Almost from the beginning of organized religious worship God has had a problem with what we today call ecclesiasticism. Amaziah, priest of Bethel 850 years before Christ, tried to stop Amos from proclaiming the Word of the Lord in Samaria. For all time Amos gave the answer of men who are consumed by a passion to speak God’s truth to the people: “The Lord took me from following the flock … and said to me ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel’ ” (7:15, RSV). Two hundred and fifty years later Jeremiah accused both prophet and priest of proclaiming a false word (6:13; 14:18). The word of the true prophet, more often than not, has been a word of controversy and hardness.

The “doctors” in the temple whom Jesus questioned as a boy were in all likelihood learned rabbis rather than priests. His dispute with the organized religion of his day went back to the very beginning of his public ministry, when he identified himself with the protest ministry of John the Baptist by submitting to baptism. Out Lord was fully conscious that his proclamation of the free grace and forgiveness of God would lead him into conflict with the highest religious authorities. “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must … suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes” (Matt. 16:21, RSV). He even accused them of being twofold children of hell because they kept others out of God’s kingdom while not being willing to enter themselves (Matt. 13–15).

In the Apostle Paul’s dealings with the leaders in the early Church we have somewhat of the same struggle, but now there is a notable difference. Even though Paid had once bitterly persecuted the Christians, Ananias of Damascus was ready to receive Paul because of the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Acts ...

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