Tag Archives: Mormonism

Assuming the Role of Priest


In the 5th chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, the author enters into the great theme of Jesus as High Priest. Having alluded to it in several verses prior (most notably 1:3, 2:17, 3:1, 4:16), his attention is now focused near-exclusively on this and it begins with an overview of the Levitical-Aaronic priesthood. The first four verses of the chapter set the tone for what will follow:

“For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3 Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.” Heb. 5:1-4

The author’s intention here is not a full-scale review of the Old Covenant priesthood, but instead to serve as a baseline for a priesthood ordained by God for the purpose of comparison and contrast with the Priesthood of Christ. Here we may observe several qualifications and duties of the Aaronic priests. First we see that every high priest is chosen and appointed by God. We’ll pick up on this again later, but for now let’s note the background for this concept of familial priesthood in Exodus 28 & 29, “Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests…” Ex. 28:1.

Next, we see that their appointment was from among men. No angelic being would suffice in the representation of men to God. The reason, as we see in verse 3, is that, “he can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.” These statements will serve as a point of comparison and contrast along with providing further basis for the incarnation of Christ, namely that He had to be made a man in order to represent them to God; likewise He had to remain God in order to represent Him to man. The two divergent streams of God and man are brought together in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore the perfect Mediator, our Great High Priest, can only be the God-Man Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5).

Returning our focus to the Aaronic priesthood we see that in their role on behalf of men and in relation to God that they offered gifts and sacrifices to Him, first for their own sins, then for their family, and then for the sins of the people (Israel). This statement finds its basis in Leviticus 16 which is largely in mind as Hebrews reviews the Old Covenant priesthood. This verse (5:3) informs us that the fundamental weakness and chief insufficiency of the Aaronic priesthood was that the priests themselves were sinners. How can a sinner effectively represent other sinners before an all-holy God? Simply put, they can’t. Therefore a greater Mediator is needed, one who is not beset with sin and does not half to make atonement for His own sins first. The office of priest under the Old Covenant was always pointing forward to a better priesthood, with better sacrifices, and a better Mediator.

Summarizing thus far we see that the Aaronic priesthood was by way of an appointment from God, chosen from among men, sacrificed not only for the people, but for themselves because of their own sin.

In verse 4, we return our attention to the appointment of the priesthood by God Himself, “no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.” Note how this verse forms the frame with verse 1 to highlight the significance of the author’s point, namely that the priesthood must be by way of appointment or calling from God. This is an extremely important point given the understanding of the priesthood in our modern vernacular. Today we have priests in Catholicism, some forms of Orthodox Christianity (Eastern, Greek, Russian, etc.), Anglican, Episcopalian, and even Mormons all holding to some office of priesthood, though among these the most visible is the papacy of Catholicism. Each of these, and most notably the Catholic office of priest, has assumed their role. The priesthood which Christ is being compared and contrasted with above, namely that of Aaron, was clearly established by God. He called and appointed each man to the role of high priest, yet today we have men in modern time claiming their role as priest. What are we to make of that?

Thankfully, the Bible is not silent concerning man’s self-elevation into the office of priest apart from the Divine appointment by God. In Numbers 16 we get our first example. Here God’s Word informs us that Korah, along with several other men, stood up against the leadership of Moses with the following bold statement, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” Num. 16:3 Korah had a fundamental problem with God’s establishment of leaders and roles within the nation of Israel, specifically the Aaronic priesthood. He, and the men with him, were expressing dissatisfaction with their own role and lot that God in His divine providence had allowed them. If God had so chosen, they would have been worthy only to collect the cattle dung from the Israelite animals, but in His grace even they were given a more noble position. Note Moses’ response,

Hear now, you sons of Levi: 9is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, 10and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also?” Num. 16:8-10

As we read in verse 1, Korah was from the tribe of Levi, those chosen to minister to God and serve Him in the tabernacle. However, from within the tribe of Levi was the family of Aaron, those who were specifically chosen to serve as high priest. It’s not difficult to see then that source of Korah’s discontentment and the basis for Moses’ response. As the chapter continues to detail the unfolding rebellion of Korah and the other men we find them burning incense (a priestly function) before the Lord at His command. In essence, God granted them the desire of their hearts or we might say He allowed their discontentment to go unchecked. Ultimately God judges Korah and those participating in the rebellion in a most public and terrifying way,

