Thursday, August 6, 2009

Reflection: Everyone is a Teacher

I'm trying something new. So far I've stuck to telling you about things that other people have written and said and I've tried to stay under 300 words per post. I want to try occasionally sharing some of my thoughts and going way over 300 words. I'm going to call them reflections. Here's the first one; let me know what you think.


I was recently on the staff for the first time at a church camp. I did a couple of worship services and a talk. As I prepared for the camp before getting there I was thinking about the topic for the week and what sorts of things were important to know about the topic, what sorts of things people might be confused about, etc.

For the first two days of the camp, though, I wasn’t leading anything just attending things. And I started to notice that I was learning things from other people. Believe me, I know that it’s painfully obvious, but I realized that I wasn’t the only person there that the Lord was using to teach people. And it wasn’t just the other ministers there that I was learning from. I was learning from women as well as men, people older than me and people younger than me, people who had probably read the Word more than me and people who had probably read it less. And I realized that the Lord is happy to use anyone and everyone to teach people the truth and lead them to heaven.
The Lord gave the word; great was the company of those who proclaimed it (Psalm 68:11).
That was the phrase from scripture that encapsulated this important realization for me. The Lord wants people to know the truth and He’s going to use a great company (or army, more literally) of people to teach it. Just like it says in Divine Providence 172:6,
the Word can only be taught mediately through parents, teachers, preachers, books, and especially through the reading of it. Nevertheless, it is not taught by these, but by the Lord through them.
The Lord teaches people the Word not just through preachers/ministers/priests but also through parents and teachers and books and everyone.

This summer I’ve been working on a dissertation about the use and abuse of the dynamic between priests and lay people. One of the things I’ve been trying to understand is what makes priests necessary. The specific question I have now is, if the Lord uses everyone to teach the truth, what makes the teaching that priests do different from the teaching that everyone else does?

Steve Simons’ perspective is that every believer is a priest.
Setting apart “Holy Men” is not Biblical. ... The Christian priesthood, in copying the Aaronic priesthood of the Old Testament, set itself up as a class of mediators set apart to keep their view of the Divine before the eyes of people. But this feature of religion is now outdated. ...

God calls every individual to walk side by side along the road of life with others, to give counsel and encouragement, to study and teach His Word for those less educated in its message, to worship and praise Him together in communities, to witness important life events such as marriage and death and teach the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, and to lead others by means of the gifts of vision, perception, and wisdom to discover more of the blessings that God has in store for all people. These gifts are that set apart the pastors, the preachers, the ministers, and the priests – and these are all roles that any believer can take if that is where they are called by God and gifted to serve.

Man or woman, young or old, every believer is a priest following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ who is the only teacher, the only priest, the only mediator, the only God. (See also "You Are a Priest".)
I really like the sound of this. I love the way he describes how God calls all of us to help each other on the road of life and, most of all, I love his point that Jesus Christ is the only teacher, priest, mediator, and God. The only thing I’m not sure about is this idea that it’s not good to have people set apart as priests, except inasmuch as a certain person is particularly gifted in studying, teaching, leading, witnessing, etc.

Here are some of teachings that make me wonder about this.

The most extended treatment of the priesthood and its role that I’m aware of is in New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine 311 - 325 / Arcana Coelestia 10789 - 10806.
There are two things which ought to be in order with men, namely, the things which are of heaven, and the things which are of the world. The things which are of heaven are called ecclesiastical, and those which are of the world are called civil. (311)

Governors over those things with men which relate to heaven, or over ecclesiastical affairs, are called priests, and their office is called the priesthood. (314)

He who believes otherwise than the priest, and makes no disturbance, ought to be left in peace; but he who makes disturbance, ought to be separated; for this also is of order, for the sake of which the priesthood is established. (318)

As priests are appointed to administer those things which relate to the Divine law and worship, so kings and magistrates are appointed to administer those things which relate to civil law and judgment. (319)
If priests are meant to be overseers who are “appointed to administer those things which relate to the Divine law and worship” and who separate people who believe otherwise than the priest, then it sounds like not everyone can be a priest.

