In the Old Covenant (Old Testament) way of things, God undoubtedly had a “special clergy;” that is, before the precious blood of the Lamb wiped out distinctions and removed all thoughts of a “ranking” among those who confess that they are strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
Concerning the tribe of Levi, the members of this tribe were raised up by God to the status of a “special priesthood.” They were separated from the people (the laity) in whose behalf they were to come before God with sacrifices and offerings and in ceremonial observances. The tribe of Levi found their inheritance, not in the land with the people, but in the direct service of God.
As priests of God, the Levite's could perform certain functions which were not allowed to be performed by others under the penalty of death. They could touch holy things which others were not permitted to touch.
"At that time the Lord separated the tribe of Levi, to bear the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister unto him, and to bless in his name, unto this day. Wherefore Levi has no portion nor inheritance with his brethren; the Lord is his inheritance, according as the Lord thy God spoke unto him." Deuteronomy 10:8-9
Under the Old Covenant, a select group was set apart from the rest of God's people and ordained to minister unto God. It was the exclusive right of the priests to bear the sacred ark. They were the spokespersons for the people in the name of God. The people were barred from entering the sacred grounds. They dared not even touch a piece of the hallowed furnishings.
The priests even wore special clothes and topped off with a tall headdress. No one outside the priesthood was allowed to wear this distinctive dress pattern and any person who did so would suffer death for impersonating a priest. The priest was a mediator. He stood between the people and God. Men approached God only through other men who were empowered with priestly authority.
“And the priest shall make atonement for the soul that erreth, when he sinneth unwittingly, before Jehovah, to make atonement for him and he shall be forgiven.” Numbers 15:28
The priests could not farm or make a living. They must busy themselves with their temple duties. They must keep the ceremonial program moving. The people supported the priesthood with their tithes and offerings.
"The priests, the Levite's, even all the tribe of Levi, shall have no portion nor inheritance with Israel… And this shall be the priests due from the people, from them that offer a sacrifice, whether it be ox or sheep, that they shall give unto the priest the shoulder, and the two cheeks, and the maw. The firstfruits of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the first of the fleece of thy sheep, shalt thou give him." Deuteronomy 18:1-4
There can be no question but that under the Old Covenant, the ministration of death written and engraven in stones, God created a “special clergy” separate and apart from the people. Members of this group stood between the body of Israel and the sanctuary where God dwelt. They wore beautiful robes which distinguished the wearers from the remainder of the people of God. They performed functions forbidden to those who had not been anointed. They held titles and implemented formulas and rituals prescribed by God.
But now, a new day has dawned. The cross of Christ forever wiped out all such separations and distinctions. They were abolished and done away when the legal custodian delivered us to Jesus, and faith in God's Son replaced that righteousness which was by deeds of the law. Every child of God is now a priest.
Every person on this whole earth who has been justified by the blood of Jesus is a priest of God. "To him who loves us and freed us from our sins with His life's blood, who made us a royal house, to serve as the priests of his God and Father...to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever! Amen." Revelation 1:6
Every disciple of Jesus has entered the ministry. The word of God knows nothing of a disciple who is not a minister. "You also as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ…you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" 1 Peter 2:5,9
The old covenant, being a covenant of the flesh, with its seal of circumcision in the flesh, made its appeal to the fleshly nature. It provided pomp and showmanship, ritual and liturgy, gold and glitter. It had its visible temple of wood and stone called "the house of God." But this whole arrangement was temporary.
The Jewish system of appointing certain ones to perform priestly duties has been done away with. The work of Christ on the cross has rent the veil providing every believer free access to the Father.
Matthew 27:51; Hebrews 10:20
"But Christ having come a high priest of the good things to come, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands…but through his own blood, entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption." Hebrews 9:11-12
The time of reformation has come! The age of which the prophets spoke was ushered in. The new covenant, written not with ink, but with the Holy Spirit upon tablets of the heart became a reality. We are no longer minors in virtual slavery. The term was completed. God sent His own Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. Galatians 4
The church in the wilderness was now superseded by Christ’s Ecclesia. The nation of Israel was gone, the temple was gone, the priests were gone, the Levite's were gone, and concerning the very Law of Moses, we read:
"In that he says, NEW covenant, He has made the first OLD. Now that which DECAYS and waxes OLD is ready to vanish away." Hebrews 8:13
“In the same way, He gave them the cup after the supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant sealed with my blood, which is poured out for you.” Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25
We have been set free. “For freedom did Christ set us free: stand fast therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1
Jesus has become the surety of a better covenant. Hebrews 7:22.
“But now, we have such a high priest, who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.”
“…who obtained a ministry the more excellent, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which hath been enacted upon better promises.” Hebrews 8:6
“Behold, the days come, says the Lord, That I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers…”
Hebrews 8:8ff; Jeremiah 31:31ff
“And for this cause he is the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” Hebrews 9:15
“..then hath he said, Lo, I am come to do thy will. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
“..and to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better than that of Abel. See that you refuse not him that speaks.” Hebrews 12:24
“Who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 3:6
“Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness of speech, and are not as Moses, who put a veil upon his face, that the children of Israel should not look steadfastly on the end of that which was passing away: but their minds were hardened: for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted; which veil is done away in Christ. But unto this day, whensoever Moses is read, a veil lieth upon their heart. But whensoever it shall turn to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” 2 Corinthians 3:12-16
But now, what has happened? Like the trembling, cowering multitude at the foot of Mt. Horeb when the first covenant was given, we did not want God speaking to us. We did not want to become a family with its intimacy. We were afraid to be sons. We rebelled at the idea of a Father. We wanted a God afar off, someone to be worshiped in an institution and by prescribed rituals and formulas and services.
We wanted worship to be something done for us, a performance prepared in advance and carried out by trained actors whom we could watch and applaud and appreciate for their skills. We craved an "order of worship," a service printed in a program. And the flesh triumphed over the Spirit. We got what we wanted and we can go through it for an hour once per week wholly detached in life and concern.
The Church today doesn’t want the New Covenant to replace the Old. For two thousand years, its been trying to put the New Wine of the New Covenant, in the Old Bottles of the Old Covenant and put the New Cloth of the New Covenant, on the Old Cloth of the Old Covenant, and the results are always disastrous.
So today, because the church does not want to give up Old Testament thinking, they have done their best to weave both covenants together in a way that makes them void each other out completely! But the fact of the matter is that you simply cannot have it both ways.
We’re priests for a moment, and then we’re not priests. Salvation is free, and then it’s not. We’re not under law, and then we are. We’re set free, and then we’re caged again. It’s free, and then we’re charged for it.
The institutional church has become a deadly pathway of contradictions and confusion at every turn, with twists and loops and curves that actually make you believe you’re going somewhere. The problem is that once you reach the end of the path, you’re right back where you started, and there’s the pastor guiding you to the exit sign until next week. This is a picture of what happens when we refuse to let go of the Old Testament and fully embrace the New.
Instead of the priesthood of all believers replacing the Old Covenant priesthood, today in virtually every institutional church setting, we have pastors and "elders" who have replaced the Old Covenant priests and Levite's.
The law is attractive to church leaders. It intrigues them. It captivates them. Church elders and pastors get exhilarated when they go through Old Testament passages concerning the temple rituals and the law. They’ll memorize the priestly duties and go over and over them in their mind, obsessed with domination. Even just the mention of freedom and grace sets them off and causes an inner panic. They despise the freedom brought on through the cross because it threatens to strip away the very thing they’re addicted to – control, power, and authority.
Every area of today’s local institutional church is so permeated with Old Covenant thinking and practice that you have to wonder if professing Christians today would even choose a New Testament relationship if it were offered to them outright! Most church members have absolutely no understanding of what that means. Every single principle in the local church has the Old Covenant thinking as the dominant mindset.
When it's time for the "worship service," we believe that God shows up because we’re told, “He inhabits the praises of His people,” so we do our best to lift Him up so He’ll “show up.” When we pray, we do so with a “God is not in us” mentality.
When we give, we sit around and wait to receive something back because we’ve been taught if we give freely, we will receive freely. We refer to our bible as “The Word” as though the Word never became flesh and dwelt among us. We go to church thinking we’re still in the Old Testament Era when God’s temple was a tent or a building that people come to in order to meet with Him. Rather than embrace that WE are now the temple of God, (1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21; Hebrews 3:6) we prefer it the old way.
There is a veil over our eyes in the reading of the Word. We have refused to believe that the God who created heaven and earth and all that is in them does not dwell in temples made with hands, and neither is worshipped with men's hands as though he needed anything. Acts 7:48; 17:24-25
So we continue to build more buildings every year to prove that Paul was mistaken when he stood among the pagan shrines at Athens. And if that’s not bad enough, we even dedicate buildings to God exactly as Solomon did in the days of spiritual adolescence, and our pastors stand up and speak in ministerial tones, "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go up to the house of God."
When we “go to church,” we do so with the same Old Covenant mindset that people had in Moses’ day. We wait for our pastor to go to the mountain top and get the revelation from God for us, regardless of whether or not the Spirit has laid any message on his heart to begin with! Rather than know and hear God for ourselves, we have traded that New Covenant reality for the way it was before Christ.
We have become satisfied and comfortable with straining out gnats Sunday after Sunday, when the rest of the week we go around swallowing camels. Matthew 23:24
Yet once more the startling questions of yesterday come echoing though the empty, dusty, hearts which are no longer the abode of the Spirit:
“How can you be so foolish! You began by God's Spirit; do you now want to finish by your own power? Did all your experience mean nothing at all? Surely it meant something! Does God give you the Spirit and work miracles among you because you do what the Law requires or because you hear the gospel and believe it?” Galatians 3:3-5
We have not progressed in the Spirit. We have retrogressed to the law. We have gone back to the weak and beggarly elements. We are acting as if the death of Jesus was a myth and the cross at Calvary a fantasy.
We are not the family for which God planned. We are an institution; an organization of our own design, coming before God with a mixture of the Old and the New which we have blended together and call it "church."
When people find the Lord Jesus in a real and vital way, they soon learn that the praise of God is not intended to be a spectator sport relegated to weekends only, but the pouring out of one's own heart to their Creator day after day.
When you have finally departed from the traditions of men and broken these idols from off your neck, casting down their images from before you, then you will see no man but Jesus only, and only then will you understand what it means to worship in spirit and in truth.
When the wisdom and the joy of the New Covenant becomes sweet to your soul, then like the woman of Samaria, you will drop that heavy jug in which for many years, has been causing you to stumble, and you will run off as she to unashamedly declare, "Is not this the Christ?”