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Priesthood of the Believer


This article is part of our current article and Text-Driven Podcast series, "Distinctly Baptist."


So far, over the last several articles, we have looked at various components of being a Baptist. We have learned that being a Baptist is more than just attending a church with the moniker “Baptist” on the marquee out front. Being Baptist is about what Scripture teaches concerning God’s design for the church.


The church is a serious topic for Christians. The term “church” is used two times in Matthew’s gospel. The first usage was in Matthew 16 where Jesus declares that He will build His church. The second usage is in Matthew 18 where Jesus talks about the purity of the church through the administration of discipline. Even though Jesus did not speak often about the church, we must understand the importance of the church.


God’s commission for taking the gospel to every man, woman, boy, and girl has been issued as a mandate to the church. In Matthew 28, the Great Commission to followers of Jesus is to make disciples. The making of disciples occurs when local churches go, baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and teach the Word of God. Paul mentions that the manifold wisdom of God is to be made known by the Church (Ephesians 3:10). Therefore, God’s design for taking the gospel to your neighbor and the nations is by the vehicle of the church (i.e. His people).


Understanding that we, the church, are God’s plan for accomplishing the Great Commission should be humbling to us. We are not free to “do” church however we see fit. Instead, we have to be the church according to God’s design if we are going to accomplish the work that He has assigned to His people.


Through each of our previous articles, we have been looking at the New Testament components that comprise God’s design for His church. In order to remember God’s design, we have adopted the acronym “Baptist” to help us think clearly about the topic of the church. So far, we have learned that New Testament churches are congregations that submit to Biblical Authority. Scripture is the sole authority for Christian practice. In Scripture, we learn the will of God for our life personally and our church corporately. Second, we learned that the New Testament teaches that local churches are autonomous of one another. This autonomy is wholistic, which means that congregations are not only ecclesiastically autonomous but also societally autonomous. No other ecclesiastical body (i.e. church) has any authority over another church gathering. Furthermore, no political body (i.e. government) has any authority over a church gathering. Local churches are autonomous.


Another central component of a New Testament church is the understanding of a believer’s priesthood. To continue our “Baptist” acronym, we will now look at the “P” in Baptist, which stands for the priesthood of the believer. In order to understand the importance of the priesthood of the believer, we will need to look at three questions: 1) What is a priest? 2) How did individual church members become a priest? 3) Why does the priesthood of the believer matter practically?


What is a priest?

What is a priest? In our current context, the term priest would likely conjure up images of a church leader within the Roman Catholic Church. The community in which I live has a massive Catholic Church in the middle of the town square. It is not rare to see a Catholic priest walking around town. It is always easy to recognize a priest; their uniform is consistent. Every priest wears what has been termed as a “clergy collar” shirt.


The idea of priests dates back even before the Roman Catholic Church. The priests were part of the theocracy of God’s people—Israel. They had an integral role to play in the nation of Israel. A priest served as God’s representative mediator to the people. God would reveal Himself through the priest to the people. Therefore, the manner in which the people of God knew God was through a mediator.


Without a priest, the people of God were restricted in their access to God. It was only through the mediation of the priest that an individual could be in right standing before God. One primary responsibility of the priest was in terms of sacrifice. Only the priest could offer the blood sacrifice necessary to make atonement for sins. Therefore, once a year the priest would enter into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur to be the mediator who makes atonement before God. Everyone, with the exception of the priest, was restricted from God’s presence.


How did individual church members come to be part of the priesthood?

We must now turn our attention to the question, how did individual church members come to be part of the priesthood? As the Old Testament gives way to the New Testament, because of the incarnation of the God-man—Jesus, we are introduced to a new covenant. The new covenant no longer has a need for a mediator through the priestly office. In Christ, the office of the priest has been completed. The author of Hebrews explains that Jesus has inaugurated a new access point for mankind to be in the presence of God (Hebrews 10). That access, which was restricted only to the priests in the Old Testament, has been made available through the blood sacrifice of Jesus. As the gospel writers tell the narrative of Jesus’s crucifixion, it is noted that the veil, which separated the people from God, was torn in two from top to bottom. This tearing of the veil was to show that access was now available to all who would come by faith alone in Christ Jesus. Therefore, as a consequence of Christ’s sacrifice, we are now able to boldly come into the presence of God.


By virtue of the completed work of Christ, the Bible refers to believers as part of the royal priesthood. Each and every person who is a follower of Christ has been granted unfettered access to the presence of God. We do not need a human priest any longer to intercede for us or mediate on our behalf with the Father. Instead, we can have an intimate personal relationship with our Father and His Son.


Why does the priesthood of the believer matter practically?

We have looked at what a priest is and how local church members became part of the priesthood. Now we have to consider the question, why does the priesthood of the believer matter practically? There are three practical reasons that the priesthood of every believer matters.


First, the priesthood of the believer matters practically because of our spiritual growth. Prior to Christ’s work on the cross, man’s spiritual growth was mediated through a priest. Now that Christ has administered access for mankind to enter into God’s presence through His blood, we are able to grow personally. This personal growth happens through being able to confess our sins directly to God (1 John 1:9). Also, our personal growth happens spiritually through Bible study. Because believers are indwelt with the Spirit of God, we are able to understand and apply the Bible as the Spirit illuminates our minds.


Second, the priesthood of the believer matters practically because it reinforces that man is an insufficient mediator between God and man. Scripture teaches that there is only one mediator between God and man, and that mediator is Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). Because of this teaching, we are reminded of our desperate need for Jesus. If our hope is in Jesus, then our future is secure. If our hope is placed in man, then our future is damnation. Only Christ is able to be our all-sufficient mediator.


Third, the priesthood of the believer matters practically because it does not elevate clergy above church members. In the Old Testament, the priests were in a sense hierarchically more important than the people. This was due to the fact that they were the mediators of the covenant. Now, due to the completed work of Christ, all Christians are deemed part of the priesthood. Therefore, any offices of the church are not to be viewed as being more significant. Church members and pastors are equal. They both have equal access to God through Christ’s atonement.


Too often, church members do not understand the access they have by prayer to God. Many times, I am asked as a pastor to pray for a specific situation. While I am more than pleased to pray with any church member, what is typically implied by the request is that I have some type of access to God that is greater than a church member. The doctrine of the priesthood of the believer would repudiate such thinking. Pastors do not have any greater access to God than a church member has to God. Both are equal.





The "Distinctly Baptist" series will also be on the Text-Driven Podcast. You can listen to the Text-Driven Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or at www.textdriven.org/podcasts.


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