Distancing by Holy Men
Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves” (Luke 22:25-26).
In the previous chapter, we studied how the faith was subverted and how God was distanced from men by the addition or reinstatement of the symbol of Law to the Christian movement. In this chapter, we are going to look at a symbol that always accompanies the symbol of holy Law. This symbol is the symbol of holy men or clergy. For a holy Law must have holy men to enforce and interpret it for the not-so-holy people.
Since the dawn of time, the holy man has been the symbol of mediation and the presence of God in the majority of the religions of the world. Great care is taken by the religious community to set the holy man apart from the rest of the community. This is done through titles, dress, and attributing to them powers that other members of the community do not have. Of course, these powers are attributed to them because of their superior faith, office, and relationship to God. These men are viewed as having a closer, or at least a different kind of, relationship with God than the others in the community. Therefore, the community’s relationship to God resembles a pyramid with the holy man at the top, mediating for the community. As a symbol of mediation, the holy man stands between the people and God, thus adding a step and distancing God from the people.
This pyramid, or hierarchy, of holy men was very much a part of the Jewish religion when Jesus came on the scene. In fact, it seems to be a major characteristic of most organized religions today. However, it would seem that the very presence of Jesus as “God among us” would have negated the need for all spiritual hierarchy and any separate group of holy men that might stand between God and the people. For if our understanding of the New Testament is correct, we find in Christ, man has become a friend of God and no longer needs human mediators to approach Him. Because of the Christ event, all men can now have a personal relationship with God without the aid of a mediator or a holy man. Moreover, after His resurrection, Jesus appointed all His followers as priests (1 Pet. 2:9). In this act, He declared all believers to be holy men, washed by His blood, again eliminating all need for a special group of holy men. Could it be that we now have holy men for holy men? In addition, the resurrection of Jesus symbolized that all who believe now have direct access to God apart from all forms of mediation. For in Jesus all believers stand in an at-one-relationship with the living God (Eph. 2:6). This again does away with the need of any form of mediation other than Jesus the Christ. This may help us to understand why pagans in the first century often referred to Christians as atheists. From a pagan and Jewish perspective, Christians were often seen to be irreligious, for they had no holy men, holy places, or holy times and were often criticized for speaking out against religion (Acts 19:27, 21:28).
In contrast, when we begin to observe modern-day Christendom, we see very little difference between its practices and that of other religions of the world. It has its holy men and hierarchy like all the other religions of the world. In fact, I would dare say that the Christian church on the whole, has more paid professionals than all of the other religions of the world put together. It literally has an army of holy men and woman. In view of this, I find it somewhat ironic to hear the Christians of the church speak of taking the world for Christ by the power of the Spirit. I grant you that the first century church could have made this boast, seeing it was largely made up of the uneducated and slave class type, but from the looks of things, the modern church is trying to reach the world with an army of flesh, or should I say, an army of professionals. We have our professionals, and they had the Spirit. They were, for the most part, a ragtag group of slaves. We, on the other hand, have our powerful institutions and supremely educated clergy. They won the world; we cannot win our neighbors.
Throughout history, Christianity has made attempts to restore to the believers in general, what it refers to as the priesthood of all believers. Its attempts have been on the whole, somewhat of a failure. It is not easy to turn around nineteen hundred years of subversion. Even in groups that have enjoyed some success in this restoration, there seem to quickly rise up charismatic leaders who dominate the ministry, or else the movements fall prey to institutionalization. In turn, these movements require a highly educated clergy to maintain control over the people and to keep them convinced the organization, in some fashion, represents Christ. One of the chief reasons for this failure to restore the priesthood of all believers is the supposed holy men themselves see no contradiction between their role and the revelation of God in Jesus. Therefore, all iconoclastic movements that have attempted to remove the symbol of holy men from the Christian movement have been met with strong opposition from the holy men or clergy.
The How and Why of Holy Men
If the symbol of holy men was removed by the presence of Jesus and then His Spirit, how did this symbol of clergy, priesthood, and mediation find its way back into the faith? For the answer, we will go to Philip Schaff who is one of the great historians of the church.
