Mostly for Baptists (Others Welcome to Listen In): Priesthood of Believers

What Does (and Doesn’t) the Priesthood of Believers Mean?

The priesthood of the believer, of every believer equally, is one of the cornerstones of Baptist doctrine and practice.  As we can see from 1 Peter 2:9 it is also a biblical doctrine.  The New Testament calls Christians “a royal priesthood” without exceptions.

But today there is a great deal of confusion about this bedrock Baptist belief.  What does it mean?  How does it work out in practice?  Unfortunately, there is little consensus among Baptists, including Baptist biblical scholars and theologians, about the answers to these questions

Why does it matter?  It matters because this beautiful truth of every Christian’s priesthood is being distorted or neglected or even denied by some Baptists to say nothing of other Christians—and that has dire consequences.  I believe we can see those consequences in Baptist life today.

The New Testament mentions the priesthood of the believer at least two passages.  But nowhere does it explain what it means.  So, as with many good biblical truths, we have to discern what it means using tradition, reason and experience—the three sources and norms of theology that help us interpret Scripture.

The background is the Jewish religion of the first century.  When these passages were written, probably, anyway, the Temple in Jerusalem was gone.  Along with it went the Jewish priestly class—the men who offered up the sacrifices in the Temple and who entered the “Holy Place” and the “Holy of Holies” to encounter God as directly as possible.

Jewish priests, as all priests, were considered mediators between God and his people.  It’s not that first century Jews couldn’t go directly to God in prayer, but when it came to the sacrifices so crucial to the covenant between God and his people priests were needed.  Only priests could really carry out the essential function of reconciliation between God and his people.

It seems that our New Testament writers were harking back to the report that when Jesus died on the cross the curtain between the Temple’s Holy Place and the Holy of Holies was torn—symbolically declaring no need of a merely human high priest because of Jesus’ priestly sacrifice on our behalf on the cross.

Now, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, we have one high priest and mediator—Jesus Christ.  And according to our Scriptures this morning, we are all mediators—priests.  Thus, there is no longer any “priestly class” as there was in Temple Judaism.  Every Christian has a high priest in Jesus who offered himself up as our sacrifice and every Christian is a priest unto God.

Notice what made Jesus our high priest—he offered himself as a sacrifice and served as our mediator before God.  Hebrews says he lives now to make intercession on our behalf to God the Father.

One terrible distortion of the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer is a focus on the individual as priest for himself or herself and not for others.  And worse is when it is used as a basis for assertion of one’s own rights.  The essence of true priesthood is sacrificing and mediating on behalf of others and, if Jesus is the purest example of true priesthood, it means sacrificing one’s self on behalf of others.

By the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the Catholic church had seriously misunderstood and distorted the idea of priesthood.  It was a throwback to the Temple Judaism of the first century and before—certain men were believed to be the only ones who could mediate between God and his people.  Only an ordained clergyman could perform the sacraments—sacrifices.  Only such a person could hear confessions of sin and pronounce absolution of guilt after assigning acts of penance.

Martin Luther rebelled against this and other practices of the medieval church proclaiming three great truths: sola Scriptura—Scripture above tradition, sola gratia et fides—salvation by grace alone through faith alone, and the priesthood of the believer.

But, all branches of the Protestant reformation except one held onto certain Catholic notions of priesthood.  Luther and Zwingli and Calvin and other so-called magisterial reformers taught that only ordained clergymen could officiate the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper and said clergyman must be present when believers meet to worship or study the Bible.

As recently as the mid-19th century it was illegal for lay people to meet together to study and discuss the Bible without benefit of state-church clergy in many Protestant European countries.

The one Reformation group that rejected this clericalism was the Anabaptists—which means “re-baptizers”—the forerunners of Baptists who emerged a century later.  They believed that the mainline Reformers still did not understand the priesthood of the believer and they took it farther by rejecting clericalism altogether making every baptized Christian spiritually equal.

The first Baptists were John Smyth and Thomas Helwys who learned about the priesthood of the believer from the Anabaptists.  They founded the first Baptist congregations in Holland in 1609—400 years ago this year.  Like the Anabaptists they took the priesthood of every believer seriously and taught that every baptized Christian is fully capable of serving as a priest unto God.

