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Christian Faculty: Members of a Dual Priesthood—Challenges & Opportunities, Part 1

{This will be a two-part post, adapted from a topical Bible Study I led at the UT faculty group.}

Granted, the title is sufficiently provocative that I need to make the argument we do hold a dual priesthood before we can move on to the challenges and opportunities. I’ll start with the simpler one—that all Christians are priests, but first, what is a priest? Webster (who else?) says a priest is “one authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion especially as a mediatory agent between humans and God.” Incidentally, the origin comes from the Latin “presbyter”.

St. Peter said in his first epistle, “but you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Then the Revelator, John, records the new song of the elders in heaven, saying, “you have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." Other relevant passages include Exodus 19:5-6, I Peter 2:4-8, Revelation 1:4-6, 5:6-10, and many passages in the Epistle to the Hebrews. I realize that different denominations have slightly different theological views on this topic, so I’m not trying to be sectarian here, just illustrate several passages in Scripture that seem to point to a general theme that Christ removed the barriers between humans and God, and made all believers intermediaries between a fallen world and God.

The second priesthood is that of the academic priesthood. I don’t have any Scriptures, just my observations. Throughout history, most scholars in most cultures have been members of some religious (and usually priestly) order. Their studies were viewed as a means of understanding their faith better and passing it on to new generations. Therefore many academic traditions mirror closely monastic/seminary traditions:  stages of progression in knowledge; beautiful and/or reclusive centers of study; and robes/accoutrements. As academic pursuits became divorced from their monastic routes (beginning mainly during the Renaissance and accelerating through the Enlightenment), knowledge became an end unto itself, progressing to a level of devotion equal in passion to that of serving a deity. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to attribute priesthood status to academic faculty. This is made most striking when looking at pretty much any news show, where whenever an issue is discussed, the two basic classes from which ‘experts’ are drawn are the political and academic classes. In short, when our culture is in need of guidance, we look to politics and academics, much as other cultures would consult the politicians and priests. Our culture has made a de facto declaration of priesthood, though its secular nature forbids that phraseology.

If you accept my premises, the question that arises:  are these orders necessarily in conflict? What does Scripture say? Jesus remarked, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13) Daniel (Daniel 1:1-10), Joseph (Genesis 37, 39-47), and even Moses (Exodus 2:10-15) can be ancient analogues of modern academics who struggled between loyalty to God and the secular/pagan authoritarian roles they had. Peter doesn’t make it any easier when he instructs us to submit to earthly authorities. (I Peter 2:13-25) So far, it seems like a bleak picture.

So, how do we handle it when the academic order makes demands inconsistent with our faith? Log in tomorrow, true believers…


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