Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Book Write-Up: Representing Christ
Uche Anizor and Hank Voss. Representing Christ: A Vision for the Priesthood of All Believers. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. See here to purchase the book.
In Representing Christ: A Vision for the Priesthood of All Believers, Uche Anizor and Hank Voss explore the concept of the priesthood of all believers. This concept states that all Christians are priests, including those who are not in the clergy. It is held by many Protestants, but Anizor and Voss state that even Roman Catholicism has a notion that laypeople are priests, on some level.
Anizor and Voss contend that the priesthood of believers is a biblical concept. They go back to Adam and Eve, who functioned as priests in Eden and had the responsibility of spreading God’s glorious reign throughout the earth. Humans, in short, have a priestly responsibility. Anizor and Voss refer to ancient Israel, which is called a priesthood in the Torah; all of the Israelites were priests, in some sense, even those who were not officially holding an office. Anizor and Voss contend that Jesus functioned as a priest, even in the synoptic Gospels, and they maintain that his followers in the New Testament have a priestly task as well. For Anizor and Voss, the priestly task for God’s people throughout the Bible includes worshiping God and teaching others about God.
Anizor and Voss trace the separation between the clergy and the laity in Christian history. Clergy-people in the New Testament are never called priests but often have other titles, such as bishops. Some of the church fathers move in the direction of treating the clergy as if it had a priestly task, similar to the official priesthood of Old Testament Israel, but the entire congregation still had responsibilities and authority in the conduct of the church. Anizor and Voss argue that the separation between clergy and laity occurred in fuller force due to the influence of Cyprian bishop of Carthage in the third century C.E. There was a desire for church unity for the sake of continuity, and Cyprian believed that an official authority structure within the church could help guarantee that. Cyrpian advocated giving the clergy more power, and he drew from the political structures of ancient Rome as a pattern for what the church should be like.
While Roman Catholicism believes that believers are priests, on some level, Anizor and Voss note that there were times in history when the Roman Catholic church inhibited believers from functioning as priests. Many believers could not read the Bible, for example. Martin Luther would proclaim the priesthood of believers as part of the Protestant Reformation.
Anizor and Voss attempt to dispel misconceptions about the priesthood of all believers. Against the notion that it means that believers can do their own thing, for example, Anizor and Voss hold that the priesthood of believers entails being part of the body of Christ, the church. It includes service and edification of people inside of the church and outside of it. Anizor and Voss also discuss how the concept of the priesthood of believers can be applied to the ways that Christians understand, approach, and interact with the sacraments and Christian disciplines.
The book is worth reading on account of its biblical defense of the priesthood of believers and its exploration of church history on this topic. It gets into specifics as it looks at Christian thought, especially when it describes what Martin Luther meant when he referred to the priesthood of believers. Those interested in a profound look at the Bible will enjoy this book, as will people who are interested in church history, as long as they remember that Roman Catholic perspectives are probably different from that of this book.
Some of the book’s biblical interpretation is not based on what is explicitly in the text, but perhaps it is implicit in the biblical text, or it is a legitimate conclusion that can be drawn from biblical passages. Some of the arguments in the book are stronger than others. Saying that Jesus is depicted as a teacher in the synoptic Gospels and that priests are teachers is not a strong argument that the synoptic Gospels depict Jesus as a priest. Comparing Jesus’ baptism with the washing of priests in the Torah may have some merit, but it is not explicit in the biblical text. Jesus’ claim in Matthew 12:6 to be greater than the Temple, however, may point in the direction of Jesus being depicted as a priest in the Gospel of Matthew.
The book was not always specific in offering practical steps that Christians can take to implement what it is saying. But it does offer a compelling and a beautiful vision of what church and Christians should be about, and it does so with elegance. This book is an edifying read.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.