New Testament Royal Priesthood: Symmetry All great art has symmetry, a balance and proportion. It may be ancient or modern, a painting or a piece of pottery, but it must have symmetry to appeal to the eye. This attraction to symmetry was established in man from the beginning at creation. It was put there by God, the originator of all true art. Just as God made a world of beauty, possessing the quality of symmetry, so He created the institutions of His people with the same attribute, explaining why all successful organizations have this characteristic. The government of God’s people, old and new, has symmetry. I pointed this out in regard to Jethro’s Old Testament royal priesthood. His hierarchy had several levels, each consisting of captains and courts. Every layer from top to bottom and from bottom to top was designed that same and was supposed to function on the same principles. Each sphere is a microcosm of the larger or the smaller depending on the perspective from which the hierarchy is being viewed. In the New Testament, symmetry is just as important as it is in the Old Testament. It becomes, however, even more pronounced as does everything in the New Covenant because of the redemptive work of Christ; He causes the death and resurrection of everything in the Old Testament, producing a glorification of the Old Covenant. Symmetry Within There is symmetry within the levels of the Church: house church, city church, regional church, and international church. In Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council is an international gathering, involving clergy from many other geographical regions. James takes a place of prominence. He is not a temporary leader, a moderator. He is a standing Presbyter/Bishop, meaning he holds his position and can represent the Church, or what I have called a captain at the larger level. But he did not stand entirely by himself. He was surrounded by a representative court from other areas. And, even when he court was out of session, he maintained the counsel of other Presbyters (Acts 21:17). There was a captain and a court at the highest level of the Church, Jerusalem. – page 35 – New Testament Royal Priesthood: Symmetry At the next level down, the Antiochian region became the scene for a meeting between Peter and Paul (Galatians 2:ll); it was a city representing the other cities of the area, a region. Peter and Paul apparently met in a court context, “before all them all” (Galatians 2:14). On the basis of the letters of Revelation being sent to individual churches that were represented by a Presbyter/Bishop (Revelation 2:lff.), there was also a presiding captain of some sort. We can only presume that the dispute between Peter and Paul was at the city level at one point. Perhaps it was not, since their stature in the Church was such that the issue moved immediately to a higher court. Nevertheless, the city level of the Church had individual Presbyter/Bishops who presided over the other Presbyters (Revelations 2:lff.). And it also had a court arrangement, seeing that Paul addresses the Presbyters of Ephesus as a body (Acts 20:17). At the lowest level of cells within the Church, the house-Church, we can only make a few presumptions. Churches met in houses and synagogues, analogous to the house structure. Apparently, the host of the house was some kind of leader, probably a Presbyter, since-the Apostle Paul sends greetings to the ones who accommodate housechurches, i.e., Priscilla and Aquila (Romans 16:3) . Due to the Apostle’s comments about not allowing the woman to exercise authority over the man (I Timothy 2:12), it is reasonable to assume that Aquila was the Presbyter/Pastor of his house-church. And on the basis Paul’s statements regarding the use of a precursor to a jury system in settling disputes (I Corinthians 6:lff.), there was also the principle for a court of advice and counsel at the parish level. There was a place for lay “wise men” to serve as a kind of jury (I Corinthians 6:5). They have been historically called wardens in the Episcopal Church. Together, they are the Parish Council of advice to the pastor. The Apostle told the Corinthian Church to select wise men to help in the resolution of problems. The principle developed into positions that specifically aided the pastor and congregation to avoid disputes in the parish. These lay positions have come to be known as Senior and Junior Warden, elected by the parish to assist in the pastoral maintenance of the parish. The Senior Warden represents the pastor in those matters that may be so personal to the pastor that they are difficult to negotiate, such as his salary. The Jr. Warden represents the people in matters that may need to be addressed to the pastor but that do not warrant a direct confrontation. All of this is within the spirit of Paul’s counsel to avoid disputes with lay wise people. Together, the Wardens form a council of advice to the – page 36 – Captains and Courts pastor, especially in matters of discipline. This is called the Parish Council in the Reformed Episcopal Church, preserving the wisdom of many counselors principle from Proverbs (Proverbs 11:14). They can help the pastor so as to keep him aware of pastoral and spiritual concerns that might not be coming to his attention. Or, they can serve as a kind of jury at the first level of discipline in the parish. Thus, each level of the Church was symmetrical, consisting of the identical structure: captains and courts. There was a standing leader, meaning one who remained in that position. There was also some sort of court of advice as well, to help in the making of decisions and the passing of judgments, what I call principles of singularity, plurality, and consensus. Singularity and Plurality At each level, there is a singularity principle. There is someone who is in charge, with whom the “buck stops.” He is an identifiable leader. In every organization, someone needs to represent the organization as a whole, even though he does not have absolute power. He is a symbolic head to whom people relate, since they cannot relate to a group or committee for leadership. This is evident in political parties. Although people are committed to the party as a whole, they must have a leader around whom they can rally. This is the principle of singularity. At each level, there is also a plurality principle. The individual is not allowed complete power under the Biblical system. He may represent the larger body and rightfully so, but because he does represent others he is bound up in a plurality. The plurality has a voice. It may be a voice of counsel. It may be a decision making voice. It may even be a voice of concern or ordered protest. Nevertheless, the larger body is allowed this voice. How do the principles of singularity and plurality work together? Acts 15 is a classic example. We are not told exactly how the decision making process was reached. We are given some important facts. Parties were allowed to speak, the plurality. Then James apparently makes the decision, singularity. But he does not do so without taking into consideration the consensus. The consensus of any body is agreement to a course of action. The text from the Jerusalem Council says, “one accord,” literally one purpose of mind (Acts 15:25). We are not given the details of how this was determined, whether by vote or