Baptist Priests: The Priesthood of All Believers
1 Peter 2: 4 – 12
Over the past several weeks, I have been preaching through basic Christian doctrines. I’m not going to try to list or summarize all the doctrines we have been through, because I have covered eleven different theological doctrines. But, over these past eleven weeks, I have concentrated on the basic beliefs that most Christians have in common. There is a lot of common ground among Christians of different denominations.
Despite all the common theological ground we share with other denominations, Baptists are different. Have you ever spent any time wondering (or even articulating) why you are a Baptist? Perhaps your story is like mine. My parents are Baptists. My grandparents were Baptists. And, when I preached my grandmother’s funeral a couple of years ago, I discovered that the cemetery at Farmington Baptist Church in Corinth, Mississippi is filled with Pittmans, who are related to me. It would be entirely possible for me to be a Baptist by default, because Baptist is all I have ever known.
But, I am not a Baptist by default. I am not a Baptist pastor, because the Baptists were the only ones hiring back in 1999. No. I made an intentional decision to be a Baptist when I took my first Baptist History class as a junior in college. In that class, I learned about the radical beliefs and the radical beginnings of the first Baptists in England in 1611.
If you are interested in learning more about Baptists, I can recommend a good Internet resource: www.BaptistDistinctives.org. This website contains 27 articles, written by Dr. Bill Pinson—former Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. He is in the process of publishing a book and study guide for churches to use to teach Baptist Identity. (I plan to read this and possibly use it on Wednesday nights in the future.)
In one of Bill Pinson’s articles, he makes an interesting analogy about what makes Baptists different. He claims that there is not a single Baptist doctrine that separates Baptists from other Christians. Instead, he claims there is a distinct Baptist “recipe.” Some of the ingredients are found in other Christian denominations. But, Baptists bring all those ingredients together into one “recipe.”
I have tried to reduce the Baptist recipe of beliefs into five beliefs. (I would like for them to fit on one hand.) But, the best I can do is get them down to six…
Lordship of Jesus…
Authority of the Bible…
Every Person Is Accountable to God…
Local Church Autonomy…
Priesthood of All Believers…
Since I have been preaching about theology, I want to show you how our Baptist belief in the Priesthood of All Believers teaches that every Baptist is a theologian. Every Baptist ought to spend time “thinking about God” and “speaking about God.”
It should come as no surprise that we get our belief about priesthood from the Bible after all, one of our core beliefs is that the Bible is our authority for faith and practice.
The New Testament Book of Hebrews spend a lot of time demonstrating how Jesus is both the fulfillment of Old Testament religious practice as well as superior to everything we read in the Old Testament. One of points Hebrews makes is to describe Jesus as the High Priest, who fulfills and is superior to what we find in the Old Testament.
Hebrews 9: 11 – 15
11 When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
Jesus is the High Priest who entered into the presence of God on our behalf. He did not bring a sacrifice of a lamb, a dove, a goat or a bull. Jesus voluntarily offered himself as the sacrifice for our sins. Jesus’ sacrifice was once and for all. It was the ultimate and final sacrifice for sin. It does not need to be repeated—like lambs, doves, goats and bulls.
Matthew 27: 50 – 51
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split.
When Jesus died on the cross, a spiritual miracle took place. He provided the sacrifice for our sins. But there was also a physical miracle, which symbolically demonstrated that Jesus’ sacrifice was the final sacrifice for sins.
The veil in the Temple was a physical reminder that the people were separated from God. Behind the veil was the Holy of Holies. No one could enter into the Holy of Holies, except the High Priest. And the High Priest could only enter once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Once a year, the High Priest would offer a sacrifice for his own sins and then offer sacrifices for all the Jewish people.
Now that Jesus has offered the final sacrifice for sins, there is no need for sacrifices to continue—even on an annual basis. Now that Jesus has entered into the presence of God as the High Priest, there is no longer a separation between God and God’s people. We all have access to God. All Christians are priests.
This is where the concept of the Priesthood of All Believers comes from.
The Priesthood of All Believers is one of our beliefs that makes us radical. We have always been viewed as a threat to the religious communities and leaders, because we believe that we have been equally endowed with the Holy Spirit who leads us and gives us the Privilege and Responsibility of being Priests in the world.
I want you to notice a couple of things that I did NOT say. I did NOT say, “Priesthood of every human being.” I did NOT say, “Priesthood of THE Believer.” I said, “Priesthood of All Believers.” There is a subtle, but significant difference, in these expressions.
I did NOT say, “Priesthood of every human being,” because our status with God changes when we BELIEVE in Jesus and place our complete faith and trust in him. People who do not BELIEVE are not Children of God. And people who do not BELIEVE do not enjoy the same kind of relationship with God that you and I have.
I did NOT say “Priesthood of THE Believer,” because “Believer” is singular. I said “Priesthood of All Believers,” because “Believers” is a plural word. It stresses the importance of being a part of God’s people, the Community of God, the Church.
