Gleanings From Ketcherside
The following is taken from several chapters of W. Carl Ketcherside's book, The Royal Priesthood, published in 1956. It has been edited, with permission of the author, in order to gain a wider audience than that for whom the book was originally written. - Glyn Taylor, Jr.
"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people: that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2.9
WHAT IT IS ALL ABOUT
Every child of God is a priest! Every man and woman who is a Christian has entered "the priesthood." The only high priest in God's system today is in heaven. I have no intent or desire to defend modern religious institutions, nor to champion the societies which have been spawned in the fertile brains of fallible men. It is my firm conviction that the community of saints planted by the apostles in the first generation of the Christian era constituted the divine pattern for the entire dispensation. My humble efforts will be bent, not toward the refinement, amendment, or reformation of any existing sect, but toward restoration of the primitive "colony of heaven" as representing God's ideal to which we must conform if we would meet his approval.
No careful student of the early congregation of believers can fail to be impressed with the simplicity of its worship and functioning. Imbued with a fervent zeal, motivated by a common purpose, possessed of a deep love for each other, "all believers kept together" and "among all those who had embraced the faith there was but one heart and one soul."
(Acts 2.44; 5.32) In such a company each felt under compulsion of spirit to do all he could to edify his fellows. None served for gain. Those who had personal property and real estate sold their possessions and distributed to all who had need; no one thought of threatening the needy with eternal destruction if they did not support a privileged class.
In the original church of God there was no distinction between clergy and laity. God's clergy (portion or lot) consisted of God's laity (people). Every member of the "laity"was a member of the "clergy" and vice versa. Every person in the divine arrangement was a minister of God. One "entered the ministry" by coming to Christ. The holy and unblemished church can never be restored until those who love the Lord recapture in the fullest sense the picture of a "priesthood of all believers" free from the taint of a special caste.
The religious world in general has lost the pattern of the corporate assembly of the original community of believers. The early church gathered around a table; the modern church sits before a pulpit. The Lord placed the table in the church so it could remember its debt to him; the clergy placed the pulpit in the church to bring it in debt to them. In the early church they all spoke one by one; today all the speaking is done by one. Then the spirit was kindled; now is quenched. Then they claimed to love each other and talked about Jesus; now they claim to love Jesus and talk about each other. In those days all exerted an effort to exhort; now all must be exhorted to exert an effort.
The primitive disciples did not ask the world to come and get the gospel, they took it to them. They gathered to eat the Lord's Supper, then scattered to preach the Gospel. Wherever there was a Christian and a sinner, there was a gospel meeting. They announced the glad tidings to masters and mistresses, friends, and neighbors. They did it simply but fervently. They told about Jesus, his death and resurrection. They testified of their faith in him. They preached him in chariots along the road, in prison cells, by river banks, in private homes, in halls and in synagogues. The whole earth was their auditorium, the thing at hand their pulpit.
Much of the irreverence, formality and cold ritual of these days is the result of a loss of significance of the priesthood of all believers. The sense of individual relationship to God with its attendant responsibilities has disappeared in the modern sectarian strife for supremacy of party. To restore the primitive community of saints a great reformation of thought is essential. Our purpose is to help the good and honest heart properly evaluate our present status in the light of God's revelation.
If it seems that our language is too harsh, we assure you that is was not meant thus to be. The author entertains a wholesome respect for the sincere religious convictions of every man on earth, regardless of how divergent from his own views they may be. Coupled with that respect is a deep conviction of his own which makes him an implacable foe of every form of clericalism, whether exemplified in the lowliest professional preacher who serves for hire, or the pope who is looked upon as a spiritual father by millions. With such fervent feeling it is to be expected that in condemnation of a system which it is believed robs the saints of their rights and liberties, the language of exposure may sometimes be pointed, pungent and plain.
It is our sincere hope that this little volume may be a contributing factor in the stimulation of thought among those whose honest hearts make them unwilling to remain in camp halfway between Babylon and Jerusalem. This book is not exhaustive in its treatment of the subject, but suggestive in nature, and is intended to arouse God's children to think for themselves in light of the holy scriptures. We can never restore the primitive church until we recapture the spirit which dominated the lives of the early saints, all of whom were impelled by an unconquerable passion to know the truth which makes men free. If we can aid in any degree to a restoration of that liberty and freedom to think, speak and act, which is the divinely given heritage of every Christian, we will be satisfied.
