“But What of our Traditions?”
You may be finding you have some strong internal reactions as you work through these issues, especially if you’ve been raised in “traditional” churches, where the priesthood has been strictly limited to the man in charge of the congregation, who is in full-time service, and the only one authorised to sanctify the sacraments. It’s perfectly normal to be emotionally attached to our traditions, especially those of great antiquity.
However, remember what Jesus taught about our traditions:
Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? … by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.”1
This washing of hands was not to maintain hygiene, which, of course, we should do, but to enact a holy ritual which God had not commanded. In the same way, we are not to enact any holy rituals, i.e. sacraments, other than those He expressly commands, lest we too despise the word of God.
Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?”But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”2
Let’s not hold onto any plant which our Father did not plant lest we too be uprooted with it. Let’s also deal gently with anyone who’s not yet understood these issues, as we would anyone who is blind.
So, how are we to obey everything He does command us as royal priests, using bread and wine, water, oil, and our own hands?
1. Bread & Wine
Since Melchizedek is supposed to be our role model as a royal priest, what did he do? When he went to meet Abraham, at that time still called Abram, the Scriptures tell us:
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth…3
These were some of his “tools of the trade” but why these two elements? Firstly, because bread and wine were staples of their daily meals. Melchizedek was offering Abraham hospitality and, accordingly, his fellowship or communion over a meal. The simplicity of this beautiful concept is echoed in the 11th Century poetry of Omar Khayyam:
a loaf of bread, and a flask of wine, and thou… and Wilderness is Paradise now!4
Luke records that the whole Early Church were “devoted to the breaking of bread… (and going) from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart”.5 This breaking of bread was not ritualistic but a simple necessity because it preceded sliced bread!6 Every meal therefore began with breaking a large flat loaf into smaller pieces to be shared by all at the table. This in turn created a powerful illustration of Christian unity:
Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.7
Paul tells us the twin purposes of these “love feasts”, as they were called,8 were to partake in a communal meal9 and, “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup”, to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes”.10
The latter was because bread and wine foreshadowed Messiah Himself, as revealed by Jesus at the Last Supper, His last Passover.11 At the annual Feast of Passover, every year for 1,500 years, every one in every Jewish household was to have partaken of this evening meal of roast lamb with bitter herbs and unleavened bread,12 accompanied by the usual red wine. Jesus was revealing to His 1st Century disciples that this prophetic drama had been enacted throughout the 1,500 years to press home our desperate need, every single one of us, to partake of His sacrificial death on the cross.
Who was to officiate at the Passover? The head of every house13 and they were to extend their hospitality and this feast to all of their guests.14 We can also see this today at any Jewish family’s weekly Shabbat. Paul, therefore, explained to the Corinthians, and us, that we Gentiles are now included in this meal of God’s.15
In the same way, every Christian household should be learning how to offer our believing guests a “love feast”, serving as royal priests just as Melchizedek did to Abraham. It’s not hard. Whenever you have believers[ref] If you include unbelievers, just make sure they don’t partake as if they are believers 16 over for a meal, begin as He did:
And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”17
Then enjoy your meal together, as we know He did with the Twelve when they ate a whole roast lamb, with bread and wine.18 When you finish, finish as He did:
And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.19
This is really communing – you spend an hour or two relaxing with and getting to know your guests, ensuring that no one leaves hungry or drinks too much20. How much more satisfying is this than spending five or ten minutes eating a tiny wafer and a thimble of grape-juice alongside some people you may not have even met!
After the Lord Jesus was resurrected, He gave the Twelve their Great Commission:
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them… [and] teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…”21
Those new disciples were in turn to teach others to “go, make disciples, baptising them, and teaching them”, and so down through the ages to us. This was the hull of the original stately sailing ship as it set off from 1st Century Israel, down through the ages, through every nation, to us today.
However, we can easily miss that this command was given to us as priests.
Just as the Old Covenant’s Levitical priests were to wash the sacrifices of the Israelites,22 we who are New Covenant priests, royal priests of the order of Melchizedek, are to baptise new believers, washing away their sins as they call on His name.23 Of course, as Peter explains, the water is not to wash away outward dirt but symbolises “an appeal to God for a good conscience” as we trust in the resurrected Christ.24
Some worry that only apostles, bishops, or pastors (i.e. only ordained ministers) can baptise but the Scriptures are unequivocal – as long as we are ourselves disciples, we can baptise others. In fact, Jesus stopped baptising to ensure the disciples did it instead:
Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were)…25
Paul the great apostle was baptised by Ananias who was simply “a certain disciple” who lived in Damascus.26 Later, Paul also stopped baptising and insisted that his new converts baptised all the others so that they would follow Christ rather than Paul:
I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name.27
Of course, as we can see from above, we are also to teach or disciple those we baptise, so we must have a good idea of what is involved and be committed to follow up on their initial decision.
