Baptist Distinctives – Priesthood of the Believer

Priesthood of all Believers

Essentially it argues that the ministry of the local church belongs to the church as a whole. The conception of the priesthood of believers was formulated in the Reformation era, but it’s foundations are in the New Testament. While the idea is implicit elsewhere, one of the few places where it is explicated is 1 Peter 2:5, 9. It reads “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Peter’s intent is to declare that as God’s people, the church has a priestly ministry similar to that of Israel. The idea of the priesthood of believers, therefore, might be more clearly expressed as the mutual ministry of all believers.

Every man is a priest, and thus there is no special priestly class which has a monopoly on the means of grace. Nothing in the New Testament encourages the idea that a special clerical class was to be created which would be responsible for worship and witness, while the great majority of members would be spectators.

First of all, the limited idea that the church exists and serves only when people are gathered for some formalized church service needs to be dispelled. The church exists even when its members are dispersed in their homes and at their jobs and its ministry is carried on through all of the roles and relationships of individual Christians. Not everyone bears his witness or carries out his Christian vocation in exactly the same way, but everyone is called to serve Christ in all of his life. As John Calvin put the matter “God has appointed to all their particular duties in different spheres of life. And… he has styled such spheres of life vocations or callings. Every individual’s line of life, therefore is… a post assigned him by the Lord.” Looked at in this light, it is plain that members serve God in a wide range of ways; and all of these are part of the church’s ministry to the world in the name of God.

With the thought very clearly established in our minds that the ministry belongs to the entire congregation, we may proceed to discuss the need for leadership within the churches. It is important to guard against clericalism’s opposite extreme, which sees no need of leaders with professional training. We must remember that, although all members of the church are ministers, not all of them are pastors. The distinction is one of role or function. There are diverse kinds of ministry, and among them is a ministry of leadership in the church whereby the entire fellowships is trained for its responsibilities. According to Paul, Christ’s gifts to his church were “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Eph 4:12). Gifts of leadership are needed to help the whole church develop spiritual maturity so it is prepared to fulfill the calling it has received from God.

It should be self-evident that churches need leaders in order to be faithful to their calling. This necessity is implied in Paul’s enjoinder that things be done “in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Cor 14:40), and it is involved in the concept of the church as analogous to the human body. Declaring that Christians have diverse gifts, Paul compares them to different parts of the body. It would not be good, he says, if the body were all eyes or ears; but each gift within the church supplements the other gifts, as varied parts contribute to the total functioning of human life. His point is obvious; namely, that all who make up the church contribute to the fulfillment of its task, each one according to the gifts that God has granted him.

Therefore, while there are differences in roles within the body of Christ, each person is a priest before God serving in mutual ministry to the church.

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