The Church Needs Prophets, Priests, And Kings (But Not Personality Types And Tests)


Through a good part of redemptive history, certainly since the inauguration of the Old Covenant (c. 16th century BC), there were three offices in the church: prophet (Deut 18:15–22), priest (Deut 18:1–14; 33:8–11), and king (1 Sam 8:19–22). The Old Testament prophets spoke God’s Word to the Old Testament national church and to the OT church in exile. The priests received the offerings of the people and mediated for them to God, and made the appointed offerings on behalf of the people. The kings succeeded the judges and ruled Israel or Israel and Judah) until the exile.

Christians have long confessed that Jesus is the Prophet, the Priest, and the King. Thomas Aquinas used these categories in the 13th century and John Calvin in the 16th century to explain the work of Christ for us.

The Reformed Appropriation of the Triplex Munus

In Heidelberg Catechism 31 we see a classic example of the way the Reformed used the threefold office of Christ to explain his work for us:

31. Why is He called Christ, that is Anointed?

Because He is ordained of God the Father and anointed with the Holy Spirit to be our chief Prophet and Teacher, who has fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption; and our only High Priest, who by the one sacrifice of His body, has redeemed us, and ever lives to make intercession for us with the Father; and our eternal King, who governs us by His Word and Spirit and defends and preserves us in the redemption obtained for us.

Caspar Olevianus (1536–87), who helped to edit and probably contributed to the Heidelberg explained, in answer to essentially the same question, the Son of God was

sent into this world, anointed in His humanity with the fullness of the Holy Spirit (an anointing that was the very gift of God signified by the external anointing), and was thus ordained by the Father and given to His people to be our eternal King, High Priest, and Teacher. Thus, the additional name “Christ” or “Messiah,” i.e., “Anointed” serves especially to strengthen our trust in Him. For we understand from the anointing that Christ the Lord was commanded (from the very fact that He was called “Christ,” i.e., “Anointed”) to guard and keep us with His kingly power,* to reconcile us to the Father with His eternal sacrifice, and to reveal to us faint-hearted sinners the inner mind and unchangeable will of the Father (Firm Foundation, Q. 47, p. 36).

The Kingdom of Christ is

…a kind of rule over the people of God in which there is one head, namely, Christ the Lord, who is gifted far beyond all angels and people with wisdom, counsel, might, and all other gifts. This head, Christ, rules His subjects even in this life in such a way that He produces eternal salvation in the hearts of all the elect through the preaching of His holy gospel and the power of His Spirit. He does this by incorporating them into Himself by faith and the testimony of holy baptism, by graciously not imputing their sins to them, by daily purifying them from sin, by living in them and ruling their hearts with His Holy Spirit, and by using as means to that end the preaching of the holy gospel, the administration of the holy sacraments, and Christian discipline. This is in order that in this life they might live happily in the Lord, have peace with God, and at last in eternity live and reign with their King. This is the Kingdom of Christ that begins in this life and will increase in the heart of every believer… (idem, Q. 48, p. 37).

Christ is King generally over all things but specially over his church, where salvation is freely given, through faith alone. He continues by explaining that the first benefit of being in the kingdom is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit enjoyed by those who belong to Christ. Because Christ is King, he has overcome sin, the flesh, and the devil, which is the second great benefit, progressive sanctification of the believer by grace alone, through faith alone.

The Kingdom of Christ is a priestly kingdom “because Christ the King also holds the office of priest” (idem, Q. 52, p. 39).

Hence the eternal Kingdom of Christ had to be set up in such a way that by His own sacrifice on the cross and His intercession He might take away the sins that at one and the same time kept us out of the Kingdom of God and in the Kingdom of Satan. This Kingdom had to be set up and confirmed in such a way that God’s justice would be forever satisfied and that, as a result, our peace with God and the grace He promised would have a sure, firm, and eternal foundation. The foundation on which the Kingdom of Christ rests is the priesthood of Christ, which in God’s eternal decree was established and confirmed with the oath of God (idem).

As our priest Christ, “in the unity of his person,” is both our sacrifice and our Mediator before the Father (Q. 52, p. 40).

The third office is that of Prophet, which means

That Christ was anointed as our Teacher means that He was sent to us from the bosom of the heavenly Father and anointed in His human nature with the fullness of the Holy Spirit so that, full of grace and truth, He might clearly and intelligibly reveal to us the eternal will and counsel of God. John 1[:18]: “The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared it to us” (Q. 55, p. 42).