While I believe individual Christians are priests before God, I believe we need to maintain a delicate balance between our individual faith and our corporate experience. For example, it is possible for an individual Christian to read the Bible and come up with some beliefs about God which are not orthodox (or correct understandings about God). That individual has the right to approach God on his or her own, but that does mean every individual theology is equal. Individual faith and beliefs about God need to fit with what the community believes and has taught for 1500 years.
This is why I prefer the phrase “Priesthood of ALL Believers,” because “All” is an inclusive word. It captures the sense of both individuality and community. We are individual priests who exercise our priesthood within the Christian community—the church!
1 Peter 2: 4 – 10.
4 As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him--5 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. 6 For in Scripture it says:
"A stone that causes men to stumble
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 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.
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Peter works with 2 different images in this passage: The Stone the Builders Rejected…Priesthood…
Interesting note that “Peter” = Rock. AND, when Jesus gave Simon the name “Peter,” (Matthew 16) immediately Peter rebuked Jesus. Then, Jesus said, “Get behind me Satan, you are a ‘stumbling block’ to me.” Peter knew what it meant to be the Rock on which the church was built AND a stumbling block to the work of Christ.
Priests Have Access to God.
I have heard missionaries talk about their work with unreached people in remote places all around the world. In many cases these people already believe in a Creator—a god who created everything in heaven and earth. But they do not believe they can approach that Creator. That is why so many religious traditions have created a religious hierarchy that grants some people access to God and others no access.
The Old Testament tells the story of the Levites and the Aaronic Priesthood. All priests must be of the tribe of Levi and descendants of Aaron, the first priest.
During the wilderness years, while God led his people through the desert for 40 years, Moses received instructions on how to construct a tabernacle, or a tent for the Presence of God to dwell among God’s people. Later, this tradition developed into a permanent residence for God in the
They believed that God actually dwelt in the innermost room of the
Holy of Holies. And only one person had
access to the Presence of God: The High Priest. Temple
Therefore, it was important to have a special class of people who could be set aside—ordained—and approach God for the people.
Again, we should keep in mind what happened in the Temple when Jesus died on the cross. The veil separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple was torn. The visible reminder that only priests could approach God was torn. And it was torn from top to bottom…It was torn in a way that only God could have torn it.
Traditions that still have religious hierarchy believe that priests are necessary for several functions:
To hear confessions of sin…
To read and interpret Scripture…This comes from the ancient Catholic tradition of holding Mass in Latin, a language the people did not understand…Martin Luther was one of the first to rebel against this tradition by translating Bible into German, language of the people…Thus making it possible for the common, everyday folks to read the Bible and know God’s will without help from the educated priest.
If you believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and High Priest, then you also believe that you have direct access to God through Jesus. You do not need a priest to hear your confession. You do not need a priest to read and interpret Scripture. The veil was torn from Top to Bottom.
Priests Offer Sacrifices.
There are two sides of Priesthood. Priesthood gives Privilege—Access to God. But many people forget that Priesthood also brings Responsibility.
We live in a world where people want to accept Privilege and reject Responsibility. It is common for people to want all the benefits and none of the responsibility.
The first Responsibility of Priesthood is to Offer Sacrifices.
As I mentioned earlier, Jewish priesthood was set apart—ordained—for special service. Ordination involved two rites.
An animal was sacrificed on the altar, and some of the animal’s blood was placed on right ear lobe, right thumb and right big toe of the one being ordained. This Blood atoned for and cleansed sins.
Then, the new priest was anointed with oil on his head. Imagine how this must have looked with oil running down hair, head, face, dripping on body. This symbolized the Holy Spirit, who covered the priest.
This blood and oil indicated that the Holy Spirit was at work in them, equipping them to function as priest.
But what do we read in the New Testament? While the Old Testament gave graphic descriptions of a priestly order, the priestly function and how to ordain a priest, the New Testament gives no such description. In fact, we read in the New Testament that Jesus’ blood has atoned for our sins, once and for all, and there is no longer need for a priest.
In Acts 2, the prophecy of Joel 2 was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit was poured out on all flesh. Both men and women. Both Jew and Gentile. Both slave and free.
Because of Jesus, God no longer requires sacrifices. And because of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit has been poured out on all flesh…on all who profess faith that Jesus is Lord.
Conclusion: Priests Serve Others.
The second Responsibility of Priesthood is to Serve Others. And there are three ways that Christians are called to serve others:
Take Care of the Body of Christ…
Meet Needs outside the Body of Christ in the Name of Christ…
In our church, there are only two groups of people whom we set apart through ordination: ministers and deacons. But, the work performed by ministers and deacons should never be any different from the work done by all the members of our church.
Priesthood is more than having access to God. It is being a part of a community of priests and having the responsibility to serve others. When we are not serving in the community of faith and the community we live in, we are not being the people God called us to be.