Priesthood of all Believers

Well, our lead pastor is now gone. Off to Wyong. My wife did a stellar job organizing the farewell on Saturday evening. Jamie gave an excellent last sermon on Sunday. Now its over. The heat wave is over, the rains have come. What a weekend.

I think interesting times are ahead. I think it will test how much some of my baptist comrades really believe in the priesthood of all believers. Our associate pastor will only be able to do so much, responsibilities need to be redistributed, rethought, reimagined.

What about you? Do you think many Christians really get the priesthood of all believers?How much do our church structures contribute towards believer disempowerment? How many people truly desire empowerment? Now that’s a question! Do we have unhelpful images of Jesus that may contribute to this?

36 thoughts on “Priesthood of all Believers

  1. I’ll be blunt. Most Christians I’ve met (and by extension, most pastors) don’t believe in the Priesthood of all Believers. I’m not sure it is an image of Jesus thing, as much as just a bunch of working assumptions about how to do church and a load of negative trust issues.

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  2. I think this is a challenging question Matt!
    Its not just that pastors don’t want to surrender it – but that sometimes people don’t want to to be ‘priests’.
    The popery of Baptists runs deep despite our rhetoric.
    Makes you wonder if you can use your popish position to lead people into a place of priesthood.
    As you can imagine these are daily thoughts for me at the moment as we consider how we function as a church community here in Perth

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  3. I think the most interesting question you ask is: How many people truly desire empowerment?
    It seems that there are some people who love power and others who are happy to empower them as it absolves them of the responsibility of making decisions.

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  4. Priesthood of all believers is part of official theology, but it certainly is not a part of all believers worldview/way of thinking. There are probably many reasons, but I think the main one is that people just go with what always has been done: pastors and congregations.
    Over the years that little dualism has been played with, with the adding of ministry teams and other payed staff but in the end it always seems to come down to the dynamic of professional and not.
    This whole issue is the thing that attracted me most to missional church in the first place. With their emphasis on APEST (and I would add more of Paul’s stuff to regarding the body of Christ, gifting, etc.) it distinguishes itself from the traditional pastor and congregation thing.

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  5. we recently had a nine month stint where we were inbetween pastors and i have to say that i think it was one of our church’s most fruitful times.
    people seemed to step up to the mark and it was great to see individuals coming to the fore with new ideas, who had previously stood on the sidelines and watched.
    i think part of it was down to our previous pastor’s mindset which was very much about trusting and empowering individuals to get on with it, even if it meant they made the odd mistake.

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  6. If you ask me, we don’t get it. And we don’t get it because it has been misunderstood and subverted from the start.
    In 96 C.E. St Clement of Rome wrote:
    “Those, therefore, who present their offerings at the appointed times, are accepted and blessed; for inasmuch as they follow the laws of the Lord, they sin not. For his own peculiar services are assigned to the high priest, and their own proper place is prescribed to the priests, and their own special ministrations devolve on the Levites. The layman is bound by the laws that pertain to laymen.”
    Right from the start, the clergy/ laity spit has infested the Christian movement.
    How many of the laymen have ever served communion? Baptized new believers? [which was the evidence of starting the believers life – they didn’t wait till they had gone through a course, or just do it in a baptismal tank; we get new believers to say a prayer, they got them baptized!]
    Part of the problem is that our leaders are not being guides and examples for us in our walk that they are suppose to be [] and they have instead Lorded it over the body. [Luke 22:25,26]
    Don’t hear me wrong, I love my pastors. The problem is not theirs but the system that has been handed down through the ages.

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  7. What can I do for my/the church?
    How much am I allowed to do for my/the church?
    For whom is my/the church?
    3 simple questions to ponder
    For me the answers are:
    1. Volunteer, step up to the plate, offer to take responsibility.
    2. Fight the system, start something new ,yet communicate openly and stay loving.
    3. For non believers.
    Wake up your fellow Christians that think church is for us, it isn’t!
    Acknowledge that you do not need more discipleship, nurturing, spiritual growths (however that growths is measured) etc. whatever. You can walk already :)!