Along these lines, consider this passage from Arcana Coelestia.
Good can be instilled into another by anyone in his country, but not truth, except by those who are teaching ministers; if others do this, heresies arise, and the church is disturbed and rent asunder. ... Everyone must first obtain for himself truth from the doctrine of the church, and afterward from the Word of the Lord; this must be the truth of his faith. (6822)
Are priests what are meant by “teaching ministers”? Again there’s this emphasis on the importance of avoiding disturbances in the church. In this case disturbances are avoided, not by separating people, but by having only certain people teach.

But is this really what the Lord wants? A church where only certain people are allowed to teach others. A church where a group of overseers determines what can be said and what cannot be said? It sounds awfully authoritarian and not nearly as appealing as the picture of a classless church that Steve painted. And yet, if we are going to use the Writings to form our understanding of what the church should look like, we need to integrate these teachings into our thinking about it.

Here’s my attempt at making sense of it. Think of a priest as a professional doctor. He’s been to med school, by the time he opens his own practice he’s put in hundreds of hours as an intern, he’s under some form of supervision by the medical board, he stays up to date on recent developments in understanding diseases and treatments, and he talks with other doctors about different cases. For all of these reasons you would listen to what he teaches you about your health differently than you would your friend who just read some article online and has an opinion about it.

You still learn about health from your friends, and parents, and P.E. and biology teachers in school, and from your own reading of books and articles, and from just paying attention to how your body reacts to various things but that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to have doctors around anymore. You need someone whose job it is to spend more time than you do studying and thinking about health. And you need the medical community to speak out against new health or treatment practices that they don’t consider safe.

Now, the medical community can be wrong. I haven’t researched it at all (apart from glancing at a Wikipedia article about it), but my impression is that, a couple of decades ago, doctors typically looked askance at chiropractic treatment and may have recommended against it to their patients. These days, it seems that most doctors would advise their patients to get chiropractic treatment, at least for the treatment of back pain. So the medical community was wrong to speak against it and people would have benefitted from receiving treatment but that doesn’t mean that, in general, people would be better off without the medical community and professional doctors. Even though they can be wrong, the protection that comes from having them around is useful.

You may find that your particular professional doctor is not very good. He doesn’t stay up-to-date, he over-prescribes, you don’t agree with his medical philosophy, whatever. And you find that your aunt Betty, on the other hand, though she’s not formally trained in medicine, has lots of good, useful advice for you about your health. That doesn’t mean that you’d be better off relying on your aunt Betty and your own research for all your medical decisions: it just means that you need to find a new doctor, in addition to listening to your aunt Betty and doing your own research.

Does the analogy work for you?

There are lots of other issues that I chose not to get into like who gets to decide who gets to be a professional priest and what exactly does separating someone who makes a disturbance look like. But mostly what I wanted to share with you is my realization that everyone has something important to teach other people and that there still is a need for a professional priesthood. As I continue to work on my dissertation about the dynamics between clergy and laity I hope to gain a clearer picture of how laity and clergy can interact together in a healthy and supportive way where everyone can learn from each other and from the Word together.

I want to end with a cool passage from Apocalypse Explained that reminds us that really it is the Lord doing the teaching.
“‘One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors” (John 4:37-38) [means that] it is the Lord who teaches, thus who collects and gathers, and not themselves (for it was the Lord, by means of the angels, that is, by means of Divine truths from the Word, who prepared for reception those whom the disciples converted to the church). (911:16)


Unknown said...

The analogy with doctors worked for me.

Nancy said...

Malcolm, I found this very moving. :) Know your dissertation will be great; it sounds like you have been able to make the process of working on it personally meaningful, too. Can't ask for more than that!

Brian Donald Smith said...

I want to know whether priests should stick only to those tasks that are particular to them. Should a hospital MD run a childhood obesity awareness program in her community? Should priests be community builders and leaders as they are currently asked to be?

Anonymous said...