“The idea and institution of a special priesthood, distinct from the body of the people, with the accompanying notion of sacrifice and altar, passed imperceptibly from Jewish and heathen reminiscences and analogies into the Christian church. The majority of Jewish converts adhered tenaciously to the Mosaic institutions and rites, and a considerable part never fully attained to the height of spiritual freedom proclaimed by Paul, or soon fell away from it. He opposed legalistic and ceremonial tendencies in Galatia and Corinth; and although sacerdotalism does not appear among the errors of his Judaizing opponents, the Levitical priesthood with its three ranks of high-priest, priest and Levite, naturally furnished an analogy for the threefold ministry of bishop, priest, and deacon and came to be regarded as typical of it. Still less could the Gentile Christians, as a body, at once emancipate themselves from their traditional notions of priesthood, altar, and sacrifice, on which their former religion was based. Whether we regard the change as an apostasy from a higher position attained, or as a reaction of old ideas never fully abandoned, the change is undeniable and can be traced to the second century. The church could not long occupy the ideal height of the apostolic age and as the Pentecostal illumination passed away with the death of the apostles, the old reminiscences began to reassert themselves.” History of the Christian Church by Philip Schaff (Vol. 2 page 60).
Hans Kung, a Catholic theologian, explains the development of holy men in the Christian movement with the following: “Here we come back to the name “priest.” Although the New Testament insists quite unequivocally that there is no longer a priesthood in contrast to an un-priestly laity, but that the whole new people of God has become a priesthood, the name “priest” has generally been reserved for the leaders of the community in recent centuries, while the idea of the priesthood of all believers has at best, if at all, been commemorated. And yet it is very striking how slow the early Church was to use the name priest for the leader of the community at all. According to the New Testament, although Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross is expressed in the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Supper itself is not regarded as a sacrifice on its own, nor even a repetition of the unique sacrificial death of Christ. Thus the Lord’s Supper is never referred to as a sacrifice in the New Testament…. Gradually the Lord’s Supper came to be seen less and less as the communal meal of the entire priestly people, and more and more as a kind of new sacrifice, offered by the leaders of the community on the community’s behalf; a misunderstanding which prepared the way for calling the leaders of the community priests, and as in pagan and Jewish tradition, distinguishing them from the rest of the people; as time went on the ideas and images associated with the priesthood of the Old Testament were increasingly transferred to these New Testament “priests.”
“The rapidly increasing clericalization of the Church meant that it became more and more customary to use the word “priest” exclusively for those who held a particular office in the Church. The idea of the priesthood of all believers gradually came to be almost forgotten by the faithful and by most theologians. As a comment on this development, in the light of the lengthy discussion above, two observations may be made which sum up the whole issue: the fact that the leaders of the community are called “priests” is unexceptionable precisely because of the priesthood of all believers; but the fact that the leaders of the community exclusively are seen as “priest” and become a separate caste, after pagan and Judaic patterns, standing between God and man and barring the direct access to God which the whole priestly people should enjoy. This as we have seen is contrary to the New Testament message: both the message of the one mediator and high priest Jesus Christ and that of the priesthood of all Christians.” The Church (pages 489,490).
From the above, it becomes clear as to how the symbol of holy men got into the Christian movement. It was simply introduced or carried over from Judaism and the pagan religions of Rome. We have also seen scholars agree that this addition is a subversion of the pattern set forth in the New Testament. Hans Kung goes so far as to point out that this addition of a clergy distanced the people from God, thus placing a mediator between them and God. Neither Christ nor the apostles authorized this mediator. It is also evident the symbol of holy men could not have been added to the faith until that faith had already undergone a major change in its thinking about the relationship of law and grace, as well as other major theological changes. We have already witnessed the major change was a return to a system of law and religion. (Note chapter three, “From Jesus to Religion”).
It seems clericalism and legalism go hand in hand. The more a group of people turn to law, the more they need religious professionals to interpret their law and to enforce it. The preaching of law always leads to a man-centered “legalism.” Clericalism and legalism are the Jack and Jill of religion, in that they stand or fall together. Now let us look at what revelation has to say about this addition of the symbol of holy men.
Revelation and Holy Men
When we approach revelation (Jesus), we soon begin to see a contrast between it and religion in regard to the way it views holy men. Revelation tells us that because of the Christ event all men are holy in the eyes of God (Acts 10-11). This means that all men, from the least to the greatest can now approach God directly and must now accept the responsibility that comes from a personal relationship with God.
However, in contrast, religion is all about people exalting and setting apart other people to be called holy or saints, in turn exalting them to the place of mediation between themselves and God. When this happens, people are gradually distanced from God and their personal relationship with God, and all is lost or traded for a mediated relationship through holy men. The holy man gladly takes on the responsibility of mediation and begins to live vicariously “for the people.” He lives for them before God, he thinks for them, he worships for them, he organizes their church for them, and he takes care of them as children. This is all in keeping with what religion is about, and that is keeping people eternally children and keeping them in submission. Thus, most religion is dehumanizing and lifenegating. Here lies one of the greatest contrasts between religion and revelation. Revelation has as its goal a personal relationship between God and man, with man accepting his personal responsibility before God and thus growing up. In contrast, religion is all about turning one’s responsibility over to institutions and their holy men, thus relegating one’s self to the status of a child or a slave who must approach God through the mediation of holy men and their institutions. Therefore, we could say that religion has a tendency towards immaturity, while revelation has a will to maturity.
