The Priesthood of the Believer

I was reading in the book EVERYDAY Church by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester this past week and I was learning about the idea of the “Priesthood of the Believer” and how this is applied within the Church.

When you think of a “Priest” what comes to mind? The Catholic Church? Mass? The Eucharist? The Confession Booth? I grew up going to Catholic Mass until I was about 13 or 14 years old.  My interaction with the Priests was seen through the lens of my father.  There was a Priest (whom I will not name) who struggled with alcoholism.  I know this because my dad worked as a Social Worker and rented office space from the Catholic Church in the basement and he would often go upstairs after work to socialize with the priests and this one Priest in particular would always be drinking and sometimes be drunk by 6:00pm.  My dad tried to work with him and help him overcome his drinking problem, but the priest refused and my father felt he could not sit under the priest’s authority and teaching.  So he left the Catholic Church.

It was around this time my dad was introduced to a new philosophy that he learned in a Lutheran Church called “The Priesthood of the Believer” – the idea being that every Christian can have direct access to God through Jesus Christ and therefore one does not need to go through a human priest to have communion with or forgiveness from God.

This is a great philosophy and is actually found in Scripture (1 Peter 2:4-10), but at the same time when this philosophy is not fully understood it can lead to problems.

Problems: Some people think that “The Priesthood of the Believer” means that “I, as a Christian ‘Priest’, do not need the church. “ They think, “Because I can go directly to God at any place at any time, therefore I don’t need to go to a church building on Sundays and I don’t need to be a part of a church community.”  The problem with this philosophy is it is just that, a philosophy based on a misinterpretation and misapplication of 1 Peter 2:4-10.  Let me explain…

Explanation: You see, Peter is saying in 1 Peter 2:4-5 that we, Christians (people who have trusted in Jesus as Lord and Savior), are being built together by God on top of the foundation stone / the “Cornerstone”, which is Jesus Christ.  In other words God is building together a community of priests who are “living stones” (v. 4) that are being built into one body with Christ as the Head.  Peter does not say we are individual stones scattered in a field that need to remain there.

No, Peter is saying we are being “built up as a spiritual house” (v. 5).  In other words, church is not about going into a building on Sundays, taking communion from a Priest, and then walking out and going about your business until the next time you sin and feel the need to go back to church or mass for the Eucharist to absolve your sins.  That kind of theology is based in the Old Covenant, it is works based, it is dependent upon human priests and ritual.

The New Covenant is about Jesus being our perpetual High Priest who constantly is interceding on our behalf and who is for eternity our sacrifice through faith in Jesus (Hebrews 9), therefore as priests we, Christians, can come to God through Jesus Christ the High Priest and Sacrifice anytime and anyplace…AND…as we are coming to Him as living stones being built together as a spiritual household of priests (1 Peter 2:4-5) we are being built together as a community under the authority and blessing of God with a new and higher calling, a missionary calling to worship together, shepherd one another, and work together to as a missional community to tell the story of God, the great and might deeds of our Savior and Lord, and to see great things happen as we tell the story (1 Peter 2:9-10).

So how do we do this?

First, believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior and that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9-10).  If you don’t believe in Jesus, you will not have direct access to God the Father and therefore will not be a priest.

Second, believe God is Sovereign and so “I” don’t have to be in control.  If you struggle to believe God is Sovereign, you will be overbearing, inflexible, and impatient with people and therefore be a poor priest.

Third, fear the Lord and not people.  It says in Proverbs 1:7 that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and understanding, but if you fear people more than God you will not do what God wants you to do, you will avoid confrontation when it is necessary, you will crave approval, and you will behave differently around different people as you are always trying to please them and therefore you will be a poor priest.

Fourth, find contentment in God.  If your contentment is not in God, then you will not feel like doing ministry and you will always be pursuing joy or pleasure in other things; you will complain a lot and feel that the Christian life is a burden or a duty and you will be inconsistent as a priest, a Christian, a father, or a mother, a husband, or a wife, etc.

Fifth, believe that God is gracious and forgiving and so you don’t always have to prove yourself.  If you don’t believe God is gracious you will take criticism and failure badly, you will find it hard to relax, you will be proud and envy others, and you will strive to make people around you feel guilty and therefore be a poor priest.

How does all this relate to “The Priesthood of the Believer”?

“Most poor pastoral care comes down to either over-pastoring or under-pastoring.  Over-pastoring is a tendency to dominate or manipulate or to be overbearing and too intense when we speak.  Under-pastoring is a failure to challenge when we should or an avoidance of difficult people and conversations.” – EVERYDAY Church, Chester & Timmis, pp. 82-83.

  • A failure to believe that God is Sovereign leads to over-pastoring.
  • A failure to believe that God is whom we should fear leads under-pastoring.
  • A failure to believe we find contentment in god leads to under-pastoring.
  • A failure to believe God is gracious leads to over-pastoring.  (EVERYDAY Church, p. 83.

May we learn to become better priests starting with those we are around EVERYDAY (children, wife, husband, boss, co-workers, etc.)

GODSPEED

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