The Christian can have no doubt about how God is disposed toward him since “the Son Himself, to whom the disposition, will, and mind of the Father are thoroughly known, has revealed the will and promise of the Father to us in the gospel” (Q. 56, p. 43). In him we have everything necessary for our salvation, whatever lies the Devil may speak (Q. 57, p. 43). Because he is our teacher we may be sure that he is conforming us into his image. Because he is our teacher, he gives teachers to all Christians and believers exercise the prophetic office, even though they don not “hold the public office of minister of the Word and sacraments” in three ways: “by praising God with a sincere,* public profession of the true faith (Mark 8; Luke 9); by instructing also their servants; and by building up their neighbors in the Lord, whenever there is the opportunity or possiblity, without destroying the order that God has established in His Church” (Q. 59, p. 44). Even the children of believers participate in this blessing, which was promised in Joel 2:28–32 and confirmed by the Apostle Peter in Acts 2:16–21 (idem).

This is a typically Reformed appropriation of the threefold office of Christ. It focuses on the objective person and work of Christ for us and applies it subjectively to the believer’s salvation, i.e., his justification, sanctification, and glorification.

This pattern provides a clear backdrop and contrast to an appropriation of the threefold office which recently came to my attention. In this version, the three offices of Christ are sought in the personal abilities and psychological characteristics of leaders in the church.

The Figurative-Psychological Version of the Triplex Munus

A friend recently alerted me to another approach to the Christ’s threefold office, which starts with the traditional understanding and even moves to church officers as reflections of those offices, which seems entirely legitimate. My homiletics professor, Derke Bergsma, made that argument in an essay in The Compromised Church (1998).

The argument goes that we should see this “triad” in the Trinity and reflected in human personalities in church leadership. Sutton Turner argues,

Jesus is the perfect chief prophet, high priest, and King of kings, and as image-bearers of God and disciples of Christ, each of us will reflect aspects of his character in different ways. He provides the church with men and women who can lead, and their specific abilities will usually tend toward prophet, priest, or king.

Whatever one makes of the attempt to read the threefold office of Christ into the Trinity (I am dubious) but to extrapolate from the threefold office of Christ to three personality types seems unhelpful. Christ’s offices are objective realities. On what basis may we turn those into personality or psychological types. This move is a brilliant example of the sort of homiletical (preaching) trick against which seminary students are rightly warned. The writer has taken objective truths (which subjective consequences as illustrated above) and turned them inward. The medieval theologians did this. They spoke of the quadriga, the fourfold sense of Scripture; the literal and the figurative. Of the figurative there were said to be three types: doctrinal (allegorical), tropological (moral), anagogical (eschatological). The fathers and medievals who worked out this system were applying 1 Corinthians 13: faith, hope, and love. They were asking a good question: what does the text tell us about faith (what is to be believed?), hope (what is to be expected?), and love (what is to be done?). These are good questions but the way they sometimes went about answering them made Scripture into a wax nose. I suppose this argument is an example of the tropological sense of the threefold office and it suffers from the weakness the quadriga and should be rejected accordingly.

Someone had a psychological theory (e.g., there are three personality types necessary for a good organization) and instead of arguing from nature, reason, experience, or wisdom they tried cleverly to baptize their theory with the threefold office. One sees this regularly in the literature of the “church growth” schools of thought. This might also be the fruit of an inadequate understanding of nature and grace. This theory of thee personality types is from nature. Reformed theology has a way to account for nature. We learn from nature. It is a legitimate sphere. The Anabaptists, however and others thought that nature needed to be replaced with grace. Thus one sees nature being “spiritualized” in evangelical circles regularly. Baseball cannot be baseball. It must be “Christian baseball” because grace must replace nature.

Wisdom and experience may suggest that this theory of the organizational benefits of thee personalities has merit. It may not. Scripture, however, does not teach that there are three personality types or that prophets have one personality type, priests another, and kings another. Certainly, the analogy between drawn between personality types and the threefold office of Christ is not a good and necessary consequence from Scripture. If one thinks that this is a good organizational theory, make the argument from nature (e.g., logic, experience) or from wisdom but let us not cheapen the threefold office of Christ by abusing this way.


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