A Classless Kingdom
By setting apart and exalting holy men and women, religion creates classes in a kingdom that was intended to be classless. In protest, revelation tells us that the kingdom of God is classless, and everyone who has put his faith in Jesus is a saint and not just the super-religious people. In fact, revelation teaches that religiosity means nothing to God. The reason for this is that God views all men the same; religious, super-religious, and even nonreligious, “for all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:9,10). Therefore, all, even the super-religious, stand in need of God’s grace, which He freely gives to all who call on Him. In Christ all believers are saints because all believers are sinners. The reason we are called saints is not because we are so good, sinless, or religious, but simply and only because God calls us saints in Christ (1 Cor. 1:30, Rom. 4:1-6). That is, He has set all Christians apart for Himself and the work of ministry. In New Testament times anything that was set apart for use in service to God was called holy; not because it was different in any way from things of like kind, but rather because it was simply set apart for a special purpose. Therefore, in the New Testament, the word saint does not denote the moral or the religious character of a person or group, as much as the function they perform. In the New Testament “saint” simply means to be set apart to do good works (Eph. 2:10). Here we see another great contrast between revelation and religion. Religion defines one’s relationship with God by what one does not do. In this it becomes preoccupied with sin. In contrast, revelation emphasizes what one should be doing (Rom. 6:11). Thus, it is preoccupied with doing good to its neighbor.
In keeping with the idea of a classless kingdom, the Scriptures tell us in the new order there would be no place for any structure that would resemble the structure of worldly societies or institutions, which always take the form of a pyramid (Mark 10:42,43). The pyramid symbolizes the structure or system where one man has power and authority over another. This is a symbol that has no place in the kingdom of God. Jesus said to His disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28). It is interesting to note what Jesus had to say about this power structure based on the model of a pyramid. He simply said, “Not so with you.” In this passage Jesus announces to His disciples that in the new order there would be no hierarchy or classes of men. There would only be one class and that class would be a servant class. When men exalt or set themselves apart (which in itself is an act of exalting) from other members of the community by dress, titles, and office, they demonstrate their lack of understanding of the very nature of the new order and the Kingdom of God, a kingdom that is to be totally opposite of the kingdoms of this world, not a reflection of them.
Holy Men Versus a Holy Man
Likewise, the whole of revelation bears witness to the fact there has only been one truly holy man and He died on a cross. All holy men of past ages prefigured and foreshadowed the one great and perfect holy man who would stand with His people at the end of time and lead God’s people into a grand exodus into eternity. The death and resurrection of this one holy man marked the beginning of that exodus, an exodus out of this world and the systems of this world into the freedom of the children of God. Therefore, we see in His death and resurrection the end or the negation of all religious systems that make a distinction between the holy and the profane: in other words, between the clergy and the laity. This is a distinction religious leaders laboriously try to maintain. Try as they may to do this, at the foot of the cross all men stand equal and holy, washed by the blood of Christ. Consequently, when He died, the symbol of holy men died with Him, because in the act of dying He has made all men holy. All men now have direct access to God in Christ (Eph. 2:18, 3:12, Heb. 10:19-25). In Christ the distance between God and man has been negated forever along with all the symbols of mediation including the symbol of holy men.
Though it is obvious the revelation of God in Christ symbolically stands for the abolition of all mediators including that of holy men, it is also obvious those who wear the name of Christ have found it difficult to get rid of this symbol of religion. The reasons for this difficulty are numerous. They range from the poor self-esteem of the average person that religion reinforces to the cultural and religious conditioning of more than a thousand years. In order for a group to do away with this symbol, it would have to reject a paradigm that has dominated human culture from the beginnings of civilization. The pyramid symbolizes this paradigm, the model of kingship. Needless to say, those on the top of this pyramid see no need to change this paradigm and will do anything to maintain it, even to the point of subverting the teaching of Christ that seems to condemn it (Mark 10:42,45, Matt. 23:8-12).
