I Timothy 2:1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
1 Peter 2:9 — 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.
In the first Passage we learn that Christ alone is our Mediator … our high Priest, between God and men. From that we conclude that no other Mediators or Priests are needed when in comes to the matter of who we confess our sin to and when it comes to the matter of who alone can deal with sin. The Protestant answer has always been Christ alone. This is why the language changed in the Reformation. Protestant clergy were never called “Priests,” but instead took up the title of Minister, or Pastor, or Shepherd.
In the second passage we learn that we ourselves, as members of the body of Christ, are priests under Christ’s Priesthood. This is to say that all that we do we do as God’s representatives.
Together these two ideas form the idea of the Reformation doctrine of “Priesthood of all Believers.”
I.) The Priesthood of All Believers and Salvation
As it comes to the first idea that Jesus Christ is our alone Great High Priest … our alone Mediator between God and Man we note that men are forever trying to outsource the role of priest to other people. For example, Anthropologists tell us that man, in man made religions and in his attempt to avoid God, is forever trying to outsource his religious obligations to other people. Man has no desire to face God in Christ and so he creates religious hierarchies to deal with the supernatural realm so he doesn’t have to. And so you have the medicine man, or the witch doctor, or the Shaman, or the Priest. All are designated to take care of the supernatural realm so everyone else does not have to bother with it.
So, men in creating man made religions want other Priests and religious hierarchies. It relieves them of having to come face to face with God. But in Biblical Christianity man does not have this option. Man can not outsource his responsibility before Sovereign God. All men must realize that their is only one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.
By the way … in our own cultures, outside the Church, modern man does much the same thing here. Modern man, though not Christian, still outsources his religious responsibilities. But Modern man has made the Shrink his equivalent of the Shaman, Priest, Witch Doctor, or Medicine man. When Modern man has something wrong with him he can’t figure out he doesn’t go to a Christian Priest but he does go to a pagan Medicine Man — The Shrink — in order to find a cure by way of preforming confession.
In the Christian religion you may go to a Minister but a good Minister will take you to the Word of the Great High Priest as found in Scripture. A good Minister will remind you that you can’t pay for your own sins. A good minister will not require you to say “10 Hail Mary’s” or 10 “Our Fathers,” but instead will tell you that Christ is our alone High Priest and will tell you that you must confess your sins to Him and then realize that forgiveness is found in Christ alone.
Christ, in His death and resurrection eliminated the need for other mediators and Priests. He eliminated the need for us to work off our sin since He Himself worked off our sin by His perfect life and His propitiatory death in our stead.
In the Reformation the emphasis was placed on the once for allness finished work of Jesus Christ. There is no continuing need for other mediators to provide forgiveness. No need to go to Priests to confess our sins as if sins could not be forgiven without those priests. No need for the ongoing mediatorial work of Priests in their preforming the Mass. All this was cleared off the Table again with the Reformation. Christ is our once for all forgiveness and so their is no continuing need for this Priestly function. In point of fact given the Mediatorial work of Christ any ongoing work of official mediators that somehow function to remove sin today is indeed blasphemy against God’s finished provision in Christ. This explains, in part, why there remains such a divide yet today between Rome and Reformation.
II.) The Priesthood of All Believers and Vocation
In the medieval Church, the sacrament of Holy Orders was one of seven of Rome’s Holy Sacraments. This sacrament was reserved for those who were the super Christians … for the Clergy, (Monks and Priests) of the Roman Catholic Church. These were those employed in “full time Christian work,” as if all other work done other than priest or Monk was secondary or not really Christian work.
In the Medieval Church Christians were divided into “religious” and “secular” callings. In this context Luther noted that “Whoever looked at a Monk fairly drooled in devotion and had to be ashamed of his secular station in life.”
This kind of thinking continues on today. I saw it just last week in the Nursing Home I was visiting. I engaged a conversation with another visitor there. She had a son who was a missionary. She told me that she knew when her son was young that God had a special call on her son for the ministry. That her son was never going to go into anything but the “Lord’s work.” As if the doing of anything but a missionary or a minister, , in terms of a career, was automatically something other than “the Lord’s work.”
