I took a break from my series on the Baptist distinctives (BAPTISTS1) but now I am endeavoring to finish it. I’ve already covered Biblical authority, and Autonomy of the local church. This week I will address Priesthood of the believer. Priesthood of the believer? What do I mean? You may be thinking, “But, I am not Catholic.” Well, when we look at the N.T. we learn that every true believer in Christ is referred to as a “priest” (1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 1:5b-6). So, if you have been born again through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ then you are a priest, a believer-priest.
What is the significance of the N.T. priesthood of the believer? First of all, it alerts us to the fact that in the N.T. Church there is no special class of believer referred to as a priesthood. All genuine Christians are priests. Jesus Christ lived in perfect obedience to the O.T. law and therefore fulfilled it. As a result, the O.T. priesthood no longer exists. Under the O.T. Law, only a descendent of Aaron could serve as high priest and represent the nation of Israel by offering a sacrifice to cover the sin of the nation for one year (Lev. 16). Jesus Christ is our high priest having offered Himself once for all time on the cross (Heb. 9:11-29; 6:20). The Levites served as priests and would carry out duties related to worship, teaching, sacrifice, and prayer (Lev. 10:15). Priests had to be descendents of Aaron, and to offer sacrifice they had to be blameless physically (Lev. 21:16-24). They were essentially a special class of Israelite. Priests were allowed to do certain things that other Israelites were not.
In Christ, all N.T. believers are a part of His body, the church, and are called priests. This priesthood has nothing to do with lineage (no need to be a descendent of Aaron), physical attributes (Lev. 21:16-24), clothing (Ex. 28), or holy conduct (Lev. 21:1-15). Through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ a person becomes a N.T. believer-priest. This priesthood cannot be forfeited because it is a part of being an authentic Christian. But, the important question is, what is the significance of being a believer-priest? Believer-priests can confess their sins directly to God (1 John 1:9). There is no need to appear before another individual to confess sins. A N.T. believer can pray directly to God (Phil. 4:6-7; Col. 4:2-4). Since Jesus Christ is our high priest we can, “Approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time” (Heb. 4:16b).2
Believer-priests can offer “sacrifices” to the Lord directly. O.T. priests offered animal sacrifices to the Lord at the Tabernacle and then later at the Temple in Jerusalem. Christians can offer the Lord: sacrifices of praise (Heb. 13:15); financial sacrifices (Phil. 4:15-20); obedience (Phil. 2:17; 1 Pet. 2:4-5); ourselves through holy living (Rom. 12:1-2); individuals whom they have led to Christ (Rom. 15:15-16); and their own lives to the point of execution for Christ (2 Tim. 4:6). Furthermore, N.T. believer-priests can all hear from God through His Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21). These are privileges that every Christian possesses through faith in Christ.
According to Scripture there is no such thing as a church leader being a priest or belonging to a priesthood that is distinct from that of other Christians You do not need to confess your sins to a church leader (i.e. a priest), unless you are apologizing for sinning against him personally. You can pray directly to God the Father and confess your sins to Him because of your faith in Jesus Christ. There is no church leader that has authority on his own to forgive sins. As a believer-priest you are able to have fellowship with God to the same extent (or depth) as any other Christian. There is no hierarchy or special class of believer. There is no distinct priesthood.
This is one of the reasons why every Christian who is a member of a local church has a responsibility to ensure: church discipline is carried out biblically (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5); false teaching is addressed and not tolerated (Gal. 1:6-10); ministry is done by the church body, not just by the “professionals” (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Cor. 12; 1 Pet. 4:10-11; Rom. 12:3-8, 11); believers are exhorted to biblical living (1 Thess. 5:13b-15); believers are cared for (1 Tim. 5:3; Heb. 13:16; Rom. 12:10, 13); prayer is occurring (Rom. 12:12); and disciple making is the focus of the church (Matt. 28:19-20). Every true Christian is able to hear from God through His Word, pray and confess sins to God, and serve Him. It is so important that we are aware of Scripture’s teach on the N.T. priesthood of the believer. It will help us to function biblically as believers and as a church. Otherwise, the temptation to create an extra-biblical hierarchy (or priesthood) is present. It has happened in history and we must guard against it. Next week, I will address the Baptist distinctive, “Two offices.”
1Biblical authority, Autonomy of the local church, Priesthood of the believer, Two offices (pastor and deacon), Individual soul liberty, Saved church membership, Two ordinances (communion and baptism), and Separation of church and state.
2Scripture quotations marked HCSB are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers. The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).