The danger that haunted the nation of Israel is the same problem that has confronted the church over the past two thousand years. From the time of the Lord’s departure until the time of the writing of Revelation and a little beyond that point, all of God’s children were priests. Everyone who considered himself a child of God was a priest of God. There was no problem then. There was no problem from the first century up through the third century. Individually, there were isolated problems here and there, but as a whole there was no problem. Here and there some of God’s children refused to be priests, but as a whole we did not see any problem. As long as a person was a child of God, he was a priest of God.
When the Roman Empire endorsed Christianity, many people began to creep in. There were material benefits in believing in the Lord; one became a fellow believer of the emperor and a brother of Caesar. Originally, the Lord’s charge was, "Render then the things that are Caesar’s to Caesar and the things that are God’s to God" (Matt. 22:21). Now both the things of Caesar and the things of God were rendered to God. This indeed was a big victory for Christianity. Constantine was converted to Christ. The result was a gradual but significant shift for the church. Believers were no longer the same as those who professed their faith at an earlier age. During the ten periods of persecution under the reign of Rome, tens of thousands of Christians suffered martyrdom. It was not easy to pretend to be a Christian. But then the situation totally changed. It became fashionable to be a believer and to share the same faith as the emperor and to call him one’s brother. When this shift occurred, many decided to join Christianity. As a result, the number of people increased, while the number of priests remained the same. It is easy to creep into the Christian fold, but it is absolutely impossible to creep into God’s service.
The church witnessed a drastic change in the fourth century. During that period, many who joined the church were either unbelievers or half believers. They appeared to be believers, yet they held worldly power in their hands. They had no desire to serve the Lord in the church. At the most they were saved, but they could not serve the Lord. Spontaneously, some spiritual ones rose up to take care of the affairs of the church. The others then said, "You do it! Go and serve the Lord. We are the secular ones." The word secular was introduced in the fourth century. Some would attend to earthly affairs, while others would attend to spiritual work. As a result many served God, but many more no longer served.
At the time of the apostles in the first century, every believer served the Lord. From the fourth century on, men began to say, "We are merely God’s people. We attend to our own affairs in the world and keep our positions in society. Once in a while, we give a little money. This should qualify us as Christians. Let the spiritual ones take care of the spiritual things for us." From that time forward, the church followed the footsteps of the nation of Israel; it worshipped "the golden calf" and created an intermediary class. No longer were all of God’s people priests. Some became merely His people but not His priests.
Today, clergymen in the Roman Catholic Church are called priests. In China they are known as fathers. These so-called fathers are actually called priests. Some state churches follow the example of the Roman Catholic Church and give their pastors the title of priests. Those who tend to earthly affairs are called God’s people, while those who manage spiritual things are called priests. The church has been divided into priests and people.
(New Believers Series: Priesthood, The #23, Chapter 1, by Watchman Nee)