Ever since 1609 Baptists have upheld this doctrine with passion.  But they have not always agreed about its exact meaning.  Recently very serious disagreement about it has broken out among Baptists as part of the larger controversy between so-called “Fundamentalists” and so-called “Moderates.”  We who call ourselves Moderates believe our more conservative brothers and sisters have once again forgotten what the priesthood of the believer means.  We see them as following a new priestly class of religious leaders who act as if only they can read the Bible rightly and only they can make decisions for other Christians.  All who disagree with them are banished.

But in the heat of our controversy we may have forgotten what the priesthood of the believer really means.  Some of us have swung the pendulum away from the Catholic concept of priesthood and away from the ultra-conservative interpretation too far.  And we have unconsciously absorbed the individualism of our culture and confused believer’s priesthood with individual autonomy.

The New Testament knows nothing of individualism.  Yes, the individual is created in God’s image, but being created in God’s image means being created for relationships.  God is a community; we are to reflect the divine community of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit in our lives together.

But too often we wrongly imagine that being priests unto God means having our own way, being unaccountable, even rejecting authority outside the self.  None of that is New Testament Christianity or Baptist theology.  One moderate Baptist leader is famous for declaring “Ain’t nobody but Jesus going to tell me what to believe.”  That’s understandable as a reaction against the dictatorship of fundamentalism.  But it is too individualistic to accurately express New Testament Christianity or even historic Baptist life.

Being a priest involves having certain privileges—going directly to God on behalf of others and ourselves and having equal right to perform the sacraments or ordinances and preach and teach and lead in congregational life.  And it means that nobody is better able to interpret the Bible than anyone else in the body of Christ just because he or she is ordained.  The priesthood of the believer means the Bible is open to everyone to be interpreted faithfully and reasonably.

But being a priest also involves certain responsibilities such as bearing other’s burdens to God, laying down one’s self for others as our high priest did on the cross, being accountable to the body of Christ for our gifts and our lives and our decisions.

One of the debates among Baptists about our doctrine of the priesthood of believers is whether it should be expressed as the “priesthood of the believer” or the “priesthood of all believers.”  In other words, is each individual a priest unto God as an individual or are we priests unto God together?  The debate reminds me of the old beer commercial—“more flavor/less filling.”  Remember that?  So many debates are false either-ors.  Why can’t a beer be both more flavorful and less filling?  That’s what made the commercial funny.  Why can’t the priesthood of the believer be both individual and together?

Individually as a priest I can go directly to God and I am ultimately responsible only to God.  There is no group of people who are endowed with a higher order of spirituality through which I must go to relate to God.

Together we, as priests, take care of each other, approach God on behalf of each other, and are responsible for each other and accountable to each other.

Individually as a priest I can read the Bible and interpret it as the Spirit guides me.  I do not have to bow down before some man-made creed or obey some magisterial human authority that crushes my conscience to the ground.  That’s what “soul competency” means.

Together we read and interpret the Bible in community, tell each other what we think the Bible means and listen as others affirm or correct us.  Together we work toward consensus as the Spirit leads us together in our discernment of the Bible’s meaning for us today.  Soul competency must be balanced with responsibility to the body of believers to which we belong.

The priesthood of the believer has never meant unaccountability for what we believe or how we live.  Whenever I hear a Baptist or anyone say “I’m a priest unto God so I can believe and live however I want to because that’s strictly between me and God” I know that person doesn’t understand priesthood.  Priesthood has nothing to do with demanding my rights or asserting my autonomy; it has everything to do with sacrifice and service and promoting harmony and peace and community.

I’ve heard many moderate Baptists claim that the priesthood of the believer means absolute freedom to determine one’s own beliefs and to shape one’s own doctrine and spirituality without accountability to anyone else.  That is such a distortion of the historic Baptist doctrine of the priesthood of the believer that I can only shake my head in amazement that it has caught on so much.