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  8. I am unconvinced that we understand the concept either…though perhaps not for the same reasons as many have stated.
    My thoughts are still in their early stages, so forgive me if they don’t quite come out right, but I just feel challenged that even what we are CHALLENGING isn’t quite right.
    In the new, 21st century church the idea of the ‘Priesthood of all believers’ is being used to circumvent the need for leadership. The idea that we are ‘all’ leaders because of the priesthood of all believers is growing. But this doesn’t make sense to me?
    Let me clarify first that big name leadership isn’t what I think is right either. The idea that we ‘pay’ people to do everything is not right. But does the ‘priesthood of all believers’ take the place of leadership?
    Just look at the time of David. David was not a priest. David did not fill the function of Priest. David filled the function of leader. One of the main functions of the priest was to enter the holy of holies to make the sacrifices for the sins.
    Am I completely out of the ballpark in seeing a clear difference between the priesthood of believers and leadership? The idea of priesthood of believers FOR ME is we don’t need a high priest to go before God for us, each of us, because of Christ, can do this ourselves. But we still need (servant) leadership to guide us IMO. But the key is…is the leadership serving or being served. Are they equipping others to follow God or follow them.
    Sorry for the rant!

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  9. James, I’m with you that priesthood of all believers is not the same as leadership of all believers. However, I do feel that the idea of “leadership” is part of the problem.
    We need wisdom, experience, insight, creativity, service, devotion, care, education, patience. We sometimes get those things from “leaders” but we shouldn’t only look there for them.
    The problem, for me, with the idea of leadership is the ways it implies custodianship, gate-keeping and control. I don’t believe we need a person to steer the ship, where to go or share with us their “vision.”
    When I read Paul I get a sense of leadership and service being a tension. Not a tension in the cliché of servant leader, but a much more fundamental tension. When we use the language of leadership we inevitability try to resolve that tension – typically on the side of command and governance.

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  10. I was a bit hesitant about commenting on this at first, because I come from a different tradition, with a different ecclesiology, so it may not apply in your situation.
    I will add to what someone else said — for a year our church did not have a parish priest, and our previous priest left in traumatic circumstances. Yet that year was one in which we grew immensely and were strengthened.
    On the question of the “priesthood of all believers”, however, I have some questions.
    Where does that come from, and what does it mean?
    What do you mean by “priesthood”?
    And what do you mean by “all believers”?
    “Priest” is an English word, but it translates two different biblical concepts — “presviteros” (elder), from which it derived etymologically, and “ierefs”, which is in turn a translation of the Hebrew “cohen”.
    So does it mean “the eldership of all believers”? Or something else?
    Traditionally there is a connection between the two meanings, but that may work out differently in different traditions.

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  11. Barry asked, “How many of the laymen have ever served communion? Baptized new believers?”
    Well, though I have never baptised anyone personally, our church has allowed others to baptise during a Sunday service on at least one occasion and I have personally served communion in many house church gatherings and alternate church services. We do practice lay presidency to some extent. Not sure how many others do this.

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  12. Steve, I think the primary New Testament references for the priesthood of all believers are these:
    1 Timothy 5
    For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
    1 Peter 2:5
    you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
    1 Peter 2:9
    But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
    Revelation 1:6
    To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
    Revelation 5:10
    You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
    Revelation 20:6
    Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.

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  13. James and Fernando, with you to a large extent, though I don’t see the tension between leadership and service.
    I would explain the priesthood of all believers this way: the whole church is called to serve, the whole church has a calling, the whole church has a ministry, the whole church has a mission. These are not the special providence of leaders. What is the special providence of leaders is the ministry of equipping and empowering others for ministry.
    I think its important to define the difference between power-over leadership and em-power-ing leadership. Only the latter is genuinely reflective of Jesus.

