All believers are equal before God, although they have different roles.
Michael A. Woldt
“Pastor, will you pray for me?”
As a pastor, I’m happy to pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ. However, I bristle when I hear someone add, “You have an extra-special connection with Jesus. He’ll listen if you ask.”
Whenever someone expresses the thought that a pastor’s prayers are handled like “priority mail” before God’s throne while the prayers of “ordinary” believers wind up in the “presorted standard” pile . . . I feel compelled to respond. “I’ll gladly pray for you,” I say, “but please understand that your prayers are just as important as mine. You and I have the same connection to Jesus. We are both God’s royal priests.”
The priesthood of believers
Let’s ask the good Lutheran question: “What does this mean?” Perhaps the term priest conjures up images of bloody Old Testament sacrifices or a cleric in full garb carefully chanting the Mass. Peter paints a different picture. “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . . . You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:5,9).
We become God’s priests when the Holy Spirit brings us to faith through the gospel. “To [Christ], who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father” (Revelation 1:5,6). As royal priests, we enjoy forgiveness of sins and access to the Father at all times (Ephesians 2:18). Everything we do as Christians, whether at home or through our congregation, is an exercise of our priesthood. We proclaim the praises of God when we share the gospel with others and when we offer our “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1).
Satan’s war against the truth
Five hundred years ago, God used Luther to restore the biblical teaching that all believers are priests of God. Since then, Satan has been waging war against that same
truth. Satan understands that Jesus loses an army of witnesses when the priesthood of believers fails to declare his praises.
Four hundred years after the Reformation, Professor August Pieper addressed the Nebraska district convention and offered this observation:
Here is a truth that needs to be emphasized in our day, that individual Christians are to exercise their priesthood (as long as they do not violate good order in the church).
Unfortunately, one doesn’t see much of this among us Lutherans. Congregations call someone to be their pastor, others to teach their children, still others to serve as officers of their congregation. But what about the rest of the members? They’re informed of their financial responsibilities and reminded that they’re expected to attend worship services, to receive the Lord’s Supper regularly, and to live a godly life. But the real priestly activity to which Luther referred is usually left up to the called workers. Most often individual Christians as such do not share in preaching and teaching God’s Word, in baptizing and using the Keys, in the priestly work of praying and offering sacrifice, in striving to preserve sound doctrine, and in showing concern for the lives their fellow Christians are leading. It’s almost as though the congregation has hitched its pastor to the congregational wagon, after which the members climb aboard and allow themselves to be pulled along by the pastor. That surely was not Christ’s plan for his church. [Translated from German by the late Professor John Jeske.]
God’s design for gospel ministry
So, what is Christ’s plan for his church? God’s plan is that some Christians are called to serve their fellow priests through the office of the public ministry. “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:11,12). However, our Lord did not establish the office of public ministry to replace, diminish, or interfere with the priesthood of all believers. God’s design calls for all believers to function side by side with the office of the public ministry in the one gospel ministry of his church.
Public ministers are called by God through his people. They represent their fellow priests as they lead worship services, administer the sacraments, preach, teach, and visit the sick. Using Word and sacrament, public ministers empower and equip their brothers and sisters in Christ to flourish in their roles as royal priests.
What does a well-functioning priesthood of believers look like? It looks like a repentant sinner pleading for God’s mercy while lying on a pillow damp with tears. It looks like a father reading a gospel-centered devotion to his family after supper. It looks like a mother teaching her toddler to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” It looks like a woman coming out of church and informing her pastor, “I’m praying that Jesus continues to bless your preaching and teaching of his Word.” It looks like a factory worker striking up a conversation with a struggling coworker who needs to hear about the Savior’s unconditional love. It looks like people joined together in our synod to support mission outreach, nurturing ministries, and ministerial education. It looks like every act of kindness and love flowing from a baptized child of God.
The Lutheran Reformation fostered a renewed appreciation for the priesthood of all believers. It exposed Satan’s lie that only professional clergy possess the right to use God’s Word, forgive sins, and approach God in prayer. Every Christian has unlimited access to God. Every Christian enjoys the privilege of declaring God’s praise! Let’s all be the priests we are!
Michael Woldt is pastor at David’s Star, Jackson, Wisconsin.
As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, this is the sixth article in a 12-part series on our Lutheran heritage.
Luther still speaks
A basic truth God restored through Luther was the “priesthood of all believers.” Expounding on 1 Peter 2:9, Luther wrote, “It is certainly clear and plain enough that he (St. Peter) speaks to the whole congregation, to all Christians, when he says: You are the chosen generation and the holy people. . . . Some may be selected from the congregation, who then are its officers and ministers, and are appointed to preach in the congregation and administer the Sacraments. But we are all priests before God, if we are Christians. For since we are built on this Stone, who is our High Priest before God, we also have all that he has” (What Luther Says, Vol. 3, #3651).
Every believer is a priest into whose hands the Lord of the church has entrusted “all that Christ has.” Every Christian has the privilege and the duty of telling penitent sinners that the doors of heaven are open.
For the sake of order, the Lord has also given us the office of the ministry. Believers call other believers to be their representatives in their kingdom work. Publicly such called servants preach and teach, not as replacements for believers or as their superiors, but as partners in the greatest work on earth.
There aren’t two classes as the Roman church taught in Luther’s day and today. That teaching proclaimed that the clergy was the superior class that claimed authority from ordination. The laity was the lower class whose duty was as someone put it “confession, contrition, and contribution.” Luther blew the cover off this false teaching. On the clear basis of Holy Scripture, he preached that every believer is a priest before God.
I’m a priest. You’re a priest. Thank God for the privilege. Pray God we be faithful priests.
Richard E. Lauersdorf is pastor at Good Shepherd, West Bend, Wisconsin.
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Author: Michael A. Woldt & Richard E. Lauersdorf
Volume 104, Number 6
Issue: June 2017
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