Friday, May 7, 2010

The Reformation and the Priesthood of All Believers

Many of the Reformers are my heroes. I salute their bravery and conviction when it comes to the gospel. However, I also lament the lack of reform that came to the church during that time. Although they got it right on salvation, they simply didn't when it comes to the life of the church (where "right" is defined as being biblical).

Frank Viola says it well in Reimagining Church (pg 58), a book I'm currently reading:

"The Reformation recovered the truth of the priesthood of all believers. But it failed to restore the organic practices that embody this teaching. The Reformation view of the priesthood of all believers was individualistic, not corporate. It was restricted to soteriology (salvation) and didn't involve ecclesiology (the church). The Reformers claimed the ground of a believing priesthood, but they failed to occupy that ground. In the typical Protestant church, the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is no more than a sterile truth. It would better be described as the "priesthood of some believers."

May we all live out this wonderful priesthood by encouraging and exhorting one another to love and good works. All children of God are priests so let's start acting like it.


Arthur Sido said...

I know it is forbidden to speak out with any sort of criticism of the Reformers but you are right on. They recovered the principle of the priesthood of all believers but never recovered the practice. I think the church has been hampered by that fact for the five hundred years that have passed.

Eric said...

I'm a Calvinist, but I'll still say Calvin, among others, was wrong on the church (I hope that doesn't make me some sort of heretic in the Reformed camp).

More than ever, we need an ecclesiological Reformation.

Alan Knox said...


I thought you might be interested in a couple of posts that I wrote based on a couple of books that I read on this subject:

Priesthood of the few or priesthood of all

Reformation Period Church Meetings

I think the Reformers conceived of and wanted a "priesthood of all", but they just couldn't allow others (especially the "uneducated") to be in that priesthood to the same extend that the educated were.


Alan Knox said...

Funny... for my previous comment, the "word verification" was "obiblicav"... which is very close to "biblical", but not quite there. Kinda like what we're talking about here.


Nicholas said...

These are some INCREDIBLY broad generalizations, and I can only assume they are based on personal experience. A church that is on mission will expose those who are not, which translates to those who are not serving with the conviction of the biblical truth of the priesthood of the believer. So, the two options are 1. They're not yet very sanctified because they are new believers or have never been taught well, or 2. They're not Christians.

But to say that "The typical protestant church" and the puritans are/were not concerned with the priesthood of the believer corporately is simply a false generalization to make an easy point that is rooted in a specific agenda to redefine what the church is (the #1 hobby of emergents). The assumption seems to be that if not everyone is given the opportunity to preach (although it appears that we should even question whether or not preaching is biblical according to Barna and Viola), that the priesthood of the believer doesn't exist corporately. Instead, it'd be wise to consider the biblical exhortation to the body to function according to each one's gifts (1 Cor. 12). Viola (and Barna) write to drive their agenda. Because there are professing Christians that do not live on mission does not mean the church today, or the church of the reformation, does not hold to and strive to practice the priesthood of the believer corporately. Their assumption seems to be that every person within a congregation is a mature believer.

But alas, I know of many, many churches who strive to be on mission, seeking to encourage and equip the saints for the work of the ministry, functioning as individual parts of the greater body. And amazingly, they do it all while meeting in buildings! And aren't basing it on cold, dead tradition but on what they (we) see in the Scriptures!

Alan Knox said...


You said, "The assumption seems to be that if not everyone is given the opportunity to preach..." Are you talking about preaching from the perspective of Scripture, that is, proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers? Or are you talking about preaching from the perspective of church culture that doesn't match anything in Scripture?

Regardless of gifting, all are called to teach, encourage, edify, serve... not just a few. Yes, according to Scripture, all should be given opportunity to serve and speak to one another. If not, the church will not grow in maturity as they are designed to do. Will it grow? Sure. Slowly, and to a certain point. But the church will not grow as it should and as they are designed.


Eric said...


Thanks for those posts. I'll take a look at them.

Eric said...


I think the point is that the current worship service, in which only a few of the people present are asked to actively participate, does not foster the priesthood of believers. I agree that we should serve according to our gifts, but in the corporate gathering, only a few are allowed to speak or use these gifts. This just isn't what we see scripturally.

Additionally, I don't see anywhere in scripture that suggests that only mature believers should speak in the gathering. Rather, we see everyone encouraging and exhorting everyone else.