If he had said so a few years ago, I would’ve smiled and nodded. Today, however, I blinked, smiled sweetly and asked my friend to explain.
Bart (not his real name) was telling me about his role as “family priest.” I told him why I disagreed. Now, I like Bart. He’s a well-spoken, gregarious fifty-something with ten kids and five grand kids. We’ve worked together on various projects and ministry events, primarily at the local Christian camp. Bart’s an engaging, amiable guy and although I like him personally, our paths diverge on the issue of gender roles like the Rift Valley splits East Africa. “Family priest” was a case in point. (If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, Google “family priest.” That’s okay. I’ll wait.)
What is a “priest”? The basic definition is: “A person authorized to perform and administer religious rites as an intermediary between the people and God.” This definition goes hand-in-glove with Sac·er·do·tal·ism, the belief that priests act as mediators between God and human beings.
There are variations on the “family priest” theme. Advocates typically base their argument(s) in the Old Testament, citing Melchizidek, Eleazar and so on. Without rehashing the concept en toto, it’s essentially rooted in the husband-as-head and authority view of gender roles based on a hierarchical ordering of relationships. Entire books have been written on this subject. In a nutshell, the “family priest” adherents that I’ve encountered advocate the following…
“There is no doubt about the priestly role of the wife in a family (specifically for the children), but the husband becomes the ‘Chief Priest’ (or High Priest as Christ was). The wife becomes the secondary authority over the children.”
Notice the word “secondary” in reference to the wife. If theirs is a “secondary” priesthood as suggested above, doesn’t that make it limited “priesthood,” or not as fully functional as a man’s? Why? (Incidentally, the “family priest” concept is also found in Mormonism, Zen, and Hinduism.)
The concept is discussed further in ‘Kenosis Communications’ as per the following (My comments appear in italics):
- First mention of the word “priest” is used in reference to Melchizedek. But Cf. Cain and Abel functioning as their own priests. How can children such as Cain and Abel function “as their own priests” when this role is supposedly restricted to fathers/husbands?
- The Jews had the office of the priests. Other Nations also did, cf. Egyptians and Midianites Why would Christian homes replicate a model embraced by pagan cultures?
- But before that every family had the function of the priest. – The Father or the Patriarch of the family. (Where is this written?)
- Fathers were priests before the Levitical system. (Why, oh why, would a NT Christian return to the Levitical system? Check out Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia.)
- Now each believer is a priest (1Pet 2:9; Rev 1:6), but the fathers, who know the Lord still have a priestly function to perform within the family. How can this “but” be? Either “each believer is a priest” or he/she is not. In the passage from Peter cited, “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 (I Peter 2:9, NIV), the “but you” is humeis de, meaning “but you, plural” i.e., every New Testament believer. “Royal priesthood” membership is based on saving faith, not gender.
- We need to remember that pastors are not priests. They oftentimes perform priestly functions, but they are not priests. All believers are now priests cf. priesthood of all believers … except women? And by the way, who is “all”? Either “all” means everyone, regardless of gender, or it doesn’t mean “all.”
I asked Bart about Hebrew 4:14: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. … Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14, 16, NIV)
“So,” I queried, “according to your husband/father ‘high priest’ model, I Timothy 2:5 reads: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, man”?
Some more questions I asked Bart:
- What happened to Christ? Did he abdicate his High Priest role to husbands/fathers, post-resurrection?
- Semantic sidestepping aside, doesn’t the “family priest” notion advocate – either implicitly or explicitly – that women and children are somehow unable or incapable of approaching the Throne of Grace directly? As in, a male intermediary is required?
- Does this view demean women by implying that theirs is a second-class citizenship within the household of faith?
- Doesn’t this place an impossibly heavy load on one person within the family?
- Who intercedes for the husband? If he is able to assume the “priestly function” for himself as a responsible adult, why not likewise the wife – or is she a lesser “adult”?
- Doesn’t “family priest” set up the husband as a demi-god?
- Is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross sufficient to ensure full, direct access to God to anyone who believes, regardless of gender? Or is access to God limited for females?
It was a lively discussion. I emphasized that I’m not advocating the diminishment of men, husbands, or fathers, nor am I suggesting that women or wives treat their male counterparts with disrespect or disdain. What I am advocating is mutuality. (Having spent more than forty years in the other camp, my husband and I did not embrace mutuality lightly or rashly. It took years of intensive review, prayer, discussion and dialogue before we became convinced from the text that mutuality is the biblical model for marriage as set forth in the whole counsel of Scripture.)
I quoted a portion of Robert Frost’s The Master Speed to illustrate:
Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar. (Emphasis added)
Bart and I agreed to disagree on the question of “family priest.” I smiled. So did he. In the meantime, I’m trusting the One who created male and female to reflect His glory together – wing to wing and oar to oar – to enlighten the eyes of Bart’s heart.