Coming up this Tuesday (October 31, 2017) we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation launched by a simple act of academic publication, when an Augustin Monk and Professor of Sacred Theology at the University of Wittenberg in Germany nailed his 95 Theses (critiquing the church’s practice of the Sale of Indulgences) to the door of the local Church building. Thank you Dr. Martin Luther!
Another central tenet of the Reformation, near and dear to Luther’s heart, was the doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers (1 Peter 2:5-9).
Happy 500th Birthday – Now just admit that you don’t really believe in The Priesthood of All Believers! Fire your Pastor already! OK just kidding about the whole firing your Pastor thing. They are mostly all good men and women who are trying to follow what they believe is God’s call on their life, seeking to do the work of ministry, to serve others, and to proclaim the gospel to a lost and hurting world. Its a tough job, and often and lonely and thankless job!
But seriously, for all intents and practical purposes we, as Protestants (and especially North American Evangelicals), don’t actually believe in the Priesthood of all Believers. We venerate our Clergy, especially those “called” to full-time, vocational ministry (and if you don’t believe me let me remind you, it’s Pastor Appreciation Month). We see the call to vocational ministry in the church as a somehow greater call than the call to be a “full-time” loving mother (or father), a carpenter, or an engineer. [HINT: One of Luther’s key ideas was that our vocation is our ministry!]
Let’s face it: if a young woman announces that she feels called to marry and raise up godly children for the next generation, she will likely get a “good for you, honey” from her friends and family. And if a young man (Yes I realize I’m following along gender stereotypes here, but bear with me) stands up in church and testifies that he believes he is being called by God to learn a trade (like carpentry), work hard to become a Licensed Contractor, eventually own his own Business, and to use that position of influence for the glory of God, to reach people “for the gospel” and to serve his community, he will surely get an Amen from the crowd. But if another man (or woman) cries out in the assembly that “I believe God is calling me into full-time ministry” the place erupts in thunderous applause!
Why? Because we believe that the call to vocational ministry is the ultimate call! It is greater than all other calls. Our Pastors are anointed men and women of God who are somehow more “holy” than the rest of us schmucks sitting on our butts in the pews, listening passively to the sermon, filling the offering buckets with our tithes and volunteering to serve in the “children’s ministry.” So much for the Priesthood of All Believers! Sure, as good Protestants, we all affirm the doctrine, but in practice, our thoughts, actions and attitudes indicate otherwise – that we don’t believe it! We crave the approval of our Pastor more than the approval of our best friend (and in some cases, more than God). We long for the official endorsement of the Institution before we go and do what we already know in our hearts that God has called us to do!
We are all called to be “ministers” (diakonos – servants) people (Eph 4:12)! We are all called to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God! We are all called to love others and serve the poor! We are all called to pray for the sick! We are all called to do the accompanying works of the kingdom (signs and wonders). We are all called to “witness” to our co-workers (it’s as a simple as just talking to people in a natural conversational way about Jesus). Yes, some of us are better evangelists than others. Some of us are good at teaching. Others are better at public speaking. And still others are gifted at compassionate ministry and prayers of mercy and encouragement for the hurting. Its called missional living folks. We are all “sent ones” (apostolous). Now go and live like it!
I recently heard a podcast interview of the great missional leader Dr. Reggie McNeal where he quoted Michael Frost (another great missional thinker who is often accused of trying to eliminate the clergy) with saying that:
‘I’m not trying to eliminate the clergy, I’m trying to eliminate the laity!’
[NOTE: In this video Frost attributes the quote to Lesslie Newbingen – either way it’s a great quote!]
So what do you think? Have we (as Protestants) lost our way with regard to the Priesthood of All Believers? Is it something we pay lip service to, but don’t actually believe in practice? How can we do a better job of actually living as “priests” in our context, doing the work of God in our ordinary, everyday lives, without throwing our church leaders under the bus? Let me know in the comments below.
Oh, and Happy Reformation Day!