Nothing else is sought but that we, who come last, desire to see the first things and wish to return to them in so far as God enables us. We are like people who have come to a house that has burned down and try to find the original foundations. This is the more difficult in that the ruins are grown over with all sorts of growths, and many think that these growths are the foundation, and say, "This is the foundation," and "This is the way in which all must go," and others repeat after them. So that in the novelties that have grown up they think to have found the foundation whereas they have found something quite different from, and contrary to the true foundation. This makes the search more difficult, for if all said, "The old foundation has been lost among the ruins," then many would begin to dig and search for it and really to begin a true work . . .Author unknown
THE TIME OF REFORMATION
"According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various ablutions, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation."(Heb.9.9,10)
The apostle recognized that the ordinances of the Mosaic economy were only temporary. They constituted restrictions and restraints to hold a people in line until a better covenant based upon better promises could be introduced. That change which then took place involved "a change in the priesthood" and of necessity, "a change in the law as well."(Heb.7.12)
Ample warning had been given of God that such a reformation was coming. Jeremiah had declared, "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with the fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, says the Lord; I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall by my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them, to the greatest, says the Lord."(Jer.31.31-34)
The coming age was to provide new leadership. Ezekiel was told to prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, who were accused of feeding themselves and neglecting the sheep. They were rebuked because they had not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bound up the crippled, brought back the straying, and sought the lost, but had ruled with force and harshness. God declared, "I will save my flock, they shall no longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them; he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken. I will make them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. And I will make them and the places round about my hill a blessing; and I will send down showers and in their season; they shall be showers of blessing."(Ezek.34.22-26)
There are numerous allusions in this highly figurative portrayal which should not be overlooked. The exploitation of God's people by their leaders was not to be tolerated. The flock of God was not created to provide food for those who fed them. God said, "Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they be not food for them."(Ezek.34.10) The shepherds condemned in Ezekiel are "the priests who teach for hire and the prophets who divine for money" as mentioned by Micah (3.11). Nothing can be clearer than the fact that God intended to wrest his flock from the grasp of mercenaries and hirelings.
This new regime was to be inaugurated when one shepherd was set up over them. The prophet identifies that shepherd as "my servant David." Since David was asleep with his fathers and his sepulcher was with them (Acts 2.29), when Ezekiel spoke, it is evident that the prophecy pertained to our Lord. Peter declared in the very same connection, "This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses."(Acts 2.32) Accordingly our Lord asserted, "I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, and one shepherd."(John 10.16)
The characteristics of the new covenant are set forth. It was to be "a covenant of peace."(Ezek.34.25) It was to provide security and safety from harm. Wild beasts were to be banished from the land that the sheep "may dwell securely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods." It was to secure liberty and freedom. "They shall know that I am the Lord when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslave them."(verse 27) The gracious assurance is given, "'And you are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God', says the Lord."(verse 31)
The evangelical seer, gazing into the future, and speaking as he was moved by the Holy Spirit, paints an unparalleled picture of the Christian dispensation. The walls of the city of God are to called "Salvation" and the gates "Praise." The sun will no longer be needed for light by day, nor the moon at night. Instead the Lord will be an everlasting light, and God will be the glory of his people. Jehovah declares, "Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the shoot of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified."(Isa.60.18-21)
Following this, Isaiah gives that noble declaration of the coming Christ, which Jesus personally read to the synagogue assembled in his home city of Nazareth, and of which he said "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Isa.61.1,2; Luke 4.16-21) Then the prophet affirms that those who receive the "good tidings" which the Lord was "anointed to bring" will be called "oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified." These are destined for a work of restoration (Isa. 61.4) and they shall "be called the priests of the Lord, men shall speak of you as the ministers of our God." (Isa.61.6) "All who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed." (Isa. 61.9)
Nothing is clearer than the fact that God's purpose was to make ministry and priesthood co-extensive in "the time of reformation." Every person who accepted the good tidings was to be a priest, every such person was to be a minister. Every priest was such because he ministered; every person was to minister because he was a priest. In priesthood and ministry all were to be of equal rank insofar as liberty, privilege and relationship to God are concerned. God's people were no longer to be a kingdom with priests, but a kingdom of priests; they were not to be a congregation with ministers, but a congregation of ministers. Priesthood was to be universal in the kingdom of heaven, ministry was to be mutual and reciprocal. This was to be the grand climax of the ages, the golden era of God's dealings with mankind.
