor?”

I gasped and then suppressed a laugh. “Oh, no!” I assured her. “I am definitely not a pastor.”

She cocked her head and eyed me quizzically. “Well you certainly seem like one.”

My initial thought was offense. Despite having many pastors who are friends, I apparently didn’t hold the profession in high regard. However, I suspect her words were given as a compliment, even though they freaked me out. Later I shook my head in disbelief and in a vain attempt to dislodge the memory from my mind.

But this wasn’t the only time someone asked me this question, merely the first. The second time, despite being caught off guard again, I believe I responded a bit more graciously. This surprising question has been repeated over the years that followed and again resurfaced this past week..  Being a true pastor is not about credentials, it’s about having a heart to care for others. Click To Tweet

I hope people ask this because they sense something positive in me, such as a caring spirit, a gentleness that transcends self, or the love of Jesus oozing out. If so, the question “Are you a pastor?” is a tribute to God’s work in my life, even though my answer remains an emphatic, “No.”

Many people consider a pastor as synonymous with minister or preacher. I do not. I prefer to think of a pastor as a shepherd, as one who follows the example of the Great Shepherd. The pastor as shepherd is one who cares for his or her flock. Simply put, a pastor cares for others. This care comes through both prayer and through action.

In this respect, we are all called to be pastors, or as Peter writes, we are priests (1 Peter 2:5). As followers of Jesus we are tasked with caring for one another. I care for you and you care for me. We should not wait for the paid clergy to do this. We should act before they get a chance. This makes us pastors.

Yes, I am a pastor – and so are you.

When was someone a pastor to you? How can you be a pastor to others?

[This is from Peter DeHaan‘s April newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

Do You Have a Spiritual Mentor?

Everyone needs someone to help him or her navigate the throes of life. As John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire to itself.” In truth, we cannot survive alone. We need others to walk along side of us. Every one needs help at some time, whether we admit it or not.

Do You Have a Spiritual Mentor?Such is the case in spiritual matters. We all need a mentor, a spiritual mentor.

A spiritual mentor can guide us, offering direction when we need it and challenging us when we think everything is fine. If we expect to grow in our faith and then put it into action, we need a mentor to direct us.

Mentoring can take various forms.

Mentors can approach us through books, instructing us from a distance, even over time. Biographies about people of faith can mentor us, as can the books they wrote and the things they taught. If they mentor us from the past we cannot ask questions. Even our contemporary mentors are often far enough removed that individual queries are not feasible. Unfortunately their mentorship is a monologue. Seldom can we engage in a dialogue with these mentors.

The Bible is a significant source of mentoring: from God – through his followers – and by God – through his Holy Spirit. Yes, the Holy Spirit can be a powerful mentor, if we are able to hear his voice and follow his direction.

Many people claim their pastor as a mentor, but this has many shortcomings. First mentoring from the pulpit is a one-to-many arrangement; interaction – just as with books – isn’t feasible in this format. And to expect your pastor to meet with every person one-on-one would leave no time for him or her to do anything else. Do the math and you’ll see. Besides most people already heap too many expectations on their ministers; to assume they can do one-on-one mentoring to the entire congregation isn’t realistic.

Everyone needs a spiritual mentor. Do you have one? Click To TweetThis means we need to find our own mentors. We can mentor one another. We should mentor one another.

Seek someone you can mentor and be available for someone to mentor you. You can even co-mentor one another. When one of you stumbles, the other can pick you up (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). Perhaps that’s why Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs (Luke 10:1).

Do you have a spiritual mentor? Are you a mentor to others?

Why Do I Love God and Hate Theology?

A simple definition of theology is studying God. Since I love God so much and love reading about him in the Bible you’d think I’d love theology, too. Right? Well I don’t.

Why Do I Love God and Hate Theology?Learning about God and contemplating him through his word excites me. I look forward to it every day. Yet theology leaves me cold. Start explaining the essential elements of a particular theological perspective and my eyes will glaze over. I’ll either get angry or yawn. Why is this?

Theologians make God boring.

It’s understandable. Theologians are academics, and if anyone can squeeze the life out of something it’s academia.

While working on my PhD I took a class on C. S. Lewis. I was so excited – until I read the syllabus. Though we would read one book Lewis wrote, the majority of the class would focus on books other people wrote about Lewis. Instead of reading Lewis we would read people who had read Lewis. While we could have studied Lewis firsthand, the professor inserted a degree of separation, and we studied Lewis secondhand.

Theologians do the same thing. They insert a degree of separation between us and God. While we can read God’s word directly, they effectively insert a middleman who interprets the Bible for us.

This made sense 500 years ago when no one had a copy of the Bible and most people couldn’t read anyway. But now we have our own copies of the Bible, and we can read it ourselves. So why do we need someone else to explain it? We don’t.

Yet I will go to church today and listen to someone explain the Bible.

