It is important to define what we mean by church here before we dig deeper into the church as a sphere. When looking at the institution of church, we are not looking at the church being the people of God/ the body of Christ. We are considering the ministers of the church (the Levites in the Old Testament) and what the church as a corporate body should be involved in (i.e. what is the church’s responsibility versus government responsibility, parental concern, etc).
I’ve set out some questions below with brief answers to get you thinking of some of the questions and topics you might like to consider when looking at what Scripture has to convey about the church.
Question: Who were the Levites?
God initially selected the firstborn males to be dedicated to Him and His service. However, when the people rebelled against God in the wilderness, it was the tribe of Levi that stood with Moses on the Lord’s side.
Exo 32:26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the LORD’s side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him.
As a result, God chose them to be devoted to Him.
Num 3:12-13 “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the LORD.”
Question: What was the role of the Levities?
It was the Levites who ministered in the Tabernacle (where God dwelt with man). They were to act as mediators. The sacrificial system was designed to restore relationship with God. The people did not have direct access to God because of Genesis 3. It was the priests’ responsibility to see that the offerings were made to atone for sin.
They were to be a moral model:
- They had to lead the people in the ways of God
- An absolute standard of truth
- God gives authority or these is none
- Income from tithes and offerings from the community
- Deut 26:12-13
- Limited power – politically and economically
- They were to be advisors to kings and leaders in the area of the Law
If a model of morality isn’t seen through the sphere of church, then what sphere will it be seen in???
However, their duties were not limited to the spiritual life of the community. They also served in a very practical way.
Leviticus 13 & 14 – the Levites were responsible to care for skin diseases, mildew in houses, quarantine in the community etc. They were the health and safety inspectors of Israel!
Question: What are some of the differences in role between church and government?
Electing the government is placed on the people (government by consensus) whereas the Levites were chosen by God.
The authority of the Levities was limited in other areas in order to ensure that they could fulfil their duties. For example, the other tribes inherited land, but the Levites were spread amongst the tribes, got small plots of land and houses. God was to be their inheritance. They also couldn’t then go out to war and had further restrictions placed on who they could marry. However, it was not in God’s intentions for them to be poor! Under the Law, they were well provided for with food and housing, yet this was reliant on the people following His commandments and bringing in His sacrifices.
Deut 26:12-13 “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, then you shall say before the LORD your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them.”
It is interesting that in Deut 26:12-13 that God puts the Levites with the poor, widow and orphan. God makes provision for those who have least in the community. And when people didn’t bring their tithes, the priest, poor, widow, foreigner etc did not eat! God made provision through the tithes and through the sacrifice. If people were living for God, and following the Laws, then there should have been plenty to eat.
God is giving a checks and balance system. If a teacher brings life and a moral teaching then they will be well provided for; there is a responsibility on the community to pay tithes but also for the minister/ vicar to be teaching the word of God and upholding a standard of morality.
Question: How are the spheres of church and family connected?
If there is no mother or father, it was first the responsibility of kin and then the communities’ responsibility to care for orphans. But care was also to come through the local church. The church was to distribute to the orphans and widows.
Application 1: Today, this has application when discussing topics such as adoption and the role of orphanages. For example, is it best for a child to be adopted by a family unit or live in a state-institution; and why?
Application 2: Are we advocating that every child has access to education? Are we advocating that everyone has the right to health care? Are we as churches getting involved in medical outreaches? We often get stuck on ourselves; thinking of me, myself and I. But Biblical thinking looks at the community as a whole.
God’s character: Great High Priest (see the book of Hebrews!!!)
Main attribute of God: Holiness and Forgiveness
God governs: top down
Institutional authority: Levites; Represent God to the people