THE PRIESTHOOD OF BELIEVERS

A STUDY BY

GARY RAY BRANSCOME


 "Jesus Christ, who . . . loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood . . . hath made us kings and priests unto God." (Revelation 1:5- 6) (Revelation 5:10 and 20:6, 1 Peter 2:5,9, Galatians 1:15)

 Every blood bought believer, every Christian who rests his assurance of eternal life on the finished work of Jesus Christ, is a priest of God and to that end has been called by God unto the ministry of reconciliation (Galatians 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:18, 1 Peter 2:5,9). Furthermore, because the Old Testament priesthood has been abolished, this priesthood of believers is the only God-ordained priesthood in existence. Moreover, our authority in carrying out that priesthood is the Word of God. For Christ has empowered us, by His great commission, to do whatever needs to be done to carry out that commission according to the guidelines set down in His Word (Matthew 28:19, Acts 5:29, 2 Corinthians 5:18, John 8:30, 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 3:1-14). For that reason, it might also be said that no believer has any God given authority in matters not addressed by God's Word, and no one has any authority to contradict God's Word

AS PRIESTS WE HAVE BEEN AUTHORIZED
 TO OPPOSE FALSE PROPHETS

    By warning us to “beware of false prophets,” Christ has given every believer authority to oppose false prophets (Matthew 7:15). Just as we are not to teach false doctrine, we should not allow it to be taught. However, God’s Word must be the standard! When dealing with controversy, interpretations must yield to what the Bible explicitly says. Those who read their own explanations and ideas into the Word of God are adding to the Word of God, and those who contradict what the Bible says are rebelling against God (Isaiah 8:20, Romans 3:4, 1 John 4:6, Proverbs 30:6). While, on one hand, we should never be puffed up in our own opinions, on the other hand, we should never be so weak kneed that we cannot speak out against those who contradict God’s Word. God wants us to search the Scriptures, learn the doctrine explicitly stated in His Word, and reject any idea that contradicts what the Bible says (Isaiah 28:9-10, Isaiah 8:20, Proverbs 14:15, Acts 17:11, 1 Thessalonians 5:21). Furthermore, having learned what the Bible says we have a responsibility to find a church that faithfully teaches the gospel, or to start one.

    The Apostle Paul set an example for us by urging the believers at Corinth to judge what he said by the Word of God, and if he was not so important that his word should be accepted without question, neither is anybody else. On the contrary, every Christian teacher ought to follow Paul’s example by urging their pupils to judge what is taught by the written Word of God (1 Corinthians 10:15, Isaiah 8:20, Acts 17:11).

AS PRIESTS WE HAVE AUTHORITY
IN THE CONGREGATION

    Because God has empowered every believer to carry out the work of the ministry, the authority of God’s priesthood rests equally upon all believers. For that reason, no one in the congregation has any authority higher than that which rests on every believer (Matthew 23:8). That is why Christ, when outlining the steps to follow in matters of church discipline, cites the congregation as the ultimate authority saying, “If he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church, but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be into thee as a heathen man and a publican” (Matthew 18:15-18). That is also why the Apostle Paul called upon the Corinthian congregation, not its leaders, to discipline an unrepentant member (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). Consequently, any authority wielded by the officers of the congregation is delegated to them by the congregation, is to be administered in service to the congregation, and can be recalled by the congregation (Matthew 23:8, 11, Philippians 2:5-7).

     Since the officers of a congregation have no authority other than that which is delegated to them by the congregation, God does not call anyone to the ministry except through the call extended to them by the congregation. For that reason, no one has the authority to exercise the office of the ministry on behalf of the congregation without first being called by the congregation. Furthermore, because the members of the congregation are to “beware of false prophets”, they have the authority, not only to call someone to the ministry, but also to remove them from the ministry when there are Scriptural reasons to do so (Matthew 7:15, Titus 3:10).

    Since early Christian congregations were organized along the same lines as the synagogue it is worthy of note that the pastors of a synagogue were usually older men in the community who had been chosen by the congregation to oversee the affairs of the congregation. For that reason they were called both elders and overseers or bishops. While all of the elders were regarded as being equal, one of them was chosen (usually for a one-year term) to preside at their meetings, and he was referred to as the president. Under the leadership of these elders, the congregation would then employ a rabbi (or minister) as a teacher (Ephesians 4:11). While the rabbi was an officer of the congregation, he was regarded as the lowest ranking officer because he was an employee of the congregation. [It would be unethical for an employee to rule over his employer (Proverbs 14:10).] To this system, Christians added the office of deacon (servant). [Note: In keeping with Christ’s admonition, “He that is greatest among shall be your servant” some congregations list the congregational president as a deacon. (Matthew 23:11, I Corinthians 6:4, Luke 9:48)]

 THE OFFICE OF THE MINISTRY
 IS AN OFFICE OF SERVICE

    Although there is only one priesthood, and therefore only one ministry, there is a difference between the role God has given to every believer and the role given specifically to those men who have been called by the congregation. There are also limitations as to who is allowed to exercise that role on behalf of the congregation. For example, while all believers have a right to spread the gospel, only those men who meet Scriptural qualifications are to hold the office of the ministry (1Timothy 2:11 and 3:1-14, Titus 1:7).