Many believe that the sacrament of anointing with oil is for the dying in order that they might receive some last-minute grace in this way. They call it “Extreme Unction” (i.e. final anointing) or Last Rites, and their priests are to use only oil “specially blessed by the bishop”.28
Some base the idea on Mary’s anointing of Jesus before He died. However, Jesus said that her action, six days before His crucifixion, was actually prophesying His death29 whereas the disciples were to anoint the sick with oil while praying for them to be miraculously healed! Read for yourself:
They went out and preached that men should repent. And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them.30
Several years ago, I met a young woman who had been spectacularly healed after being anointed with oil at a charismatic Catholic meeting. A very gifted violinist, she had had her left hand badly crushed in an accident that had ended her performing career. Happily, the priest believed the Scriptures and even her surgeon acknowledged her healing as miraculous because the scars of her many operations had disappeared.
Later, on NZ’s National Radio, the priest was asked to explain how it happened and he quoted the promises of Jesus that “these signs will accompany those who have believed”, that if “they will lay hands on the sick, they will recover”.31 When questioned further, he added that these promises were made to all believers, not just to those in ministry.
Notice, if “these signs will accompany those who have believed”, only believers, i.e. disciples, qualify but similarly, all disciples do. The olive oil has no intrinsic or magical qualities but is a symbol of the Holy Spirit descending32 so anointing is only to visibly acknowledge His invisible work. If He doesn’t act, no amount of oil will do it.
4. Our Hands
In both ancient Israel and the Early Church, people were often blessed while hands were laid on them. For example, when Jacob/Israel first met Joseph’s two children:
Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” So he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them”… [And] Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, …and his left hand on Manasseh’s head.33
Likewise when some parents brought their children to Jesus:
Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray…34
This is because touch is a means of empathising or identifying with someone, to bless, or even to impart the Holy Spirit to someone. When Peter healed the lame beggar lying beside the Beautiful Gate of the temple, he said:
“I do not have silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk!” Then Peter seized the man by his right hand and raised him up, completely healed.35
Peter blessed him with healing, by speaking and lifting him up. Later, Peter and John prayed for some Samaritans who had just become believers:
Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit… [because] the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands”36
This then led to the misunderstanding that only apostles, or bishops which some think are their modern-day equivalent, can bestow the Spirit in this way, hence the church tradition of “confirmation” services. However, every one of us who belong to the royal priesthood is to bless and impart the Holy Spirit because we can. Paul was not only baptised by an ordinary disciple, Ananias, but also received his eyesight back and was filled with the Holy Spirit when Ananias laid hands on him.37
Returning to Melchizedek, the original royal priest, as we saw earlier, he blessed Abraham in the name of the Lord.38 We too should bless one another. How? One example can be seen in God’s command to Aaron and his sons as the Levitical high priests to bless the people of Israel, saying:
The Lord bless you, and keep you; The Lord make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you The Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.
“So,” the Lord adds, “they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then shall bless them”.39
So royal priests, let’s pray for the sick to be healed, for others to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and to bless one another in the name of Jesus.
- Matt 15:1-3, 6
- Matt 15:12-14
- Gen 14:18-19
- The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, p. 17, Fitzgerald’s translation
- Acts 2:42 & 46
- What was the best thing before sliced bread?!
- 1 Cor 10:17
- Jude 12
- 1 Cor 11:33
- 1 Cor 11:26
- Luke 22:19-20
- Exodus 12:8, 21-28
- Ex 12:3
- Ex 12:47-40
- 1 Cor 5:7-8, 11:23-34
- (1 Cor 11:26-29)
- Luke 22:19
- Luke 22:15-16
- Luke 24:30
- 1 Cor 11:21
- Matt 28:19-20
- Lev 1:9
- Acts 22:16
- 1 Pet 3:21
- John 4:1-2
- Acts 9:10
- 1 Cor 1:14-15
- John 12:7 & 19:40
- Mark 6:13, James 5:14
- Mark 16:17-18
- Psa 133 cf Eph 4:3
- Gen 48:9 & 14
- Matt 19:13
- Acts 3:6-7
- Acts 8:14-18
- Acts 10:17
- Gen 14:19
- Num 6:23-27