Something’s wrong with this. It dates back to the middle ages when illiterate, uneducated people filled the pews. Things are different today. We can read and think for ourselves. We don’t need someone else to do it for us.We can learn about God through the Bible. We don’t need someone else to do it for us. Click To Tweet 

Why can’t we cut out the middleman and learn about God through his word, without a theologian or preacher who forces the Bible’s words to fit into a particular theological package?

I love God. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t stick my neck out to encourage everyone to remove all human filters and read about him firsthand.

Read the Bible. Cut out the middleman. Let’s start a revolution.

What are your thoughts on theology? Do you study the Bible or let others teach you?

The Warning Signs of a Preacher Gone Bad

Peter writes to caution the early church about false teachers, leaders who misguide, doing more harm to the church of Jesus than good. We need to watch out for them. Here are some of their characteristics. False teachers:

  • The Warning Signs of a Preacher Gone BadScoff at what they don’t understand
  • Act instinctively (like unreasoning animals)
  • Indulge in evil pleasures
  • Are a disgrace to the church
  • Commit adultery with their eyes
  • Lure others into their own insatiable desire for sin
  • Are greedy, cursed, useless
  • Brag or boast about themselves
  • Have twisted sexual desires
  • Promise freedom, while being enslaved to sin and corruption

I’ve known preachers like this; I’ve heard their sermons.False teachers are not someone we disagree with. They have identifiable traits. Click To Tweet

Whenever I hear a preacher mock what he doesn’t understand, my ears perk up. I am on high alert. Is he a false teacher? Then I look for other common characteristics:

Does his close mindedness disgrace Jesus and his church?

Is he greedy? That is, are his pleas for money insatiable?

Does he promote himself and his ministry?

Does he promise his followers freedom and then enslave them in rules?

False teachers are not someone we disagree with. Differences in opinion are fine. False teachers have identifiable traits, and I fear our church today has many more false teachers than we realize. Watch out for them. Don’t follow them. Leave their influence at the first indication of these signs.

We’ve been warned.

Have you ever encountered a false teacher? What has been your reaction?

[2 Peter 2:12-19]

Do You Believe in Unicorns? Maybe it’s Time to Start

Let’s say a friend is reading a book. The opening draws him in. The characters are compelling. A fascinating plot unfolds. This is a great read, but then a unicorn walks into the scene.

What? A unicorn? Unicorns don’t exist. They’re pretend, right? He’s never seen one and doesn’t know anyone who claims to. He reads the unicorn passages with suspicion.

Another friend reads the same book. She believes in unicorns. She’s seen glimpses of them for years and knows several people who interact with them regularly. Reading about a unicorn is not fantasy to her, it’s normal. She reads in anticipation.

Why do these friends react so differently? They read using the lens of their experiences. The one having no involvement with unicorns dismisses the sections about them. The one familiar with unicorns accepts their appearance without alarm. Their personal experiences inform how they read the book.

Do You Believe in Unicorns? Maybe it’s Time to StartThe same is true with the Bible. We understand its words through the lens of our experiences. For example, if we regularly encounter the power of the Holy Spirit, then we see him throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament. The accounts of him are normal to us, and the Bible reinforces our experience as being applicable today.

However, if we have no experience with the Holy Spirit’s power, then reports of him in the Bible seem nonsensical. We either dismiss him or explain him away as we skip to the next section. Our experience or lack of experience with the Holy Spirit influences how we read the Bible and the conclusions we make.

Part of my life I went to traditional churches that diminished the Holy Spirit. Yes, he was in their creed but not their lives. We treated him like that eccentric relative most of us have, the one we try to ignore and talk about in embarrassed whispers.

I also went to evangelical churches that had much the same perspective. They sought to explain away the Holy Spirit. They acknowledged that Holy Spirit power existed in the early church but claimed that once the disciples died, most of his power ended. They understood scripture through the lens of their experience. Then they concocted a theology to support their experience, irrespective of what the Bible said.

I remember one preacher mocking Christians who supernaturally spoke in other languages, healed others through God’s power, and moved in faith at the Holy Spirit’s prompting. He laughed at their claims and called them deluded. Another preacher labeled all charismatics as heretics. These men vilified what they didn’t understand because their experiences limited what they could see in the Bible. They forgot that God doesn’t change and is all-powerful.Though I have never seen a unicorn, I have seen the power of the Holy Spirit. Click To Tweet

Though I have never seen a unicorn, I have seen the power of the Holy Spirit. I like reading about him in the Bible and experiencing his presence.

I believe in the Holy Spirit. I hope you do, too. However, if your experiences have pushed the Holy Spirit aside or you’ve been taught to diminish him, please ask God to open your mind to new possibilities.

What were you taught about the Holy Spirit? What role does the Holy Spirit play in your life today?

[This is from the August 2015 issue of Peter DeHaan‘s newsletter. Sign up to receive the complete newsletter each month via email.]

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