lot, the later of which we have good precedent (Acts 1:26). Whatever the – page 37 – New Testament Royal Priesthood: Symmetry means, we should not confuse consensus with majority. A group can reach a consensus without reaching a majority because there was a one purpose of mind at Jerusalem. I know of a church that had to change its name. The majority of people did not want to rename the church but they knew of the need to do so. They reached a oneness of purpose even though the majority did not want to change the name. Perhaps this could be construed as a consensus of majority, but technically there is an important difference. Majority rule, pure democracy, is not sanctioned in Scripture. Examples of majority rule are extremely negative, such as the many occasions when the people of Israel were of a majority opinion to turn back to Egypt. The majority was wrong and can be just as wrong as an individual. We all know that people tend to be more pliable, or even worse, when they are with groups as opposed to when they are alone. Majority rule is extremely dangerous. There is the strength of a multitude of counselors but this is not the same as majority rule. The model for consensus is learned in the home, and usually taught by a wise father. As there is symmetry within the levels of Church government, there is symmetry outside the Church with other forms of government, particularly in the home. Families cannot be ruled by committees. The father, or the mother in the event that the father is absent for whatever reason (A c t s 16:14), is the head of the house (Ephesians 5:22ff.). The buck stops with him. But, the Biblical wife is his queen, a co-regent and top advisor. No father in his right mind would make a decision affecting the entire family without consulting his wife. And, only on rare, if ever, occasions would he make a decision contrary to some sort of consensus reached with her. If he does, he had better be right or he will pay in a multitude of intangible ways. Most of the time, however, a father/leader in the home will seek to find a consensus and then make his decision. This is apparently what James did at the Jerusalem Council. Thus, at each level of the hierarchy of the Church, there are the principles of singularity, plurality, and consensus. There is a oneness and manyness to the body of Christ, what can be called a covenantal organicism. Covenantal Organicism The symmetry of the spheres within the hierarchy of the Church produces a unity and oneness that is covenantally organic. It is based on the foundational doctrine of the Church, the Holy Trinity. It is One and Many. The One and Many are distinct but not separate, and could be called a covenantal organicism. The Trinity has true unity of life. But, God in His Essence, called – page 38 – Captains and Courts the Ontological Trinity, does not have progression or growth because, He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Trinity does not evolve, explaining why the word organic by itself is not satisfactory. On the other hand, the Trinity in function, called the Oeconornic Trinity, works out redemption progressively: The Father elects some to life, the Son accomplishes redemption, and the Spirit applies redemption. Thus, the word organic is helpful if combined with the word covenantal to summarize one of the Bible’s own common metaphors for presenting the relationship between God and His people: the vine and the branches (John 15). The symmetry of the levels of the Church is “an organic whole comprising parishes as organic wholes comprising souls as organic wholes: which is only saying that the vine consists of branches which consist of cells.”10 This does not mean that there is continuum of being, as in paganism. It does mean, however, that the same Holy Spirit indwells individuals, who lives in local parishes, who dwells in city/churches (Revelation 2-3), who lives in the universal Church in regions and other larger areas. Each level of the Church down to the parish level is the Body of Christ and not a mere part of it. For example, “The local church would be regarded by Saint Paul not as one element of a Catholic confederacy but as the local representative of the one . . . Catholic [universal] society.”11 As the early Church father, Cyprian said, “The Church is likewise one, though she be spread abroad, and multiplies with the increase of her progeny: even as the sun has rays many and one light . . . . “12 Thus, each unit within the larger Body of Christ represents the whole and is in this sense a covenantal representative. But there is a mysterious unity between God the Holy Spirit and the Church as the vine to the branches such that it can be called organic. Following the model of the Holy Trinity for our theology, there is distinction but not separation, truly a great mystery. Beyond this we cannot and should not go other than to describe the union of symmetry in the Body of Christ as covenantal organicism. For, to summarize Dr. Cornelius Van Til’s observation about error, “The attempt to reduce a mystery is the door to all heresy.” This principle of covenantal organicism is helpful in understanding the real place of each sphere and person in the life of the Church. If we begin, however, with the source of 10 Martin Thornton, Heart of the Parish: A Theology of Remnant (Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cowley Publications, 1989), p. 19. 11 Gore, The Epistle to the Ephesians, appended note E. 12 Cyprian, On the Unity of the Catholic Church, paragraph 5. – page 39 – New Testament Royal Priesthood: Symmetry life in the Church, the Holy communion of bread and wine, we can work our way out into the complete rationale for active participation. “The consecrated elements are Christ to the communicant; wholly and completely Christ, divide them into ten thousand fragments and each is the Body and Blood of Christ [not corporally]. So the parish is the catholic [Universal and Historic] Church in microcosm. . . . If the whole Body is complete at every altar

, the whole communion of saints are in attendance at every altar
. . . . There is but one Bread, so each altar
is microcosmic of the Throne of the Lamb in heaven. There is one Church and one Body, so that the work of each server, each organist, each verger, each good lady who arranges flowers is of catholic significance because it is truly parochial. This is why the Church’s Office [Daily prayer services], said by two souls in the village church on Monday night, is an infinitely tremendous thing; the ‘special’ service with its teeming congregation is trivial by comparison.”13 Every sphere and every level of the Body of Christ by means of the Holy Spirit is so organically one with our Lord that it is Christ to its locale. Moreover, each person represents Christ as well, which is the purest reason for that individual’s participation in the life of the parish. What better justification could there be for involvement in the Church? For, not to be active is a denial of who a believer is and what he (she) can be and do for the Church, which is nothing less than serve Christ to the congregation through personal service. Therefore, as we conclude the chapter on the symmetry of the hierarchical structure of the Church, we see that it leads to our next principle in the following chapter, participatory hierarchy.