In view of this, one could conclude that the presence of holy men has always symbolized the immaturity and the worldliness of God’s people and their refusal to take charge of their own lives. Contrary to the thinking of many, the proliferation of religious professionals that we are witnessing today is not a sign the Christian movement is coming of age, but rather a sign of the very opposite. It is a sign of a digression back into religion. This movement away from the priesthood of all believers back into clericalism, directly opposes the Biblical concept of the priesthood of all believers.
Subversion, Division, and Holy Men
What has been the outcome of reinstating the symbol of holy men into the Christian movement? The foremost result is that it has ripped the Christian movement into pieces, which in itself is nothing more than a complete subversion of revelation (Rom. 2:23,24). It is mainly the symbol of holy men that has and continues to divide Protestants and Catholics. In addition, it has been the symbol of holy men that has been the very foundation of all cults and denominations in the Christian world of today and in the past (1 Cor. 3:21, 4:6,7). Every cult and denomination has its superstar (holy man) that it follows and exalts to a place of mediation. Once established, this symbol of the “superstar” becomes the symbol of mediation between believers. The ones who accept the right superstar of course are mature, knowledgeable, and spiritual. Those who reject him, or in some cases her, are immature, ignorant, unspiritual, and even lost. No matter how one looks at it, the symbol of holy men added to the faith, becomes a symbol of division. Here we affirm again that there is only one symbol one must accept in order to be a Christian: the symbol of Jesus Christ as Lord.
Moreover, there is only one symbol that all Christians can unite on: again, the symbol of Jesus. Let’s grow up and stop lining up behind men and the symbols they have created, the symbols that have formed the dividing wall of hostility between believers (Eph. 2:14). Let’s start following Jesus and only Jesus! However, let us be cautious we do not turn the symbols of Jesus and His Spirit into divisive symbols like so many of the charismatic movements have done in the past. Christ is not divided, nor is His Spirit. In other words, Christ and His Spirit do not divide God’s people. The spirit that divides and separates is the spirit of the world and of the devil, not God’s.
I know many will say that they may respect or accept certain holy men and their teachings, but they do not look upon them as mediators. Though a person may sincerely believe this, I find it hard to accept. Even if true, it does not do away with the problem of mediation. It only deals with one aspect of the problem, that being the relationship of God and man. But the problem of mediation is larger than that; it also takes in the relationship man has with his fellow man and other believers. We live in a mediated state where symbols not only mediate between God and man but also between men. Such things as money, sex, race, and religion are all symbols that mediate between men. The best example of this is money. We have all heard the expression “money talks.” Well, it does talk. It talks symbolically. It tells you how important a man is in the eyes of his culture and his social standing in his community. Money tells us who is the boss, because it is the mediator between the employer and the employee. When this is understood, one can begin to understand the division in the Christian church. The division comes from men placing symbols of mediation between themselves and other believers. These symbols include men, institutions, and the creeds they have created. We might view these symbols of mediation as demands or expectations one believer or a group of believers put on other believers or groups. Such demands and expectations will go beyond the symbol of Christ. These demands are expressed with phrases like, “you must accept” (our way), and “you must believe” (our way) in order to be saved or mature in Christ. Some of these demands are symbolized by the following symbols: right prophet, right church, right government, right worship, and even right methods. Where is all this going to end? I believe it has already ended in judgment; that is, the Christian Church has already been turned over to aggressive men (idols of mediation) who have turned God’s people into merchandise and made the church contemptuous in the eyes of the world, a world that can no longer believe in witch doctors or holy men. In this unbelief in holy men, the world is closer to God’s will than is the church. In their unbelief they demonstrate themselves to be more mature than many Christians.
What is the answer? The cure will never come from the clergy, for by and large, they are the problem. They are the symbols that divide. They are the ones who continue to place symbols of mediation between God’s people. They are also the ones who maintain the existing symbols that divide, of course in the name of God. (In doing so, they work for God like the devil.)
The solution is the people must reclaim the ministry from the professionals, and these people must destroy the symbols, or idols, of mediation that divide them. The people of these ministries need to remember the one great truth their faith and all others’ rest on; that Jesus is Lord and that God has raised Him from the dead (Rom. 10:9,10). Instead of trusting in an arm, or in this case, an army of flesh (professionals), let us renew our faith in the power of the Spirit, a Spirit who glories in using weak and insignificant people to do His will. We need to remember that it is a gospel of a carpenter, spread by fishermen, which shook the pillars of religion and state. Reduced to professionalism, faith becomes nothing more than a lifeless ideology and a mummified institution. God save the church from its holy men!
In our next chapter we will continue our study of the symbols of mediation that have subverted the faith and distanced the people from God and their brothers in Christ by looking at the symbol of institutions.