God promised Israel that if they would obey his voice and keep his covenant they would be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation unto him.(Ex.19.5,6) But they did not obey his voice nor keep his covenant. They never realized the fruition of the magnificent promise because they failed to meet the conditions. But God's purpose was not defeated. He created a new Israel of God (Gal.6.16), made up of those who are Christ's, and are Abraham's offspring, and heirs according to promise.(Gal.3.29) Every one of these is a priest of God. By substituting those who are the children of Abraham by faith for those who were his children by flesh, God at last made every spiritual son of Abraham a priest. At last, every real Jew is a priest. "For he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal." (Rom.2.28,29)
To effect this great transformation there had to be a new covenant, new altar and new sacrifice. Under the previous covenant only a limited priesthood could obtain. "If perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well."(Heb.7.11,12) There is a change in the priesthood! These are the words of inspiration. Since "the end of the ages" is come upon us, it is evident that God's plan of priesthood must reach its perfection in this dispensation, or his purpose be forever frustrated. Inasmuch as the latter is an unthinkable conclusion, it is apparent that in the functioning of every child of God as a priest, and only in that way, we see the perfected design of heaven carried out.
The creation of any system which sets up a special class of priestly functionaries to minister in behalf of their fellows in things pertaining to God not only usurps the rights of the remainder of God's priests, but of even greater consequence, it does despite to the Spirit of grace, by introducing again a limited priesthood which can never produce perfection. Such a system has no more place under a faultless covenant than the burning of incense or animal sacrifices. Yet, the ambition of men's hearts for power and prestige is so prevalent, that a constant battle must be waged to keep an indifferent, indolent membership from surrendering their privileges and responsibilities to a group of professional worship directors who sell their talents and abilities for filthy lucre.
Under the Mosaic economy, the priests, and no one else could approach God's sanctuary. Yet those priests must come by the blood of the altar and the laver of baptism in order to enter the tent of meeting. It is still true that only the priests of God can participate in his service. But all who are in his congregation are priests. "Christ appeared once in the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." (Heb.9.26) "By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified."(Heb.10.14) "Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." (Heb.10.19-22) Every one who has had the blood applied to his heart and who has been immersed in the laver of baptism, as an outward symbol of conversion, is a priest with right of entrance into the sanctuary.
In the former dispensation every priest who was consecrated participated in God's service. One could not hire another. It is true that in that imperfect era the congregation could support priests to minister in their behalf, but that was because the congregation was not permitted to minister in the sanctuary. When King Uzziah "was strong he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was false to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the Lord who were men of valor, and they withstood King Uzziah, and said to him, 'It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary; for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the Lord God.'"(2 Chron.26.16-18) It is amazing that when men could not be priests they wished to be; and now that they can be they prefer to hire another to minister in their stead.
Even under the law one priest could not hire another. The priests were ordained to serve. Since every Christian is now a priest, it is certainly a travesty upon God's plan for a congregation of priests to hire another priest to minister in their behalf in things pertaining unto God. Such a procedure produces two evils. In the first place, it defeats the very purpose of God as to priesthood by creating a sense of helplessness and dependency upon the part of the greater majority of his priests, and in the second place it creates a professional caste who serve for wages or hire. Thus the birthright of heaven is casually sold by one, and scornfully bought by another. If Simon the Sorcerer was condemned because he thought the gift of God could be purchased for money, what will be the fate of those who think it can be sold for money?
There is no priesthood in God's program now but that which is common to all Christians. That which makes one a Christian makes him a priest of God. The literal priesthood has been supplanted by the spiritual; the limited has been succeeded by the universal. Yet the religious world has been captivated by a special clergy. Designate it what you will, this is but a limited priesthood, arrogating to itself those rights which belong to all. Nothing is more certain than the fact that the average religionist believes that this special group of ministerial functionaries is a product of New Testament teaching. Yet it is apparent that the system which produces them is a denial of the very essence of the New Covenant and an espousal of the program of the Old Covenant. Those who seek justification for a special priesthood in this dispensation are also seeking to be justified by the law and are fallen from grace.
The time of reformation has come. It has brought with it certain changes. Those changes must be recognized. To deny them or to abrogate them is to flout God's purpose.
1. There has been a change of sacrifice. The animal sacrifices once required are no longer demanded. To offer such sacrifices now would be to crucify the Son of God afresh and put him to an open shame.
2. There has been a change of law. Not longer are we subject to the "regulations for worship in the earthly sanctuary."(Heb.9.1) The law had "but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities."(Heb.10.1) The man who chooses to be justified by the law shows a preference for the shadow rather than the reality.
3. There has been a change of priesthood. The limited has given way to the universal. With the introduction of the priesthood of all believers, no particular class or caste has an exclusive right "to perform ritual duties." Indeed it is one of the absolute essentials to priesthood that each person who is a priest "have something to offer."(Heb.8.3) The change in the priesthood has conferred upon all of God's priests the right to minister unto God subject to the restrictions of the Great King.