One of the leaders of moderate Baptists in America is Cecil Sherman—the first Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  Listen to what this great statesman of moderate Baptists has to say about the individual and Christian belief.  Commenting on Jude 3 and referring to the great doctrines carved out by the church fathers he says “’Once for all entrusted to the saints’ suggests that we are not at liberty to change ‘the faith.’  We can accept it or reject it, but we are not free to amend or delete.  The faith is no more ours to change than the Ten Commandments are ours to vote up or down.  Each generation will have to examine and put into their own idiom the ideas of ‘the faith.’  But the goal of rephrasing is not to change, but rather, to clarify.  We are always preserving the essence.”  (Formation Commentary May-August 2000, Smyth & Helwys, p. 92.)

Clearly, according to Cecil Sherman, who is an authority on Baptist distinctives among moderate Baptists, priesthood of the believer does not mean freedom to adjust the gospel and basic Christian doctrine to one’s own whims and fancies.

While we are not a creedal people in the sense of requiring anyone to sign a man-made, written statement of faith to be a member or leader of our church, we are people of the Christian faith which is not compatible with anything and everything.  Historically, Baptists have not handed a creed or statement of faith to new members or potential leaders and said “Here, sign it or go away,” but we have said “What do you believe?” and considered whether the person’s doctrinal beliefs are consistent with ours.

Priesthood of the believer also does not mean that everyone in the body of Christ has equal authority over everything.  If that were the case, the New Testament wouldn’t mention “gifts”—offices—such as teaching, pastoring, evangelism, prophecy.  Clearly, the New Testament church had leaders who were more than mere hirelings to do chores.

Because we have seen other churches abuse spiritual leadership we moderate Baptists have tended to abandon the whole idea and we talk about hiring pastors instead of calling them.  We wrongly refer to them as “employees.”  These terms are appropriate in a business setting, but they are not appropriate for referring to spiritual leaders.

In Baptist history, the pastor is the elder and bishop of the church.  1 Timothy 5:17 refers to “elders who rule” and says they are worthy of honor especially in the labor of preaching and teaching.  Titus 1:5-9 makes clear that “elder” and “bishop” are the same office in the church.  We Baptists call this office “pastor.”  But we have too often wrongly viewed the pastor as our servant in the sense of employee to be managed by some board—whether deacons or some other elected body of lay leaders.

One Sunday I visited a Baptist church (not my own).  The relatively young and new pastor was away and the guest preacher was an elder statesman of Baptist life in that state.  He addressed the congregation about their new pastor and told them to “put the saddle on him” right away.  The rest of his words made clear what he meant—that the laymen of the congregation should tame the pastor and make clear to him who his bosses are—the deacons of the church!  I shuddered for that young man and every pastor who goes into such a church.

To be sure, pastors are not spiritually superior beings; they are neither infallible nor holier than others.  But they are trained and ordained and they deserve respect and honor–much more than they tend to receive in many Baptist churches.

On the one hand, the pastor is just another priest.  He or she is not a special, necessary mediator through whom we must go to reach God.  On the other hand, the pastor is a leader—the elder and bishop of the congregation worthy or honor and respect and even a certain amount of deference.

The problem of how many Baptist churches treat pastors is symptomatic of a larger problem in Baptist life: our tendency toward angry atomizing.  Too often we break apart into smaller and smaller units over relatively minor issues.  Too many of us lack respect for the authority of the community.

Let’s face it—Baptists are notorious for our feistiness and even divisiveness.  There are, unfortunately, like Heinz, 57 varieties of Baptists in America.  In Waco alone we have about 125 Baptist churches—the thickest concentration of any metropolitan area in America.  Many of them are splits from other Baptist churches.  Non-Baptists view us as congenitally divisive.

I took one of my classes to the local Greek Orthodox church.  During the Q & A time the priest said to us “I just learned that you Baptists don’t have bishops; is that right?”  The students and I gladly affirmed it.  Then he asked us “How do you settle disputes?”  We all looked at each other and then at him and someone said “We don’t.”  The priest then raised his hand and said “Then my benediction to you is ‘Go  and fight’.”  He meant it facetiously, but his words were truer than he knew.  It’s in our DNA to fight.