“And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34 And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up!” 35 And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men offering the incense.” Num. 16:32-35

And later in the chapter we are given the reason for this public display of God’s judgment as the men’s censors that contained the incense were hammered into a covering for the altar,

“to be a reminder to the people of Israel, so that no outsider, who is not of the descendants of Aaron, should draw near to burn incense before the Lord, lest he become like Korah and his company.” Num. 16:40

A second example of assuming the role of priesthood without the divine appointment from God comes by way of King Saul 1 Samuel 13:8-10

“He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. So Saul said, ‘Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.’ And he offered the burnt offering. As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him.”

Here we find King Saul’s intrusion into the office of priest as he fails to wait for the arrival of Samuel and assumes for himself the role of priest in making burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. Upon Samuel’s arrival, he rebukes Saul for his disobedience of the Lord’s commandments (1 Samuel 13:13) and alerts him of God’s forthcoming punishment to strip the kingdom from him.

“But now your kingdom shall not continue…because you have not kept what the Lord has commanded you.” 1 Samuel 13:14

Finally, our third example of man assuming the role of priest apart from the divine appointment from God is found in the actions of King Uzziah again providing for us a witness of God’s attitude towards those who would attempt to undermine the authority of God’s commandments in establishing a particular lineage of priests.

“But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the Lord who were men of valor, and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, ‘It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn inces to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the Lord God.’ Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the Lord, by the altar of incense.” 2 Chronicles 26:16-19

Swallowed by the ground, deposed as king, and succumbing to leprosy are all realized consequences of assuming the role of priest, of the Aaronic order, when one has not been called and appointed by God. Following the author of Hebrews argument from the lesser to the greater, we may ask given our examples of those who assumed the priesthood under the Old Covenant, how much worse of an offense is it to those who assume the priesthood under the New Covenant now that Christ has fulfilled the priesthood in a far superior way.

How much greater of an offense is it to the person and finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ for a man to assume the role of Christ in acting on behalf of men in relation to God? Simply stated, it’s blasphemous! The office of priest in Catholicism, which includes the papacy, let alone those others mentioned previously, is nothing less than a blasphemous impersonation of the great High Priesthood in which Christ alone now resides. He alone is qualified to hold this position because of His incarnation, sinless life, sacrificial death, glorious resurrection, and exaltation at the right hand of the Father. How dare anyone attempt to usurp His authority and assume the role for themselves!

Every religion or so called denomination that puts a man into the office of priest for the purpose of acting as mediator between God and man undermines the authority, dignity, and majesty of Christ’s Priesthood, for which He has suffered, bled, and died for. Granting validity to this office by participating with, being accomplice to, or residing under the ministry of their intrusion is equivalent to blaspheming the name of Christ, for His name is synonymous with Great High Priest.

As we will see in the next section of verses, not just any old priest will do. We must have one of divine appointment, Christ Jesus alone.

Solus Christus!

Post script: 2 additional points must at least be mentioned in regards to this post. 1) Christ’s priesthood is of the order of Melchizedek, a superior priesthood to that of the Old Covenant; bearing in mind that the Old Covenant has reached its fulfillment in Christ.  This includes the sacrificial system and Aaronic priesthood  2) 1 Peter 2:5 establishes the preisthood of every believer in the true Israel sense, not intending to usurp Christ’s role as High Priest much the same way that Exodus 19:5 intended the statement for the nation of Israel, but certainly held the office of Aaron in higher regard.  This is no way means that those priests mentioned above are attempting to fulfill the role mentioned by Peter, instead in every way they are attempting to fulfill the role established by Christ.

