Several passages in the New Testament have lists of roles played by people within the Church. Passages like Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 or Ephesians 4 would be just a few examples. But search all you want, there are two positions you will not find listed as part of the Church: king and priest. Both of these are significant.
Israel did not start out with a king. As you might recall, God wanted to be their King but the people wanted an earthly king. From 1 Samuel 8:4-9:
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, "You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations." 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to govern us." Samuel prayed to the LORD, 7 and the LORD said to Samuel, "Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. 9 Now then, listen to their voice; only -- you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them." (NRSV)
The Israelites got what they wanted and it wasn’t pretty. With Jesus Christ and Pentecost, there was no longer need for a king because, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus could reign in the hearts of women and men anywhere and everywhere.
The priestly caste was established by God to offer sacrifices, to teach the people the ways of God and to mediate between God and the people. However, at Jesus’ crucifixion, the curtain that hid the Holy of Holies was ripped in two. The ultimate sacrifice, that all previous sacrifices had prefigured, was made. There was no longer a need to offer sacrifices in worship before God. There was no longer a need for mediators between God and humanity, since each person now had access to Jesus. The earthly hierarchy of a select few interceding on behalf of the rest of the people ended.
I mentioned the idea of munus triplex in my previous post, which teaches that the anointed offices of priest, prophet and king have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We have already seen that the need for human beings who are anointed to the hierarchical positions of king and priest has passed. But what about the prophets? Ephesians 4 mentions “prophet” as one of the gifts that God gives to the church and there are mentions of prophets and prophecy throughout the New Testament.
Prophets are often thought of as people who tell about the future. While that is sometimes the case, it would be more accurate to say that they “tell forth” the purpose’s of God in concrete situations, drawing people to God and calling people to repentance. In the Old Testament, God selected certain individuals and anointed them to be his prophetic messengers. However, because everyone now has direct access to God, there is no longer a need for select people whose role is to be the oracle for everyone else. Paul makes clear in his letter to the Corinthians that the gift of prophecy could fall upon anyone the Holy Spirit chooses. It is entirely possible that some individuals will more frequently be tapped as the mouthpiece for God’s prophetic message but they are not prophets in the Old Testament sense of the word. Prophetic knowledge is open to all through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
One way to look at the post-Pentecost era is to say that there are no longer priests, prophets and kings among the people of God. Another way might be to say the every believer is a priest, prophet and king. I think the more accurate picture painted by Paul is that Jesus is the priest, prophet and king, and because we are joined to him as his body, we engage in priestly, prophetic and kingly functions on his behalf. Baptism is our anointing into the priestly, prophetic and kingly functions we are each called to. There is no other anointing, not even to “the ministry!” So what is the nature of these functions?
The priestly function – We minister through corporate worship as we come before God’s as a community and offer “sacrifices” of praise. We confess and our sins to each other and offer absolution based on God’s promise. We pronounce blessings over one another. We offer prayers of intercession not only for one another but for those outside the community as well.
The prophetic function – We disillusion each other and those out side our community from the illusions that ensnare us. We speak out against injustice and expose it. We discern the vision of God and speak it aloud, calling people to that vision through faithful obedience and action.
The kingly function – We organize and employ the material and human resources entrusted to us toward godly ends including the provision of sustenance for ourselves and others. We exercise dominion over our own wandering cravings and desires. We nurture and provide for children, raising them up to become eikons of God. We make ourselves available for service in the pursuit of an orderly and just society.
All of these are the work of all the baptized as the body of Christ, according to the gifts and circumstances God has given them. Most of this work is done as the diaspora not as the ecclesia. This is how Christ “the anointed one” has chosen to fulfill his role of priest, prophet and king in the world.