You’ve probably heard of the Baptist man who was stranded on a desert island in the Pacific Ocean like Tom Hanks in the movie “Castaway.”  When his rescuers came they found him standing in rags and long, scraggly hair in front of three crudely built huts.  One of the rescuers said “What are those three huts behind you?”  The Baptist castaway said “That one is my house; I sleep there.”  “What is the third one over there?” asked the rescuer.  “Oh, that’s my church; I worship there.”  “And what is the middle one?”  “Oh, that’s where I used to go to church.”

After the horrible riots that rocked Los Angeles some years ago Rodney King, who had been unjustly beaten by police, asked “Why can’t we all just get along?”

I suggest that one reason we Baptists don’t just get along is our deep-seated attitude of individualism and our mistaken notions about the priesthood of the believer contribute to and reinforce that.  We need to adjust our views about priesthood and rediscover its true privileges and responsibilities and stop using that beautiful truth to defend our individual rights over against others and to protect our lack of accountability to each other.  Priesthood must be balanced with community; individual priesthood without community is empty just as community without equal priesthood is dangerous.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Sam

    Thank you. This gives me a lot to think about. I leaning towards understanding the preisthood of believers as meaning, that we are priests to those around us and not for ourselves. What that looks like i guess needs to be worked out.

  • Lindsey

    I very much appreciated this article. It also struck me as an “other” reading along that you could easily substitute my tradition, the Church of Christ (perhaps the only denomination more sectarian than Baptist), and still be right on the money 🙂

    In all seriousness though, I had never considered the priesthood of all believers, a doctrine both of our traditions share, as an element which contributes to our divisive nature and assumption that our opinions should always be considered equally among the priesthood. Thanks for the insight!

  • PJ Anderson

    A wonderful post on an important topic. As a northern import into a Texas Baptist church I have been long unsettled by the default towards divisiveness I encounter in this state between churches. Some of it comes from this misunderstanding of the priesthood of the believer. Another aspect, which I would enjoy some discussion about, is the corruption of this known as “individual soul liberty” which has been twisted to mean that no believer is under any pastoral/spiritual authority and no believer is spiritually accountable to others. In several church controversies I’ve observed (thankfully not being at those churches) this concept has come up as a justification for the position of a vocal minority (or majority) in opposing a particular viewpoint.

    I wonder how much the misunderstanding of both concepts has impacted Baptist life where we are today?

    • rogereolson

      I see the two concepts as one–two sides of the same coin. “Soul competency” is an expression of the priesthood of the believer. When taken to an extreme (as too often it is), it results in radical individualism–a plague among Baptists (and others).

  • John Metz

    Not being a Baptist I cannot comment on the Baptist controversy you mention. However, one point you mentioned really struck home. That is, when it comes to believers, we are priests in the sense that we do not need a mediating class of ‘special’ persons between us and God. At the same time, as you point out, our priesthood is not an individualistic thing–“just me and God!” One may be an individual priest but one can never be an individual priesthood. The ‘hood’ includes the other priests.
    This is part of a footnote on “priesthood” (1 Peter 2: 5) from the Recovery Version:
    “The holy priesthood is the spiritual house…referring to the assembly of priests, a body of priests, a priesthood, as in this verse and v. 9. The coordinated body of priests is the built-up spiritual house. Although Peter did not address his two Epistles to the church or use the term church in this verse in stressing the corporate life of the believers, he did use the terms spiritual house and holy priesthood to indicate the church life. It is not the spiritual life lived in an individualistic way, but the spiritual life lived in a corporate way, that can fulfill God’s purpose and satisfy His desire. He wants a spiritual house for His dwelling, a priestly body, a priesthood, for His service.”
    Hope you enjoy!

  • Bob

    I know we have to give our pastors freedom and respect. I think they need to be more accountable to the various boards. As a Baptist myself over the last 25 years I’ve been involved in 3 churches and two of them moved towards a pastor lead church from an congregational/Elder lead ones. My current one now the pastors and other paid staff are moving towards more and more control away from elected leadership. Elders are part time men for church work and have full time employment somewhere else. The pastors and staff have 40 hours a week to secure their own position. I think it’s a natural human tendency to go in this direction. Corporations and governmental institutions don’t go this route. I work for a corporation that my boss is usually more educated and experience than I am. They don’t give me a weekly paycheck and say go and do what seems best for you with the HS as your guide. I’m just saying evangelical pastors need some accountability or a list of responsibilities. Elder boards usually have no experience on how a church should function or what pastors should be doing and trust the pastor to inform them. Yet there are dangers with an hierarchical/institutional clergy in typical high-church denominations.

