BAPTIST DISTINCTIVES

“The Priesthood of the Believer”

Pastor Steve Damron

                There are numerous Scripture verses which help us understand our position as priests with direct access to God. “Even when were dead in sins, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:5-6).

                “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made night by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you when were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God—Ephesians 2:13-19.” “Seeing that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession—Heb. 4:14.”

NOT ORIGINATED BY MARTIN LUTHER!

                As the leader of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther addressed the teaching of the priesthood of the believer. He challenged the office of priest as propagated by the Roman Catholic Church. Luther recognized that the mediator roll that the Catholic priests assumed was unbiblical. Because of the widespread effect of the Reformation and this teaching in particular, some have pointed to Luther as the one who discovered the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer.

                Of course, careful students of history recognize other assemblies of believers, in existence well before A. D. 1517, that embraced the doctrine of the priesthood of each believer. They saw through the corrupted Roman Catholic traditions to the very words of God in the Bible, where they learned the pure truth. The concept of the priesthood of the believer is an amazing doctrine, because it eliminates the human mediator positioned between a Christian and his God.

                While Baptists teach that believers may access God directly and individually, they also recognize that with this privilege comes the responsibility of priesthood. Some religions scoff at this truth and create rituals or orders for their congregants that hold in check their communication with God; however the Bible clearly teaches access to God through our divine mediator. His death on the cross and shed blood secured this on our behalf. What a wonderful truth!

                Unfortunately, Catholics are not the only ones with traditions. Baptist churches must beware of allowing extra-Biblical practices to slip into their realm as well. Interestingly, even a doctrine as precious and valued as the priesthood of the believers can be diminished in independent Baptist churches by lazy church members and unscriptural church leadership. How? There are a couple of reasons.

REASONS WHY THE PRIESTHOOD OF BELIEVERS IS DIMINISHED

                1. One line of thinking states that if the ‘average Joe’ can access God directly, then a pastor is unnecessary. This may be propagated (though often not verbalized) to create an intimidation factor between church members and the authority of church leadership.

                To answer this, we need to understand the office of the pastor. The Bible lays out church government. This structure, though, was not given so that the leadership could be the “go-betweens” for the members and God. There are specific duties given to pastors and to deacons as servants of the members of the church. These duties are distinct from the duties and responsibilities of the Old Testament priests. The job of the pastor is not to hold his people at arm’s length from God so he can be a “pope” or “priest” for his people.

                I believe that God gave pastors so that the members can follow their example. This is what Hebrews means when it says, “whose faith follow.” It should be the desire of every pastor to draw the people the Lord has entrusted to his care closer and closer to the presence of God.  As this occurs, there will be less micro-managing of trivial matters in the church, more ministering to each other as believers, and witnessing to the lost through evangelism. 

                2. Another way of thinking states that if the “average Joe” can go directly to God, there will be a lot of individuality in the church. This may be true, because we are not “robots made in heaven and sent down to inhabit churches! God has fearfully and wonderfully made us. Churches are made up of individuals. But along with that, each individual should be able to come together as a team. This is the teaching of the differing gifts, and the differing body parts that make up the complete man.

                As individuals and individual families work together in the local assembly, there will be differences in how each functions. Families and individuals will be involved in different ministries within the church. Outside of the church, members will have differing tastes in Christian or classical music, activities, and even food. Individuality is a by-product of creation. We should enjoy the distinctions that God has made in nature as well as in people.

                In regard to our churches, the Scriptures have clearly taught that we can have unity as we submit to one another with our independent body of believers. While stating a belief in the priesthood of the believer, some leaders act threatened by the results of this doctrine. We need to make sure that the church we join is one that we can covenant with in faith and practice. If we cannot, then rather than causing disunity, we should not join that work.

THE PRIESTHOOD OF THE BELIEVER REQUIRES SANCTIFICATION

In closing, I would like to leave a thought as you consider the truth of the priesthood of the believer. The O. T. books of Exodus and Leviticus list strict guidelines on the process of purification that the Levitical priest had to perform.  “For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not; and it shall be a statue for ever to them, even to him and his seed throughout their generations—Ex. 30, 19, 2l.”

                This is one of many, many verses that give guidelines of the purification required before a priest entered into his tasks of ministering. Consider now some N. T. principles for you and me as believers as we enter into His presence. “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That everyone of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God. That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness—I Thess. 4:3-7.”

“Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul—I Pet. 2:10-11.” “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree; that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray, but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls—I Pet. 2:21-25.”

God has not lessened the expectations for holiness and purity today. He expects every believer to be both pure and holy. We live in a sinful age in which acceptance of the world, alliance with the devil, and deference to the flesh are the norm in Christian circles. We are witnessing the consequences of this behavior in powerless people, unholy homes, and cold-hearted churches.

The privilege of God’s presence has the requirement of purity. May God help us to reconsider the teaching of the priesthood of the believer. May its truths reinvigorate our lives, homes, and churches to the needed aspect of the presence of God in our midst.”

Copied: Always Abounding, Fairhaven Fundamentalist, summer 2016, pp. 6-8; subheadings added by the F. D. Editor.

JUNE-JULY 2017  The Fundamentalist Digest; Permission granted for reprint, so long as proper credit is given. The above item is a sample of the numerous timely articles that are contained in the bi-monthly issues of The Fundamentalist Digest.
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