Politics, Christianity, and Joseph Smith

Just over a year ago, I published a blog post that discussed in detail the beliefs of then Fox TV host Glenn Beck, namely his Mormon faith, as it related to Christianity.  In that article I discussed how despite Beck’s efforts to blur the lines between his faith and Christianity, even being endorsed as commencement speaker of Liberty University, the two religions are very different.  Confusion arises primarily because Mormons like to use the same words from the Bible, i.e. Jesus, salvation, justification by faith, etc., but instead of orthodox meanings Mormons twist and distort their biblical meanings.  For example, you may have heard Glenn Beck refer to Jesus and he may even mention His death on the cross, but digging a bit deeper into Mormon beliefs we see that it’s a different Jesus altogether and their belief in Him is not through faith alone, but instead faith + works (see articles below).  In that article, I took a lot of heat, mainly because unbeknownst to me several major publications picked up the following quote I made with regards to Beck and Liberty University:

“Alliances such as these are not glorifying to God, in that what association has God with false religions?  The tangential dangers when the evangelical community unites with the secular world for the sake of social or political agendas are numerous because it leads to a dilution of truths from the Word of God, opens the door to give credence to non-believers within evangelical circles and ultimately leads to the eternal destruction of lost people.” (see ChristianPost.com link for context )

Well here we are a year later with 2 presidential candidates (Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman) who are Mormons and recently an outspoken pastor, affiliated with presidential candidate Rick Perry, has received criticism for publicly stating Mormonism is not Christianity, but is instead a cult and has traditionally been thought of as such by Protestants.  Predictably, this has started a media firestorm and once again thrusts Christianity into the spotlight. 

In her USAToday pieceCathy Lynn Grossman asks, “Is it Christian vs. Christian now in the GOP primary race?”  Alluding to Mitt Romney vs. Rick Perry (questions certainly arise over Perry’s dominionist Christian beliefs, but that for another day).   What’s fascinating in Grossman’s article is that a Mormon quoted in the article distances his beliefs from that of Christianity, but then asserts “we use the same Bible.” The quote, by Mormon spokesman Michael Otterson, says the following, “It is perfectly true that Mormons do not embrace many of the orthodoxies of mainstream Christianity, including the nature of the Trinity. It is not true that Mormons do not draw their beliefs from the same Bible.”  Note here that Otterson says Mormons draw their beliefs from the same Bible as Christians, but do not embrace the nature of the Trinity. 

Friends, if you’ve got a different Trinity other than that described from the Bible as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one in which all three are equally God yet distinct in person and one in which the Son, fully God, took on human flesh becoming fully man lived sinless as the God-Man, died on the cross for sinners, and was raised again on the 3rd day then simply put you’ve got a different Trinity, a different god, and you’ve got a false religion.  Is that narrow and exclusive?  Absolutely, but remember Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No man comes unto the Father but by me.” John 14:6  There is but one way to salvation and that’s through Jesus Christ, His personhood and work on the cross being defined by Scripture alone, not any additional books/thoughts.

Despite this, the public debate seems to be centered not on the differences between orthodox Christianity and Mormonism, but instead on whether the word “cult” can be applied to Mormonism, as Perry’s pastor Jeffress declared.  In his article, Ed Stetzer attempts to address this question, but leaves us with additional questions and the definition of a cult being “understood as a religious group with strange beliefs out of the cultural mainstream (which many today increasingly consider biblical Christianity).”  But, “Is Mormonism a cult?” even the right question to be asking?  Let’s not be so quick to dismiss the differences between Christianity and Mormonism, as it is in fact antithetical to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ (as Stetzer points out) and as such blasphemes the name of the Lord God Almighty and leads many people astray, ultimately to hell.  The crux of the issue is a lack of clearly defined terms, in the minds of so many, between Christianity and false religions such as Mormonism, not whether or not it meets the requirements to be classified as a cult. 

Largely ignoring this, and muddying the waters further is Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in his CNN.com religion blog.  In his article, Mouw, does similar work as Stetzer (though admittedly the latter clearly defines theological differences) in that the question of Mormonism as a cult is his focal point.  Again, he is arguing from the wrong presupposition.  The question cannot be reduced to “Is Mormonism a cult?” and if it’s not then it’s ok.  The central question must remain, “Is Mormonism, Christianity, or is it not?”  To this Mouw begins to systematically defend Mormonism and while he admits he won’t go so far as to “reclassify Mormonism as possessing undeniably Christian theology, I do accept many of my Mormon friends as genuine followers of the Jesus whom I worship as the divine Savior.”