Add these to your list:

"You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you, but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. Whoever desires to be first among you shall be your bondservant, even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

- Matthew 20

In the eyes of Pharaoh's servants, and in the eyes of the people. That this signifies, with those who were in subordination there, is evident from the signification of "servants" and of "people," as being those who are subordinate; for by Pharaoh are represented the chief ones who infested, under whom the rest were subordinate. That the subordinate are signified is because among the evil as well as among the good, that is, in hell as in heaven, there is a form of government, that is, there is rule, and there is subordination, without which society would have no coherence. But the subordinations in heaven are wholly different from the subordinations in hell. In heaven all are like equals, for one loves another as brother loves brother; nevertheless one sets another before himself in proportion as he excels in intelligence and wisdom. The very love of good and truth causes everyone, as it were of himself, to subordinate himself to those who are superior to him in the wisdom of good and the intelligence of truth. But the subordinations in hell are those of despotic authority, and consequently of severity; for he who commands rages fiercely against those who do not favor all his commands; for everyone regards another as his enemy, although outwardly as a friend, for the sake of banding together against the violence of others. This banding together is like that of robbers. They who are subordinate continually aspire to rule, and also frequently break forth in revolt, and then the conditions there are lamentable, for then there are severities and cruelties and this takes place by alternations. From all this it can be seen how the case is with subordinations in the other life.

- AC 7773

5732. And he commanded him that was over his house, saying. That this signifies influx from himself, is evident from the signification of "commanding," as being influx (n. 5486); and from the signification of "him that was over his house," as being which communicated. That it was from himself, namely, from the internal celestial, which Joseph represents, is plain. That "to command" is influx, is because in heaven no one is commanded or ordered; but thought is communicated, and the other acts willingly in accordance therewith. Communication of thought together with a desire which wills that something be done, is influx, and on the part of the recipient is perception, and therefore by "commanding" is signified also perception (n. 3661, 3682).
[2] Moreover in heaven they not only think, but also talk together, but about things of wisdom; yet in their conversation there is nothing of command from one to another, for no one desires to be master and thereby to look upon another as a servant; but everyone desires to minister to and serve the others. From this it is plain what form of government there is in the heavens, which is described by the Lord in Matthew:
It shall not be so among you; but whosoever would become great among you should be your minister, and whosoever would be first should be your servant (Matt. 20:26, 27);
and again:
He that is greatest among you shall be your minister. Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled, and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted (Matt. 23:11, 12).
He does this who loves his neighbor from the heart, or who feels delight and blessedness in doing good to others for no selfish end; that is, who has charity toward the neighbor.

- AC 5732

Derrick said...


I like the analogy of the doctor. I think it holds in a lot of cases.

One of the things I have been pondering is the difference in function between "priest" and "prophet". Since I am currently pondering other things, I will give you some things to think about and maybe you will find a good answer for me.

Teaching is technically the prophet role. I couldn't find the passage, but I am sure it is there (yeah, yeah, yeah), that says at this day the priest and the prophet are rolled together.

Some questions: is that rolling together permanent? How does that fit with pastor? Are pastor, priest, and prophet all the same role? Can parts of these roles be delegated beyond the priesthood? If so, can all people perform them equally well?

May the Lord bless your work on your dissertation. I would love to talk to you/read your work when you get it all wrapped up.

Alethea said...

I certainly do think a priesthood dedicated to studying and figuring out how to apply the Word is essential to the Church, but I'm not sure I'd take it quite as far as the medical analogy. Though I see some value, there are two things I'd quibble with

1) In religion, SELF examination is crucial, and I certainly hope we're never going to have a ministerial inquisition into anyone's lives, whereas in medicine, diagnosis often requires a doctor's examination, because self examination is entirely insufficient. Yes, talking to a minister may help people sort out their thoughts and feelings, but it's more like a psychological counselor, not a medical doctor.

2) What we know about medicine is continually changing. That's why doctors have to read up on new experiments, new procedures and new diseases. What God said to mankind is not changing, we have the same set of books whether minister or lay. These books (unlike medical texts or research papers) can usually be understood by people with a reasonably good education. While it is certainly valuable to have paid professionals who are given the time to extensively study and analyze these works, it is critical that everyone devote study to the Word. And yes, if I had some terrible disease, I'd read up, to make sure I could adequately discuss my condition with my doctor, but ultimately, I'd probably trust my doctor(s). With the Word, I seriously doubt I'd take a ministers word for it (pardon the pun!). I would read it myself, talk to others, read other texts, etc.