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  14. Matt,
    Aye, but none of those Bible passages says anything about “all believers”, at least not in a way that seems to relate to your pastor leaving. And the “one mediator” thing seems to contradict it, if you take that to refer to priesthood — because the “all believers” thing would suggest that far from there being one mediator, there are in fact millions of them.
    And the other passages suggest that the “priesthood” inheres in the body, rather than in all the members that go to make it up. When you say all believers, it is like referring to all bricks in a pile. But if the bricks are built into a temple they become something together that they were not separately. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and the “priesthood” belongs to the whole, rather than to the individual parts.
    So it might be more useful to take the building analogy a little further, and ask what role did your former pastor play in the building — was it really “priesthood”, and in what sense? And if you refer to him as a pastor, was it not as a pastor rather than a priest that he ministered? And if you take that view, are you saying that there should be a shepherdship of all believers — and therefore no sheep?
    I don’t know your church, and I’m miles away from it, so I’m not offering solutions; I’m just suggesting some questions you could perhaps ask yourselves. It’s not something you need to convince me about, but rather look at the problem from different angles.

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  15. Steve
    I understand the priesthood of all believers very much in terms of the building analogy, that it is held by the church collectively, as a people (laos).
    What I am getting at, and maybe my comments need to be viewed against the Catholic background of Reformation history, is that the priesthood is not held by clergy “apart from” the laity, such as they might take it away with them when they leave, such that the church might loose its priestly status just because the body temporarily finds itself without one part.
    This is not to say that part is inconsequential, it is just to say, our leaders do not mediate God to us. Christ is our only mediator. For the function of leadership we must look elsewhere.
    I see that function of leadership primarily in terms of equipping. “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12) Furthermore, I would say these leaders may or may not be paid professionals. Paid professionals certainly bring something to the table, but they’re not the only form of legitimate leadership IMO.
    What this leads up to is, when it comes to spiritual status, I see the distinction between the church and the world as far more important than the distinction between leaders and led.

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  16. Good discussion!
    “What is the special providence of leaders is the ministry of equipping and empowering others for ministry.
    I think its important to define the difference between power-over leadership and em-power-ing leadership. Only the latter is genuinely reflective of Jesus.”
    Exactly! The question I find myself asking often, is if a pastor leaves and only THEN a church gets better at serving…was the pastor ‘leading’ effectively when they were leading?
    Leadership is an EQUIPPING function. It is equipping and releasing to do the works God has prepared in advance for them to do.
    Priesthood of all believers is simply that we don’t need ‘someone else’ aka a leader, to mediate to God for us.
    As such, leadership and priesthood are very different functions IMO.

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  17. As it happens Theology of Ministry is my current class and we’ve been reading and discussing the priesthood of all believers and how it differs from what Catholics call the ministerial priesthood.
    It’s fascinating that so many of you have commented on the dichotomy between the the pastors or official leadership of your church or denomination and the ordinary or lay member of the congregation. I thought that was just a Catholic hang up. Look at the leadership of Jesus in the Scripture. He is a servant leader. He leads but he doesn’t lord it over everyone. That’s our model for leadership. We have different gifts or charisms from the Spirit. Each disciple exercises the role of priest, prophet, and king in his/her own unique way.

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  18. James said, “…leadership and priesthood are very different functions IMO.” IMO Too.
    As for effective leadership, I think we need to look beyond the leaders and the led and look at the community as a total system. Sometimes dynamocs get set up that are hard for everyone to shift, even when the will is there.

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  19. Sister Susan. Thanks for commenting. Now we have Orthodox, Protestants and Catholics in the discussion! I think you raise an important point: despite our different ecclesiologies we all affirm the servant leadership of Jesus, and aspite to it, and struggle with it. I am also interested by your comment of different gifts. I never recall that being taught back in my Catholic days. It intrigues me that you bring it up. Perhaps closer than we thought on some of this.

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  20. Hmmm I almost daren’t start. To atempt to be succint, I believe our problem often lies in being unable to differentiate between role and worth.
    We have different roles.
    We are worth the same.
    The priesthood of all believers acknowledges there is a role and place for all… and we are all worthy.
    Only we make it complicated!!!