Shockingly, Mouw follows up that statement with this one:

“I find Mormons to be more Christ-centered than they have been in the past. I recently showed a video to my evangelical Fuller Seminary students of Mormon Elder Jeffrey Holland, one of the Twelve Apostles who help lead the LDS church. The video captures Holland speaking to thousands of Mormons about Christ’s death on the cross.  Several of my students remarked that if they had not known that he was a Mormon leader they would have guessed that he was an evangelical preacher.”

With this statement we return front and center to the post I alluded to at the beginning of this one, where I mentioned the primary difference between Mormonism and Christianity resides in terminology and the necessity of defining the terms on which we are speaking.  Here, Mouw asserts Mormons are “more Christ-centered” than in the past, but he fails to understand that this Mormon Christ is not the same biblical, Son of God.

Interestingly, James White of www.aomin.org , a Fuller Theological Seminary graduate and Christian apologist in the video below systematically refutes the terms thrown out by the very same Mormon Apostle, Jeffrey Holland, that Richard Mouw showed his students (perhaps even the same video).

For a more thorough overview of Mormon beliefs, see the post by Kevin DeYoung here: Mormonism 101 and James White’s work here: Mormonism

So what’s a Christian to do and how does this relate to who a Christian votes for?  Are we to not vote a person for the presidency because of differing religious views?  First and foremost, a Christian’s duty is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and this sometimes means refuting those false gospels.  We must make clear the Gospel and if this means we are to clarify what the Bible says as opposed to what false religions and unbelievers think it says, then so be it.  But we must do so with grace and truth.  Secondly, as to politics, Al Mohler’s article on this very issue offers the following conclusions:

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Evangelicals stating a desire to vote for candidates for public office who most closely identify with our own beliefs and worldview. Given the importance of the issues at stake and the central role of worldview in the framing of political positions and policies, this intuition is both understandable and right. Likewise, we would naturally expect that adherents of other worldviews would also gravitate in political support to candidates who most fully share their own worldviews.

At the same time, competence for public office is also an important Christian concern, as is made clear in Romans 13. Christians, along with the general public, are not well served by political leaders who, though identifying as Christians, are incompetent….

Furthermore, Christians in other lands and in other political contexts have had to think through these questions, sometimes under urgent and difficult circumstances. Christian citizens of Turkey, for example, must choose among Muslim candidates and parties when voting. Voters in many western states in the United States often have to choose among Mormon candidates. They vote for a Mormon or they do not vote at all.

None of this settles the question of whom Evangelicals should support in the 2012 presidential race. Beyond this, those who support any one candidate for the Republican nomination must, if truly committed to electing a president who most shares their worldview and policy concerns, end up supporting the candidate in the general election who fits that description.”

Summarizing, what’s at stake here is not simply a voter declaring, “I’m voting for a president and not a pastor,” but instead it’s the fundamental misunderstanding between Mormonism and Christianity and this has a great potential to lead people astray, while simultaneously watering down the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ through inclusivity.  Our political decisions take a back seat to the clarity and proclamation of the Gospel, but we must, as Mohler summated, be wise as Christians to vote for a competent candidate that most shares our worldview and policy concerns. 

As Christians, we cannot afford to simply bury our heads in the sand when it comes to understanding the religious beliefs of others, especially when they seek our vote for the most powerful political office in the world.  In the coming election season, we’ll be engulfed with political ads, propaganda, debates, etc.  This will likely spill over into our conversations at work or around the dinner table, but instead of the usual polarizing discussions of Republican vs. Democrat, maybe, just maybe it could be an opportunity to explain the true Gospel of Christ, for it alone “is the power of God unto salvation.” Romans 1:16

For more on Mormonism, see the posts below, especially the comment section where I interact with a commenter who has been teaching Mormonism for the last 20 years: