Priesthood of all Believers

Priesthood of All Believers

Institution vs. Organism

Abraham Kuyper’s distinction between the church as institution and the church as organism.

Church as Institution — Official structures of the Church, with its offices of Pastors, Elders, and Deacons assigned the role of maintaining the marks of the Church, that is, the Preaching of the Word, Dispensing of the Sacraments, Discipling and caring for the membership as well as the other responsibilities that attach themselves to the formal existence of the Church. In many respects (though not all) it is the work of the Church gathered. The Institution of the Church is tasked with core doctrinal, formal worship, and office-bearing responsibilities that inform and shape the life of the body. The Church as Institution bears the more Hierarchical impulse.

Church as organism — The web of relationships among the Church members that exist outside the Church both with one another and with those to whom they minister Christ. The Church as organism includes also the working out of the undoubted catholic Christian faith, that is taught in the Church as Institution, into every vocation and calling of the membership. In many respects (though not all) it is the work of the Church scattered. The Church as Organism may be said to be more directly missional but it is more directly missional as a consequence of being part of the Church as Institution. The Church as Organism bears the more Democratic impulse.

When Peter writes in I Peter 2 which aspect of the Church is he speaking of?

I think clearly he is speaking more to the Church as Organism here though we must keep in mind that we can never completely sunder the two. Peter will go on later to speak to issues surrounding the Church as Institution a few chapters later (5).

We might say it is one of the geniuses of the Reformed faith that embraces this distinction (Church as Institution vs. Church as Organism) and yet keeps these two aspects together. In some Christian Denominations the emphasis is on the top down hierarchical Structure of the Church. In other Christian Denominations the emphasis is on the Democratic impulse so that everyone is Indian so that all are, at the same time, both chiefs and Indians. In the Reformed Faith you have proper hierarchy but you also have the proper priesthood of all Believers.

This genius was one of the major consequences of the Reformation. We know well of the emphasis of on Sola Scriptura as the formal cause of the Reformation and sola fide as the material cause of the Reformation but we often overlook that the Priesthood of all believers was another extraordinary consequence of the Reformation.

Prior to the Reformation the Priesthood was relegated to the Professionals. Everyone else in the Church sat in the back of the bus so to speak. Being a Priest was a Holy Calling but all other vocations seemed to exist so that those in them could support the Holy Callings. There was a chasm between the Hierarchy and laity. During what is called the Radical Reformation there was the desire to eliminate all distinctions in the Church.

The Priests represented the people before God. They were the mediators between God and man. Their work, as Priests, alone was Holy work. The Reformation overwhelmed that position and insisted that all God’s people were Priests in the sense that all that they did before God was accepted by God as Holy.

When Luther referred to the priesthood of all believers, he was maintaining that the plowboy and the milkmaid could do priestly work. In fact, their plowing and milking was priestly work. So there was no absolute hierarchy in terms of vocation where the priesthood was a “calling” and milking the cow was not. Both were tasks that God called his followers to do, each according to their gifts.

We see Peter getting at this when he says to all the believers that they constitute together “a Holy Priesthood,” and later in vs. 9 “a Royal Priesthood.” Every person in union with Christ is a priest in the sense that they themselves have access to the Father and the privilege of serving Him personally in all He does. The official Priesthood was extinguished in Christ, our great High Priest, but as belonging to Christ we are all Prophets, Priests, and Kings under sovereign God.

The fact that the Priesthood of all believers is contingent on belonging to Christ is hinted at in the language of Peter.

First he refers to Christ as the “living Stone” (vs. 4) and then in vs. 5 he refers to the Christians themselves also as “Living stones.” This language of “living Stone,” and “Living Stones” strongly points to our union with Christ.

Second, Peter notes that all our work is acceptable to the Father only through Jesus Christ, once again emphasizing that our role’s as Priests is dependent upon our great High Priest.

So, we are Priests under sovereign God. Consequently, all of our work is Holy work. It is not that the Pastor or the Elders are the ones who uniquely do “Holy Work.” No, the doctrine of the Priesthood of all believers taught that all work as done unto God was Holy Work. The Pastor does His Holy Work in its proper place and it is the work of the cultus and is monumentally important but all believers also do Holy Work in its proper place. The Housewife in her nurturing of the children and the tending of home is Holy Work — Peter’s “Spiritual Sacrifices.” The Butcher, the Baker, and the Lawn and Grounds Caretaker are offering up Spiritual Sacrifices.

Bunny trail,

When Peter says our sacrifice is spiritual he is NOT saying that our sacrifices are non-Corporeal. Our sacrifices are called spiritual here because he is contrasting them with the sacrifices in the OT of bulls and goats which have been eclipsed since the Lord Christ has fulfilled all that type of sacrifice with His wrath turning death. Our sacrifices are not material in that way. Our sacrifices are spiritual in the sense of a grateful response of a redeemed people as that grateful response is incarnated corporeally in our living. (Rom. 12:1, Phil. 4:18, Heb. 13:5, Rev. 8:3-4).

But I have all, and abound; I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, a sweet fragrance, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God. (Phil 4:18)

Our work though is only acceptable because we belong to the Lord Christ. We belong to Christ because of His death for His people and our work is accepted for the same reason our persons are and that is because our work is imputed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Implications of the Priesthood of all Believers

1.) The Church as Institution is no longer considered the center Institution

One of the Changes of the Reformation was to reduce the time laity spent in the Church building. In the Medieval age the Church was open for Matins, Vespers, Masses, canonical hours, confessional, etc. It was thought that the more time one spent in the Church the better Christian one was. The Reformation changed all that with the understanding that all of life could be lived unto the glory of God. The Reformation actually reduced the time one spent in Church.

Certainly Worship should be attended but the idea that members have to be present for every single function of a Church which has functions every night suggests that the Church may be seeking to replace the role of the Family. The idea of the Church as the institution uniquely and alone responsible for the rearing and raising of children in their undoubted catholic Christian faith is forgetful of the doctrine of the Priesthood of all believers.

2.) There is a bond between the believers (5)

The idea of the Priesthood of all Believers is a corporate and covenantal idea. Here in I Peter it is not the priesthood of each single believer, though there is truth in that, but it is the Priesthood of all believers. Together we constitute the “Spiritual House” and the “Holy Priesthood.” Together we are the “Chosen generation.” All this bespeaks the covenantal aspect of the Church as organism. Together we constitute these realities. In both the OT (Exodus 19:5-6) and NT texts it is the community that has a priestly function. The church together is a royal priesthood.

Practically this means that when we come together for worship we are together offering up “spiritual sacrifices.” Practically this means that our pattern of living, when taken together, is part of this body’s “spiritual sacrifices.”

3.) Agents of Reconciliation

The role of the Priest in the OT was to represent the people before God. As Priests under sovereign God we should be those who are praying for people. 1 Timothy 2:1 says that believers should offer prayers, supplications, and intercessions for all men, particularly for rulers.

We should be praying for one another, but we should also be praying for those in our orbit who understand Christ in a strange way and even those who mock and scorn the Christ of the Scripture. As a Holy Priesthood our long public Prayers when gathered here or when spoken at home should have a Priestly missional quality to them as we pray for the West, and as we pray for the World and as we pray for people name by name.

4.) The Leverage of the Church’s influence multiplies (vs. 9)

When each believer remembers their role as part of the Priesthood of all believers then all believers takes up their charge to do all that they do as before the face of God. This has the potential of setting loose a tidal wave of Christians as salt and a blitzkrieg of Christians as light. As believers take seriously their place as Priests under sovereign God then their understandings of their callings … their living our of their vocations becomes so distinct from those not in the Faith that Biblical Christianity is lived out in all the nooks, crannies, and crevices of life.

Obstacles to Priesthood of all Believers

1.) The Institutional Church refuses to teach this and instead offers up a consumer model

2.) The Laity fail to think God’s thought’s after Him and so absorb an alien way of thinking

In many respects your callings as laity is more difficult than mine. You have these holy vocations but you are so accelerated in your life that you are hard-pressed to have the time to examine how it is that you should handle these holy vocations as Priests unto God. Because this is so the idea of the Priesthood of believers has landed on difficult times.


In all of this we see that God is the master craftsman who is doing all the doing. In this we see the Reformation doctrine of Sola Dei Gloria.

In vs. 4 — Chosen by God
In vs. 5 — Being built up (Something is being done to us. We are passive. God is building up)
In vs. 10 — Now have obtained mercy

All of this language lays emphasis on the fact that God is sovereignly doing the doing. We do not make ourselves into a Holy Priesthood or a people of God. He takes upon Himself to build up His Church.

Let us pray ask God that He might continue to build up His Church and that we might continue to do the work of the Priesthood of believers as a grateful response for all that Christ has done for us by making us friends with God.

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

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