Jesus Did Not Have Altar Ministry
11 ¶ If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood,
(for under it the people received the law,) what further need
was there that another priest should rise after the order
of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?
12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.
13 For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar.
14 For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.
15 And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest,
16 Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. (Hebrews 7:11-16)
The conversation in the book of Hebrews is speaking in these chapters about the differences between the new covenant and the old. Specifically it is speaking of the new priesthood the new covenant brings.
What does this have to do with the church of today?
Much more than you might think!
The fact is that tradition has handed us a very wrong idea of what "ministry" is. It's purposes and rules have been terribly convoluted by Dark Ages kings and Roman emperors and Popes and wise men and scholars who were paid handsomely to reenforce the system of human government which the "church " became hundreds of years ago.
So let's just think about one point, which is spoken of here in Hebrews 7.
Jesus' ministry was not an "altar ministry"
Is this true?
Well certainly it is!
Read the Gospels! Jesus did His ministry in the streets. He was sent by God to bring the Gospel to the poor, to heal and deliver those in need (Luke 4:18-19, etc.). Yes, He did teach large groups of people occasionally, but often this was done in the countryside. Did He teach in the temple? Yes, this was something that even the supposedly very strict Pharisees allowed, since they knew that a prophet could arise from any of the tribes of Israel.
But He did not "attend the altar"
Jesus was not a Levite. He was not born to the priestly tribe of Israel, He did not collect and live of the tithes and offerings. He did not operate the house of God/sanctuary. He did not exercise authority over the congregation.
These were the things that the Levites did, the priests.
We know that Jesus spoke some disdainful words toward the Pharisees, priests and scribes. Tradition teaches that He was simply faulting those particular leaders of that day and age. I believe He was speaking and demonstrating the new covenant, a new priesthood and the fact that the priesthood of the earthly altar (the Pharisees "sat in the seat of Moses") would be "annulled" in the new covenant. Isn't this exactly what is being said in this area of Hebrews?
Now let's step back and look at the church of today.
Do we have "altar ministry"?
Sure looks like it to me!!
It seems to me that the biggest, most important act of the demonstration of Christianity always comes from an altar. From someone called a pastor/priest. The leadership of the church is placed in the hands of this position. The money management and the people management and the operation of the "house of God"--isn't it all placed in the hands of someone who "ministers on the altar"?
Yet, isn't Hebrews saying here that altar ministry is done away with in the new covenant? In favor of a new type of ministry...the ministry that Jesus demonstrated.
Jesus worked in a small group of equals, did all that the Father commanded Him (in other words, the Leader was not physically present), and focused on the Gospel as His purpose.
This was Jesus' ministry, and it certainly was not on an altar.
Which is exactly what Hebrews is saying here.
Why do we have such strong "altar ministry" within the church today? Well, not because we have wicked evil leaders today--not at all--we just have leaders who do not study their own past, and in fact become leaders by NOT questioning certain things. The good pastors of today pray and ask God for a sermon each Sunday, and pray as to how they should conduct all the affairs of the church. They pray and ask which songs to sing and how they can encourage and help their congregation.
Do they ever pray IF we ought to have a Sunday service?
Do they ever pray IF they should preach a sermon?
Do they ever pray IF songs should be sung?
Do they ever pray IF they should be collecting tithes and offerings?
Do they ever pray IF they are meant by God to have authority over the congregation?
Yes we do have a very very strong tradition of "altar ministry" despite what the book of Hebrews says (and in spite of Jesus' own demonstration of ministry)---but do we even consider what we might be missing?
I believe what we are missing in the church is Jesus' ministry.
We are missing the "non-altar ministry" that Jesus had.
We are missing the apostleship He worked in.
The early church, in the times of the Bible, met in small groups of equals, everyone could speak/teach/prophecy/minister (1Peter 2:, 2:9 says all the church is meant to be a priesthood). And the highest purpose of the meeting was to further the Gospel. Look in the Bible. It is difficult to find a meeting of Christians which did not lead to the direct witnessing of the Gospel.
This certainly was NOT altar ministry!
They were NOT building buildings and operating through ritual.
They were meeting together on a daily basis (easy to do that in small groups!) and asking God to lead them in all they did.
What if we gave that a try?