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  21. Re: Matt, Feb. 12. If you were brought up in the pre-Vatican II church I’m surprised you didn’t hear about the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit as you prepared for Confirmation. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude (or courage), knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. More specific gifts, such as leadership, teaching, etc. are built on these gifts.
    I think one of the most beautiful truths of Christianity is that God through the Holy Spirit gives the gifts to individuals for the good of the whole. A gift isn’t something I hoarde or use just for myself. God entrusts the gift to me and I share it freely.
    Re: Sallys Journey, Feb. 13, Great distinction between role and worth. One of the struggles in my church (Roman Catholic) is that we get hung up on roles and forget the commom matrix of discipleship in Christ springing from baptism. That term “commom matrix” was coined by the theologian Richard Gaillardetz

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  22. I was born post-Vatican II and was confirmed around age 10 when I didn’t really know what I was doing so, either way, I can’t recall any teaching on this.
    Interesting that you speak of seven gifts of the Spirit. Protestants speak of many, without sticking a specific number of them. Furthermore some, but not all, of the “gifts” you’re speaking of here is what we would call “fruit” of the Spirit. We draw a distinction between the two, the fruit being the more important. I note you say some are built on others. It would seem there is some overlap and some divergence between Protestant and Catholic teaching going on here. Very interesting input, thanks.
    I agree with your statement though that gifts are given for the whole and not to be hoarded. We teach the same in that respect.
    As for the “common matrix” of discipleship springing from baptism, following on from my comments that “distinction between the church and the world as far more important than the distinction between leaders and led,” I would also say baptism is a far more significant sacrament than ordination. Where I am critical of my own tradition is where “alter calls” and “prayers of commitment” marginalise baptism.

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  23. Matt,
    While I think it is sometimes useful to talk about “leaders” or “leadership”, it is worth nearing in mind that the New Testament doesn’t speak in those terms.
    I admit that I have sometimes arranged training events for “church leaders”, though my purpose in doing so was along the lines of II Tim 2.2 — it was in order to teach people who would be able to go back to their congregations and teach others. Many of them held no specified “offices” or “leadership positions” in the congregation.
    But from the way you have described it, the person who called the pastor was in some sense THE leader.
    As I said, I know nothing about your church, so I can’t suggest solutions, but I can just suggest questions you could ask, but only if they think they are appropriate to your situation and your ecclesiology.
    Will you seek to replace him with someone who will be “the” leader? What did he actually do, and are all the things he did necessarily things that had to be done by someone who held that particular position? Or did some of them depend on that person’s particular gifts, which might not necessarily be the gifts of the successor? And if not, who else has those particular ministry gifts, who can continue them?

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  24. Hmm, I posted something but it seems to have disappeared, perhaps because a strange dog got into our garden and we had to rescue it from our dogs, and when I got back I must have pressed the wrong key or something.
    One thing I said was that the New Testament doesn’t talk about “leaders” or “leadership”. We may, and sometimes it is convenient to do so, but we need to remember that the Church does not have a Fuehrer.
    What was your former pastor’s ministry, and was he the only “pastor”? Which part of his ministry depended on his “office” (so a successor would need to perform the same functions) and which on his personal gifts, which a successor may not have (but others in the congregation may have)?