  • Bob Brown

    Thanks Roger. I was a UMC pastor but left that denomination because of its control over the pastors and the churches. I was recently hired by an American Baptist Church in NJ. Within the past year two ABC churches nearby announced they were leaving the denomination. The church that hired me didn’t have elders, only deacons. Four Elders were chosen and it is such a blessing to me. We all share the responsibilities and whatever issues and problems arise. I continually let them know I’m a fellow elder as Peter himself told the elders in his first letter. My ministry ‘feels’ much more NT now. I’m loving the thought that the church has the power to form itself according to the NT.

    We recently took a good look at what it means to be “royal priests” and a “kingdom” or “kings”. Doesn’t the plurality of the wording there in 1Peter 2:9 insist on being in community with other priests and kings within the kingdom of God? Thanks btw for the recommendation for “Created for Community” by Grentz. I think his theology there backs up what you’re saying here.

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    Dr. Olson wrote: “Now, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, we have one high priest and mediator—Jesus Christ. And according to our Scriptures this morning, we are all mediators—priests. Thus, there is no longer any “priestly class” as there was in Temple Judaism. Every Christian has a high priest in Jesus who offered himself up as our sacrifice and every Christian is a priest unto God.”

    Well said, Dr. Olson! And I would like to offer a further thought. Since Jesus Christ is our great high priest who offered himself up for “the sin of the world” (not just for Christians), therefore, we who constitute the priesthood of believers are commissioned to commend the benefits of his “once for all” atonement sacrifice to all humanity. The old covenant priesthood understood that the efficacy of their blood sacrifices were not limited to the Hebrew people only, but symbolized God’s grace and forgiveness of all humanity.

    For example, at the annual Feast of Booths (Tabernacles) the priests of Israel would offer in sacrifice seventy bulls to atone for the sins of the seventy nations* that were symbolically recognized to represent ALL of non-Hebrew humanity (Num 29:12-32). But does it not seem incongruous that ancient Hebrew priests were willing to generously include all Gentile peoples (even Caesar!) in their atonement rituals; whereas the new covenant Christian priesthood are often unwilling to grant that Christ’s “better” sacrifice is no less far reaching and meant to include ALL humanity? — See Hebrews 9:22-26 on this.

    * Stern, David H., Jewish New Testament Commentary, Chapter 7, p. 175, “Rabbi El’azar said, ‘To what do these seventy bulls correspond? To the seventy nations'” (Sukkah 55b). In rabbinic tradition, the traditional number of Gentile nations is seventy; the seventy bulls are to make atonement for them.

  • Thomas Wiley

    Thanks for this. I’ve often wondered exactly what the idea of the priesthood of all believers meant, and worried that it was a bit too individualistic. So your clarification in the paragraphs following “The New Testament knows nothing of individualism” is very helpful and encouraging to read.

    I currently attend a Reformed Baptist church (with difficulty — I’ve spent the last decade or more trying to be Reformed, only to discover in the past two or three years that my Wesleyan-Arminian roots go too deep. “Arminian Perspectives: Myths and Realities” was helpful in that discovery, as was Hart’s “The Doors of the Sea”). It’s interesting to see the tension between some of the Baptist ideas you express here coupled with the adherence to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. “But it’s not a creed, it’s a helpful, accurate summary of Scriptural truth,” or so the argument goes. Elders and Deacons are required to subscribe to the Confession prior to ordination/installation.

    The (plurality of) Elders “rule” the congregation and serve four-year terms, after which there is a congregational vote on whether or not they should continue in office – but the Elders can, if they wish, appoint a new elder without holding a congregational vote to confirm him (which is how our new pastor was called). Perhaps this serves as a corrective to the lack of respect and deference towards pastors you’ve pointed out in the broader Baptist context, but at the same time it seems to be a break with historical Baptist tradition… probably in an attempt to have a more Reformed church system while rejecting Presbyterianism in favor of the Baptist ideal of local church autonomy.

