A sign of a healthy church it believes it is a kingdom of priests and behaves like it’s true.
The second part of the Book of Genesis focuses on God’s plan to use one family (Abraham’s) to rescue and bless His world despite the human choice to rebel against His original purpose. It followed that family down to the story of Abraham’s great grandson Joseph, who was used by God to save the lives of those who had planned evil against him (his own brothers!). (Gen 50:20)
After Joseph had saved his family from a famine in Israel, the Pharaoh of Egypt offered for them to come live there to escape the chaos. At that time, it was a small family. But 400 years pass in which the family grew larger, stronger and more influential. It became so large in fact, that the first chapter of Exodus says “the land was filled with them.” (Exodus 1:7) This condition led to the story we find in Exodus.
Pharaoh wields authority, power and status
The family had become so influential in Egypt that the reigning Pharaoh at the time started to feel like they were a threat to his power and the Egyptian way of life. His reaction was to wield authority, power and status to eliminate the threat by enslaving them and then drowning all their young boys in the Nile river. (Exodus 1:22)
The family cries out to God and He sends a deliverer. One of the mothers throws her young boy into the Nile, but he’s in a basket that floats right down into Pharaoh’s own home and becomes a part of his household. Of course we know this is Moses, who is the one would grow up to eventually be the one God would use to defeat Pharaoh’s evil.
With the ten plagues that God brought upon Egypt through Moses, God shows His justice on Pharaoh’s evil and His mercy to Israel. Pharaoh eventually lets them go to return back to their homeland.
The family was to show the world what God is like
As they travel through the wilderness, God invites the family into a “covenant relationship” at the foot of Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 19:5-6) This relationship is key to understanding God’s plan to work out His purpose through the promise He made to this family.
If they would obey the terms set forth, they would become God’s representatives by showing the rest of the world what God is like and what it’s like for Him to be King on the earth. They would become a kingdom of priests. Priests represent God to humans and humans to God. They are go-betweens or mediators. Just like God is a community of co-equal Persons, so would be the community of humans that would represent Him.
The family accepts God’s offer to become His kingdom of priests.
God’s presence was to be in their midst
Part of the covenant is that God’s presence would come to dwell right in the midst of them. God’s presence had been lost to humanity when they rebelled and were banished from the Garden, but it would now once again become accessible through this family. The blueprints outlined in Exodus actually mirror characteristics of the Garden of Eden. (Exodus 25-31)
Just after Moses receives the blueprints, the family breaks the first two terms of the covenant by creating the Golden Calf. Moses has to beg God to be merciful and keep His promise to them. God remains faithful.
The Tabernacle gets built and God’s presence comes and hovers over the tent. Moses goes to enter into the tent and he can’t. (Exodus 40:35) He’s not allowed because of the family’s sin. Sin has no place in God’s presence. It must be eliminated. That’s where the book ends.
They were not to be a kingdom WITH priests
It’s important to note that God’s plan to fulfill His purpose was to shape Abraham’s family into a kingdom OF priests, not a kingdom WITH priests. Notice the difference. It’s VERY important to understanding God’s ultimate purpose.
The entire family was intended to be God’s co-equal partners in the covenant and representatives to the world, just like Adam and Eve were intended to be.
God’s intention wasn’t to have some family members be priests and some not be priests, as if anyone in the family was holier or more qualified than anyone else. And it certainly wasn’t to have some family members have authority over other family members.
His intention was that they’d be priests all together. They would be so united as a family in the covenant relationship with God that they would reflect the oneness of the community of God together to the rest of the world.
A church is a royal priesthood
This is exactly how the New Testament authors describe a church. When Peter the apostle wrote a letter that would circulate throughout many churches at the time, he says this about them…
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation…(1 Peter 2:9)
“You” here is plural, as it is in almost every occasion in the letters to churches in the New Testament. The new identity of everyone in every church is that of a royal priest, just like Adam and Eve were before they rebelled.
In a healthy church, all of the priests (everyone!) unite around and share equally in the purpose, responsibility and participation of representing God’s character and rule on the earth. While not everyone performs the same role or has the same abilities, every role, ability and person carries the same importance. Everyone has the Holy Spirit and He works through them in different ways. (1 Cor. 12:4-7)
Nobody is more important
It’s unhealthy if certain people or roles become more important than others in a church or to the functioning of a church. It may be the case that a function comes before or after another. For example, Paul addresses a church that was falling into this type of unhealthiness as they were elevating one teacher over another. He says in 1 Corinthians 3…
I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth…according to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it…
In this case one thing must happen before another person can do something else. That doesn’t make the first person more important or justify them having any more authority in a church than anyone else.
If a person feels less important to what God is doing through the church than any other person, that’s unhealthy. This tends to be the case when the consistent church experience is dominated by a subset of gifts or abilities compared to others. The Holy Spirit works in a revolving manner and He moves through people in a seasonal manner.
For example, in western church models, it’s common for religious services to be the majority of a person’s church experience. Those tend to be dominated by speaking and teaching gifts. Those gifts (and the people with those gifts) tend to be thought of, treated like, and think of themselves like priests while everyone else doesn’t. Sometimes they’re even called priests (Protestants use the word “pastor” to mean the same thing.)
In this case, you end up with a kingdom WITH priests.
The only one who is elevated
In a healthy church, there is only one who is elevated in authority, power and status above any other. That is Jesus Christ. The people insist on functioning together in ways that make that a practical reality. This is how they become a kingdom OF priests. When this happens, they show the rest of the world what God is like and what it’s like for Him to be King on the earth.