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  25. Steve,
    Your previous comment is there, it’s not lost, it’s just we’re now into the second page of comments thanks to it.
    Now, to flesh our situation out a bit further, the Associate Pastor is still on board and it seems fairly certain he’ll be elevated from a part-time to full-time paid role, at least for the rest of this year, possibly permanently. He’ll assume additional preaching duties and have to back off in other areas. He can’t cover everything that the two of them used to do together but we have an energetic Diaconate (now led by my wife) and an experienced Ministry Leadership team (with me now heading up mission and evangelism) so there’s a functional and flexible structure in place to carry things forward. There’s robustness in the system. The community does not revolve around one personality.
    It may be that the Associate Pastor will be elevated to the Lead Pastor role, in which case we will be looking for another Associate Pastor, or it may be that we will seek a new Lead Pastor. That’s yet to be decided. We need to do some self examination, situation examination and seek God’s will before make that decision.
    As for what they actually do, the only thing our pastors do that no one else does is match and dispatch, that is, marriage and funeral ceremonies. We’re restricted by secular law in that respect. Everything else is up for grabs, at least in theory. However despite the freedom we have, as a congregationally governed church, there are conventions. While preaching and presiding over communion is not restricted to the ordained, the bulk of the members expect the pastors to do the bulk of it. There is also the whole thing of direction setting. While the members feed into that process, the pastors are expected to blaze the trail, utilizing their training and experience for the good of all. Under our structure the Ministry Leadership Team reports to, and is supported by, the Lead Pastor so his absence does have systemic implications but, as I’ve said, we’ll adapt.
    Now, in theory we could shift to another model entirely, but I am not expecting that to happen. Most are happy with the existing system and are looking for refinement and realignment rather than revolution. With such a climate I am not expecting radical change. What will be interesting though is our choice of pastor. Our congregation has changed massively since the church last went through this process twelve years ago. It is massively more diverse in terms of culture, ethnicity, socio-economic status and denominational background. It is also much, much younger, with possibly up to a third of the church under age twelve (at this point it is important to mention the pastor’s wife was the kids ministry leader so that’s a major loss too). The church is also larger, hovering on the cusp of a phase shift from small church to medium sized church (I am expecting we need to plant a new congregation to grow any further, we’re ready to give birth). What we do expect is that whoever is choosen, that person is could be very different, given the very different situation this time around.

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  26. Sounds like you’re already well into thinking about what needs to change and what doesn’t..
    Not that it will make any difference in your case, but just to satisfy my curiosity,
    1) what does ordination mean in your church?
    2) are there things that churc-supported (paid) ministers are expected to do that self-supporting (unpaid) ministers are not expected to do? Or does this depend on a contract or a job description?
    3) does the state make regulations about who can lead funeral services? That seems very odd to me!

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  27. 1/ I think this article, though not Australian, gives a reasonable summary of Baptist understandings: http://www.baptisthistory.org/contissues/allen.htm
    2/ No, not really. Unpaid / bivocational pastors tend to do the same thing as paid pastors, its just they’re rarer and you’re more likely to find them in church plants than established Christian communities.
    3/ I could be wrong but I am pretty sure you’ve got to be accredited to do funerals, either as a celebrant or minister. I have certainly never seen a lay person do one in any case.

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  28. Here’s a book some of you may be interested in.
    Henri J. M. Nouwen
    In the Name of Jesus: Relfections on Christian Leadership, 1989
    Crossroad Publishing edition with study guide, 2002
    Nouwen’s writing is simple, direct, and profound.

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  29. Thanks Matt.
    On the question of ordination, there is probably little that orthodox would disagree with in that statement, except that they would say it was too vague, and left a lot out 🙂
    Perhaps I’d better write a blog post on it some time, also for those who visited our church recently.

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  30. Sadly most churches run to 1 Timothy 2:12 and other verse in Timothy and Titus and Rule out Women from a Preaching role. This is sad because Many verse state that women are commanded to obey all commandments including the ones that say Go Preach. The Great Commission being one of them.
    Strange how those same churches ignore the verses in Timothy that say a man with wayward children Can’t Preach. I have known preaches with kids who’s life styles are very sinful. So much so that to call them Black Sheep would be an understatement. Yet they fight with every breath to keep women out of the Ordained Ministry.

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  31. True there are gifts……However, we are All Commanded to Preach the Gospel. Paul doesn’t trump Jesus. So when G-d himself or Jesus tells us in Scripture to do this or that….it doesn’t matter what Paul said about the subject.
    What we must keep in mind is the Calling….what are we called to do? Ordained preacher or teacher by the wayside? What do I mean…I mean some are called to ordained and the rest of us are called to teach as we live our lives. But make no mistake any form of teaching the gospel Still Teaches it and Saves souls.

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  32. I hadn’t considered that particular angle but I agree. Paul also acknowledges women as prophets and one even as an apostle. I think 2 Timothy 2 need to be understood in context and not be used as a proof text in isolation from the rest of scripture.

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