Priesthood of All Believers: A Forgotten Doctrine?

This is a post from 2012. I've decided to re-post it now because I believe many pastors and churches have either forgotten or overlooked it. If a church is considering changing their polity from congregationalism to elder-led, perhaps this doctrine should be part of the discussion.

"But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" 1 Peter 2:9
One of the tenets of biblical congregationalism if the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer, based on 1 Peter 2:9 and other scripture passages. The priesthood of the believer has been one of the  Baptist distinctives which has been cherished down through the centuries.

The priesthood of the believer has been mentioned in the preambles of both the 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. Here's the statement from the Baptist Faith and Message 1963:
"Baptists emphasize the soul's competency before God, freedom in religion, and the priesthood of the believer. However, this emphasis should not be interpreted to mean that there is an absence of certain definite doctrines that Baptists believe, cherish, and with which they have been and are now closely identified."
Here's the statement from Baptist Faith and Message 2000 :

"Baptists cherish and defend religious liberty, and deny the right of any secular or religious authority to impose a confession of faith upon a church or body of churches. We honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, affirming together both our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the Word of God."

And so, how does the doctrine of the priesthood of the believers or sometimes called the preisthood of believers work practically in the Baptist church? I will let Dr. James Leo Garret, Jr. address this issue:

"The Baptist model of a church rests on the concept of the priesthood of believers. A church is made up of persons who have exercised their God-given competency by believing in Jesus as Savior and Lord and by voluntarily associating with a particular fellowship of believers.
Each believer priest in the fellowship is equal to all of the others. Therefore, no one is in authority over all. Thus decisions are made by the community of priests seeking to know the will of the head of the church, the great High Priest, Jesus Christ. They do this by prayer, Bible study, meditation, discussion and decision."(emphasis mine).
Dr. Thomas White has this to say about this doctrine:
"Congregationalism also rests on the larger scriptural theme of the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2:9), in which all believers possess the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17), and thus can receive guidance of the Lord and have direct access to the Lord without the need of a human intercessor. This presupposes a congregation of members who are all regenerate and in touch with the Holy Spirit otherwise known as regenerate church membership." 
Dr. Wayne Grudem has weighed in on the benefits of congregationalism over other forms of church polity:
"Historically, false doctrine often seems to be adopted by the theologians of the church first, by the pastors second, and the informed laity, who are daily reading their Bibles and walking with the Lord, last.
Therefore, if the leadership begins to stray in doctrine or in life, and there is no election by the congregation, then the church as a whole has no practical means of getting hold of the situation and turning it around. But if the officers are elected by the church, then there is a system of “checks and balances” whereby even the governing authority of the church has some accountability to the church as a whole."
Even that old Reformer, Martin Luther believed in the priesthood of the believer, though perhaps not exactly as we Baptists do. Here's a statement from Luther:

"By virtue of their spiritual priesthood all believers “unto the end of the world” possess the inherent right to preach the Gospel and to administer the Sacraments [a good Baptist would say Ordinances]. Since, then, all Christian believers are entrusted with the means of grace, it is their privilege to call pastors, or ministers, who in their name publicly apply the means of grace. Cf. Luther: “That some are chosen form the multitude is done for the reason that they, as representatives of the congregation, should administer and execute the office, which they all have.”

It is clear that the priesthood of the believer has been a baptist distinctive for centuries and is one of the foundational doctrines which support congregational polity.



Steve Martin said…

We all have the right and responsibility to share the gospel and administer the sacraments (ordinances). We are merely extensions of Christ in so doing.

Many believe (erroneously) that something special is received in ordination. Nope. They may have a little better theological education (that isn't even always true), but they have nothing that us laypersons do not have.