    I realize I’ve strayed from the topic of the priesthood of believers into somewhat tangential issues; sorry for the rabbit trail. If you have time, though, I’m curious what your take on the Reformed Baptist movement is, and how it fits (or doesn’t) within the broader Baptist movement?

    • rogereolson

      I have no problem with a Baptist church having a plurality of elders. Traditionally, though, the lead pastor is the one elder of the congregation (in Baptist churches). I don’t believe in unaccountable elders, however. Nobody (in a Christian context) should be unaccountable (to his or her Christian community). Ultimately, in the final analysis, in a traditional Baptist congregation, the congregation decides (on issues of personnel, leadership, etc.).

  • Great post! I think I mentioned before that my father was a dedicated “soul competency” Baptist minister. Though I am no longer a Baptist, I still carry those soul competency concepts that I learned from my Dad. I especially like your points about priesthood meaning to act on others behalf, bearing another’s burden before God, and the emphasis that we must work in community rather than just individually.

  • Sam

    Dr. Wilson,

    As a recent “convert” into a Baptist Church (SBC) from a Pentecostal denomination, I find it hard to reconcile what you are saying here with what I see being played out on a daily basis in regards to the status of women in ministry. If Baptists supposedly believe in the priesthood of believers and that this puts us on equal ground spiritually, then how is the subjugation of women and the denial of the women’s role in ministry upheld? Before I took my current job at a Baptist Church (out of necessity), the senior pastor stated from the pulpit on a Sunday morning that as long as he was the pastor, a women would never be allowed to serve in a ministerial role or hold the title of minister/pastor. This seems to fly in the face of what Peter was getting at here, and what you have mentioned above.

    So, is the priesthood of all believers good “individually”, but when it comes to the “together” part in church matters, the priesthood is only for the men? That doesn’t seem like it jives with the whole counsel of Scripture or Church tradition (heaven forbid we look at tradition outside of our own Baptist fellowship) where we see numerous occasions where women were “called” to do ministerial labor.

    • Sam

      I meant Dr. Olson, not Wilson…that’s what I get for typing this while thinking about the Castaway reference. HA!

    • rogereolson

      I didn’t say all Baptists practice the priesthood of believers correctly, did I? In fact, my essay was aimed at Baptists to correct misunderstandings and wrong practices of the concept.

  • C Fred Smith

    Let’s drop the term “Fundamentalists” when we speak of the SBC Controversy of a few years back. It was used perjoratively of the people who called themselves “Conservatives”. Some of them used “Liberal” perjoratively of the people who called themselves “Moderates.” When you call yourself a “Moderate” and the other “Fundamentalists” as if those were the two accepted terms, you are biasing the reader’s understanding of the matter toward your way. How would you feel if someone on the other side insisted on calling his side “Conservative” but yours “Liberal”? I suppose if someone used “Liberal” and “Fundamentalist” it would at least be equally perjorative but I think that fairness to both sides requires that we use the much less emotion laden terms that each side preferred for themselves and that all parties well understood–Moderate, and Conservative. Please–don’t implicitly “choose sides” while operating under a veil of objectivity and fairness.

    • rogereolson

      So why don’t they call themselves fundamentalists? I don’t call myself liberal because nothing about my approach to theology fits the historical paradigm known as “liberal Protestantism” (maximal acknowledgment of the claims of modernity, no authority outside the self, etc., etc.). I’ve written much (!) about these labels here over the past two years. Go back and see what I’ve written about them. I think many of the leaders of the Southern Baptist conservative take over of the past thirty years are indeed fundamentalists. What else correctly labels people who force others to sign statements that they do not speak in tongues even in their private prayer lives (on pain of being fired)? What else correctly labels people who say that they don’t see how anyone who believes in evolution can be a Christian? (Etc., etc., etc.)

    • John I.

