Some readers may come from a religious tradition—Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, Episcopalian—where the person who does what I do as pastor is called a priest. But if you’ve been around PBC more than once or twice, you know that I never call myself a priest. Why not? Is it because we no longer believe in priests?
Twice in 1 Peter 2 the author mentions priests. In verse 5, we are built up “to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” In verse 9, “But you are . . . a royal priesthood.”
Peter’s original audience would have immediately thought of the Old Testament priesthood. This was a special class of spiritual elite who offered sacrifices, oversaw the temple, led the people, represented the people to God, and represented God to the people. Peter’s point in our text is that the priesthood has been transformed, not abolished.
Priests are no longer limited to Israelites from the tribe of Levi, but every baptized believer in Christ. Even Gentiles like me and probably most of you. The gap between priest and people that existed in the Old Testament has been removed with the coming of Christ, our Great High Priest. You don’t call me the priest because all of us are priests.
Christians have struggled to understand this. Around the third century, Christians began to promote a gap between ministers and laypeople. Failing to understand how Jesus revolutionized the priesthood, Christian churches began to look more like Old Testament tabernacles. Over the next thousand years this gap became a chasm. If you needed to pray, you went to the priest. If you needed to confess, you went to the priest. Until the early 16th century when a German priest named Martin Luther rediscovered this biblical doctrine that all Christians are priests.
In 1520 Luther wrote a book called The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. His goal was to compare the teachings of the Roman Catholic church with the teachings of Scripture. In it he wrote, “Let everyone . . . who knows himself to be a Christian, be assured of this, that we are all equally priests, that is to say, we have the same power in respect to the Word and sacraments.”
Now before we go any further, let’s not misunderstand what Luther wrote and what the Scriptures teach. This doesn’t mean what many Baptists have wrongly assumed: “I’m my own priest! I don’t need anybody else! I’ll go to God on my own!” No, what this means is that every Christian is a part of a community of priests. When you need prayer, confession, or to hear God’s Word, you longer must seek out a special ordained priest. You can go to any brother or sister in Christ.
The Lutheran scholar Paul Althaus puts it this way, "Luther never understands the priesthood of all believers merely in the ‘Protestant’ sense of the Christian’s freedom to stand in a direct relationship to God without a human mediator. Rather, he constantly emphasizes the Christian’s evangelical authority to come before God on behalf of the brethren and also of the world. The universal priesthood expresses not religious individualism but its exact opposite, the reality of the congregation as a community.”
Christian, you are a priest, and if you’re a part of a local church you have a responsibility to minister to your brothers and sisters in this faith family. Let me briefly mention three ways you can minister as a priest to your brothers and sisters in your church family.
1) Intercede for one another. Remember, the priest would go to God on behalf of the people. We do that when we pray for one another. Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 6:18—Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.
2) Confess sin to one another. This is something that may seem strange to some of us. We confess our sins to God, but one another? Why? Because honesty heals and secrecy kills. Because none of us can fight our sin on our own. James says in James 5:16—Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
3) Minister the Word to one another. If we are functioning as royal priests, church members won’t feel the need to find a therapist or even a career pastor when they need to be reminded of truths from God’s Word. They’ll be able to go to one another. Colossians 3:16 says “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
To do these things well, you have to know one another. You have to be involved in each other’s lives. One way we encourage this is through involvement in our Fellowship Groups. These groups are intentionally designed to cultivate relationships across the church membership, rather than with just a select group of people. Why? So we can serve one another as a royal priesthood.