So, while I think it's an ok analogy, perhaps a better analogy would by psychology. Because with psych, yes, professionals can help, and are better read, but in many cases, patients can and should be helping themselves as well. I worry that the medical doctor analogy has the possibility of far to broad an interpretation.
But perhaps I'm simply overanalyzing your analogy, and if so, I'm sorry!

Stephen Simons said...

Amen Annika!

You cannot delegate your spiritual health to anyone else because only you can live your own life. You have to know God's answers for yourself and discover His will for your own life in order to have an actually personal and saving relationship with the true God and eternal life, Jesus Christ.

Organizationally, Jesus was a priest after the order of Melchizedek, not after the order of Aaron. God's mission was to open direct, unmediated connections with every human being in creation. So any model for the priesthood that inserts a mediator between God and people is against His will.

The priesthood of all believers is not a removal of the priesthood, its a removal of the laity. The only "lay" people in Christianity are those who are not yet baptized, and so are not yet Christians. This is why the clergy are said to be inside the church and the laity outside it. The priesthood are all those who accept the rights and responsibilities of being members in the body of Christ, working to build His kingdom throughout the whole earth by living their faith in Him and sharing the good news of salvation available in a personal, unmediated relationship with the only God, Jesus Christ. In more theological terms, by living and providing the witness and testimony of Jesus Christ.

So, when you are considering what a "priest" is, consider the overwhelming collection of reprimands and warnings in scripture against those who, like the Aaronic priesthood and institutional leadership Jesus fought on earth, insert themselves between God and people, and claim for themselves either roles that properly belong to God or tasks that properly belong to people.

Take as just one example, the exposition of Jeremiah 51 found in The Apocalypse Revealed:

"The reason why they are said to have adulterated and profaned the truths of the Word, is, because they have applied the truths of the Word to obtaining dominion over the holy things of the church and heaven, and to claiming to themselves the Divine authority of the Lord; and to apply the truths of the Word to obtaining dominion over the holy things of the church and heaven, is to adulterate them; and to apply them to the purpose of claiming to themselves the Divine authority of the Lord, is to profane them. That they have confirmed their dogmas from the Word, is known. But read them with attention, and you will see that they applied all those things taken from the Word to obtaining dominion over the souls of men, and to acquiring to themselves Divine power, authority, and majesty. It is on this account that Babylon is called "the mother of whoredoms and the abominations of the earth""

(A point on this translation: "Dominion" just means "Control".)

So when looking at why the body of Christ would employ professionals to sustain its functions and facilitate its mission, consider this,

“A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward.” – Matthew 24

God doesn't want us to take control or stand in His place to represent Him as His vicars on earth. God commands us to administer, facilitate, support, and serve in His kingdom.

We aren’t the masters, we are His servants.

It's a level playing field, as seen in Revelation 5, when all believers together sang a new song with one voice to Jesus, saying,

"You are worthy to take the book, and to open its seals: for you were killed, and bought us for God with your blood, out of every tribe, language, people, and nation, and made us kings and priests to our God, and we will reign on earth."

Unknown said...

I have been a member of staff of the camp you refer to for many years. A "staff" person in this case is a person who participates in the process of preparing for the camp. A staff person is not greater than anyone else at the camp. A staff person is the best example of servanthood I have personally experienced. When the camp actually happens, however, it is as you experienced. ALL the people at the camp are part of the community building that happens. There is no obvious signs that any person is special, including the clergy. It is just that some have stepped up and prepared to lead. Those leaders are honored for their service. And anyone - including children - are called to the same level of service as any of the staff. Of course, the staff work hard all week to administer the operations of the camp. Only rarely have I seen any need for a "command." And it is always done by applying the truth in love. Much more needs to be said to fully describe the miracle happens every year. Suffice to say that your experience is exactly the experience we all have every year at camp BECAUSE of its design, which is that everyone is a servant. Even the name tags all look exactly alike (until the person decorates their own)! Thanks for your reflections. There is much food for thought in all the comments as well.