      Given how clear RO has been about his positions and beliefs, I hardly think he is “operating under a veil of objectivity”. He is fair in that he lets bloggers of all stripes post comments on his lede posts, and interacts with them – from his perspective. I think that is a proper approach to blogging: being clear about the positions one has and the perspective one is blogging from, and being tolerant of and interactive with those of differing viewpoints. Obviously, I do admire RO, but I’m not a suck-up and have disagreed with him (I’m a lawyer after all). RO has in prior posts clearly delineated what he thinks constitutes fundamentalism and liberalism. You may disagree, but before shooting off a quick reactionary post, it would be more beneficial to you, him, and us readers if you were to take the time to first read what he has written about this issue (pretty easy, they are posts on this blog), and then make a good critique. His position is not inviolate and could be critiqued, and we would like to see such a critique developed or a different point of view presented (personally, I do think he is correct, but he could be wrong and thus me as well).

      Looking forward to a further critique,


  • Steve Rogers

    I do not think the Baptists have cornered the market on divisive individualism, although the almost prideful boast of some that they do may put them in a class of their own. As for pastors, elders, deacons, bishops and etc, there are clearly spelled out qualifications for them in the scriptures. Boastfulness, arrogance, individualism, lording over others and suchlike are not among them. Too many church leaders have adopted their leadership styles from the football sidelines rather than the Word of God.

  • Steve

    In the reference in 1 Peter 2 Peter is speaking to Jews not Gentiles. To apply these verses as if they refer to those outside physical Israel is a mistake. The letter of 1 Peter is to the Jewish exiles of the diaspora of the first century. They were persecuted out of Israel by their fellow Jews for following Christ and Peter is writing to them to encourage them. It is physical Israel who are a royal priesthood. Most often this misunderstanding comes form the misinterpretation of 1 Peter 1:1-2 where the Protestant concept of ‘chosen’ or ‘elect’ is wrongly added to. The ‘eklektoi’ is physical Israel in these verses. I could elaborate on these verses but it would take too long here except to say popular ‘interpretation’ such as the NIV and NKJV make a mess of it. The Jews who Peter was writing to would have known exactly what he was talking about when he used the word ‘prognosin’ or foreknowledge in relation to Abraham, Issac and Jacob and would have been comforted by this intimate word whch is the point of the letter (encouragement for these exiles). There are also overtones of the Catholic -Protestant tensions and this is quite frankly juvenile. About as close as you can get to what it is that God requires in all of this is to understand that to lead is to serve. So those placed in leadership over the flock are to serve the flock as Jesus did and Paul etc. But to use these verses from Peter in this way is strictly speaking, a misunderstanding.

    • rogereolson

      So are you saying 1 Peter is not for gentile Christians to read and benefit from?

      • Steve

        I always run into this problem. As soon as I point out discrepancies people put words in my mouth. It always happens. Change the subject make accusations but never address the issue. What do you say regarding what I have said? Namely, these verses do not point to your claims about Baptist doctrine regarding the Priesthood of believers? What do you think about the fact that this letter is addressed to Jews. If you believe in the POB how do you get there using scripture properly. Do you have any other prooftexts? etc.

    • John I.

      I think we can do without accusations of “juvenile”, whether or not one thinks it is warranted or true.

      Even if the Petrine letters are addressed to completely Jewish groups, the way in which the theology is developed has implications for all if it works in respect of the Christian Jews. The writer bases his points on the fact that God is father of all, and that God has raised Jesus who is the key to our faith, and we are all indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The pan-believer signifcance of 1 Peter is indicated by “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Who are those who were not a people but now are? Gentiles who are now grafted in? Or Jews who are now a people because they have received mercy from God through Jesus Christ even after all their failings? Either way, the mercy that applies to the Jew applies to the Gentile, and as a result all are on a level playing field before God their joint father, and through Jesus their joint saviour, and by their common infilling of the Spirit.

      Hence the priesthood of all believers has some concrete referent and refers (perhaps “firstly”) to the Jews and then by extension to all who are grafted in via Jesus and His Spirit. On the other hand, if priesthood is being used metaphorically and rhetorically to provide the writer with a point of common referenceand impact with his Jewish readers, then there is no ecclesiastical or relational signficance to the phrase “priesthood of all believers”.



  • Mikael Stenhammar

    Great post! Interesting read even for a non-baptist.