Against this mindset, and against the “Sacrament of Holy Orders” the Reformers gave us “the priesthood of all believers.” This Reformed doctrine sought to eliminate the idea of first class and second class Christians based upon their career callings. This doctrine insisted that all vocations before God are Holy. Luther said,
“The prince should think: Christ has served me and made everything to follow him; therefore, I should also serve my neighbor, protect him and everything that belongs to him. That is why God has given me this office, and I have it that I might serve him. That would be a good prince and ruler. When a prince sees his neighbor oppressed, he should think: That concerns me! I must protect and shield my neighbor….The same is true for shoemaker, tailor, scribe, or reader. If he is a Christian tailor, he will say: I make these clothes because God has bidden me do so, so that I can earn a living, so that I can help and serve my neighbor. When a Christian does not serve the other, God is not present; that is not Christian living…”
You see in the Reformation mindset all redounds to God’s glory as all is done to serve God in serving others. The Priest, while important to God, is not singularly important to God as if the Priest’s work was Holy and all other Christian’s work was secondary and comparatively unimportant.
Again, according to a quote commonly attributed to Luther though unverifiable captures the essence of this doctrine,
The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays—not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.
The 16th century Reformation of the church released the laity from the oppression of Rome’s sacerdotalism and sacramentalism. Direct access to God through faith in Christ and through their own reading of Scripture became a reality for many who were able to realize their responsibility before God to live as a holy priesthood, offering the sacrifices of lives devoted in service to Christ and humanity.
With this Biblical doctrine of the Priesthood of all believers all of life was leavened with the leaven of Christianity. No longer was it simply the case that one could speak only of “Christian sermons” or “Christian Art,” or “Christian Church order,” now one could speak of being a Christian Prince or a Christian Soldier or a Christian Printer. With the doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers all vocations in life could be lived and handled as Christians … all vocations could be reinterpreted through a Biblical grid and plied in order to advance God’s Kingdom on earth.
With this Biblical doctrine of the Priesthood of all believers, believers were forced to ask, “how is it that I may handle my vocation in such a way that is pleasing to God.” In the field of Music for example, Bach desired to represent the Reformation in both the music he wrote for the Church and the music he wrote for that which would be preformed outside the Church. Bach would sign all of his compositions, “Sola dei Gloria” — the Reformation slogan — “To the glory of God.” As a Christian Musician Bach sought to get the music of the heavenly spheres into all his music. All his music would be Christian … not because it had Jesus notes in it but because it was objectively beautiful.
With this Biblical doctrine of the Priesthood of all believers Christian princes could rule as foster Fathers for the Christian faith and Christian Queens could rule as Nursing mothers to the Christian faith. They could bring their Christianity into the civil sphere because they could rule according to God’s standard of Justice.
The doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers allowed all of life to sizzle with vocation as done before the presence of God and for God’s glory and as pursued for the benefit of all of God’s people.
Another impact of this doctrine of the Priesthood of all believers was that the natural found its proper place alongside the supernatural. In the Medieval world the supernatural was everything and the natural was nothing. This was seen in the sacraments. The sacraments were everything because they partook of the “supernatural.” Bread into the Body of Christ. Wine into the blood of Christ. This was seen in the order of Monks and Priests — those who were serving the supernatural realm. Everyone else in the natural realm …. not so much.
The supernatural was in the ascendancy and the natural was considered unimportant. This was also seen in Medieval art. Medieval artists, when they desired to show light in this paintings, had light emanating from a supernatural source…. perhaps from a beaming heavenly ray coming down from heaven or from one of the Halo’s over one of the saints or over one of the Holy family members in the painting. However, with the Reformation, the Natural realm was given its place alongside the supernatural realm. The sacraments were stripped of their magical quality. Paintings were now done where light was drawn from natural sources such as sun or moon. These are subtle shifts that testified to an epoch worldview shift.
The Reformation understood that heaven is the ultimate hope of the Christian but it restored to its proper place the importance of this world … a world we testify to in song as “This is my Father’s World.” If not for the Reformation and the doctrine of the “Priesthood of all believers” we would still be divide all vocation up into “Full Time Christian Ministry,” and “Everything else we poor schleps do.” If not for the Reformation and the doctrine of “The Priesthood of all Believers,” we would still think that if something were really important it would have to be directly connected to the Institutional Church in some way. If not for the Reformation and the doctrine of the “The Priesthood of all Believers,” we would still be subject to Priest-craft and convinced that our salvation was dependent upon human Priest who intercede for us instead of dependent upon Christ alone who is our alone Priest and whose intercession alone can provide relief to confessing sinners.