This great truth was recognized in the primitive church. "The devotional exercises of the Christian assemblies, like those of the Jewish synagogues, consisted principally of prayers, singing of hymns, and sacred discourses, founded upon positions of the Old Testament. Apostolic epistles were read in the congregation, to which they had been generally directed, but after a single reading they were generally laid aside. Every one who had power and the inclination to speak in public was allowed to do so with freedom."(A History of the Christian Church, by Dr. Charles Hase. Pages 40,41)
The mystery of iniquity which began to work even during apostolic days soon changed this state of affairs, and wrested the rights from the many and gave them into the hands of the powerful few. This was done by recourse to the limited priesthood of the law as a pattern. Writing about conditions in the second century, our same learned historian, who was Professor of Theology in the University of Jena, says: "The offices of the Church at this period presented very little to excite the cupidity of ordinary men, and even the honor attending them was counterbalanced by the dangers. And yet it seemed desirable to increase the veneration which necessarily attends the virtues and a faithful performance of official duty in the Church, by mysterious forms of ordination, by connecting them through various associations with the Old Testament priesthood, and by external tokens of peculiar sanctity. The result was that even in the second century the priests (Kleros) were represented as the official mediators between Christ and the congregation (Laos). To speak in the church, and to administer holy rites, were conceded to be the special prerogatives of the clergy, although learned laymen were sometimes heard in the public assembly, with the consent of the bishop. In all things relating to the business of the congregation, the principal care and authority devolved upon the clergy, but this power was generally exercised mildly and with a true regard for the public good, since those who possessed it could use no external means of coercion, and the clergy, being generally without fixed salaries, were dependent upon the voluntary contributions of the people. Their authority was often much straitened by the influence of the confessors, and the idea was not yet removed of a priesthood embracing all true Christians."(Ibid.,pp57,58)
From the foregoing, it is apparent that one of the first steps to the formation of a special clergy was the denial of the freedom to every one who had the power and inclination to speak in public. Although, for prestige and pride a learned laymen was sometimes given the privilege of being heard in the public assembly, "to speak in the church was conceded to be the prerogative of the clergy." Yet, the rise of the clergy to dominant power was temporarily restrained by the fact that they were generally without stipulated salaries, and dependent upon voluntary contributions; as well as by the lingering concept of a priesthood of believers. However, the surrender of the freedom to address the brethren by those who had the ability and desire to do it, into the hands of a special group of ministrants, was the seed from which the clergy sprung, and soon the guaranteed wage for serving God in behalf of men was introduced, and with it passed away the real function of the priesthood of all believers, and a limited priesthood once more came into vogue. It is not amiss to state that the clergy system and the financial guarantee always go hand in hand.
When the members of the church become so indolent and wrapped up with worldliness that they no longer study the holy scriptures, when they become so indifferent to the needs of their brethren that they no longer seek to excel to the edifying of the church, when freedom means so little that they will gladly surrender it to pamper pride, they begin automatically to try and purchase that for which they are not willing to exert personal effort. And when men demand professional ministers there will arise professional ministers to supply the demand. However, a system of universal priesthood can no more exist side by side with a system of limited priesthood, than we can be under the reign of grace and the Mosaic law at the same time. The professional ministry with its contracts to men cannot exist side by side with the mutual ministry growing out of a covenant with God.
We are living in "the time of reformation" of which the prophet spoke. The "end of the ages" has come. God's great ideal must reach its culmination in our lives. It is not for us to question whether his plan will work. It is but for us to work his plan. It is not for us to seek to improve upon his design or pattern, or through fear to shape, trim and alter it to meet our ideas, but to restore that pattern, firm in the conviction that he "who does not slumber nor sleep" will not fail us, but will attend us in our way.
At the root of almost every departure and apostasy is the pride of man. We are more afraid of what men will think about us than we are of what God thinks. We want to make a show, a demonstration, a manifestation of power, ability, and wealth. We worship culture and kneel as abject slaves at the shrine of conformity. The simple worship of the saints around the festal board, has become a well-planned pageant, in which immaculate actors carry out a rigid formal ritual. The speaker's platform is not a stand in which humble farmers, mechanics or carpenters may exhort their fellow Christians to endure trials, overcome temptations and grow in grace, but it is a carpeted stage on which a polished performer presents a perfected oration for which he has been personally prepared and paid. We are more concerned about what our worldly friends think of "our minister" than we are as to what they think of God's son. God's time of reformation is here; it is now time that our reformation begin.
Sound Words, 1755 Bensdale Rd, Pleasanton, TX 78064, Glynmt@aol.com
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