[Note: God has not limited congregational leadership to men because He wants to hold down women, but because He wants men to shoulder the responsibility for spiritual leadership, and they are not likely to do it in the home or the church if that standard is not held before them in the church.]

    Furthermore, because believers cannot delegate to their minister any authority that they (as individuals) do not have, the call by the congregation does not convey to the minister any authority above and beyond that authority which rests on every believer. That being the case, the call is simply a request to serve the congregation. If a man accepts that call, he is to serve by carrying out in an official capacity the same ministry that every believer is free to exercise in an unofficial capacity (Matthew 23:10-11, 1 Peter 5:3).

    Moreover, because the call is a call to serve, it should go without saying that anyone who is called should be a humble man. That means, essentially, that instead of coming up with plans which he expects everyone else to go along with, he should ask the members what they think, and be willing to go along with what the congregation wants (1 Peter 5:3). Likewise, he should not be trying to fill the congregational offices with “yes-men,” but, other than making sure that all candidates meet the Scriptural qualifications, should allow the congregation to choose those men who they feel are best suited to do the job. A man who is strong willed and pushy only tends to alienate people (Titus 1:7).

    At the time of Christ, the role of the rabbi was that of teacher, not pastor (Ephesians 4:11). Therefore, because the role of a minister is that of teacher, what he says deserves careful scrutiny. If his message is the Word of God [i.e. the message of Scripture] then it should be taken as seriously as if God Himself said it (Luke 10:16). At the same time, his own opinions are the opinions of a man, nothing more (1 Corinthians 7:12). However, if he passes off his own opinions, principles, and private interpretations as the Word of God, he is guilty of deifying himself (Jeremiah 23:31). And if he contradicts or explains away what the Bible says he is rebelling against God (Matthew 16:22-23). Furthermore, if any believer speaks the Word of God to him, he should take it as seriously as if God Himself had said it (Luke 10:16).

    Because the desire for personal status is rooted in our sinful nature, ministers can expect to be tempted to use their office for personal status or to gain authority over the congregation (1 Peter 5:3). However, that temptation needs to be resisted, for such self-seeking is the "mystery of iniquity" that produced the Roman Catholic hierarchy and set the Pope in place as the very antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:7). In fact, the Apostles were not long in their graves before teachers (preachers/rabbis) were calling themselves priests and the term "bishop", which originally applied to all of the congregational officers, was being reserved exclusively for the congregational president. Once that hierarchy had control of who held the office of the ministry, the members of various congregations had no way to keep false doctrine from being taught.

    On the other hand, in some evangelical congregations an unscriptural doctrine of the call is being used to the same end. While God may give some men a desire to proclaim the gospel, that in itself is not a divine call, and it does not give them any authority in the congregation. On the contrary, any believer is free to proclaim the gospel (outside of the congregation). However, only those whom God has called through the congregation have a right to exercise the office of the ministry on behalf of the congregation, and, therefore, only those who have been called through the congregation can truly be said to have a Divine calling. Furthermore, because this call comes through the congregation, no man has the right to simply take that office on his own authority (Hebrews 5:4,10, Numbers 16:40).

    The fact that the Holy Ghost personally selected elders during the Apostolic era does not mean that He does so today, or that every elder is personally selected by God. The proof of what I say lies in the number of pastors and elders who have, over the ages, shown themselves to be false prophets (Acts 20:28-30). If the Holy Ghost personally selected every congregational officer they would never have to study to show themselves approved, every one would care about souls, and there would be no false teachers (2 Timothy 2:15, Hebrews 13:17). Furthermore, those who yell the loudest about being personally chosen by God are often the first to show by their fruits that God had no hand in putting them in that position (Luke 11:12, Matthew 7:20, Titus 1:7, 1 Peter 5:3). [NOTE: The fact that God does not personally select every congregational officer should not surprise us, for the Holy Spirit did many things during the founding era of the Christian church that He does not do today.]

    Because God calls men to the ministry through the congregation, no one should be ordained to the ministry until a congregation has called them, and if they leave the ministry they should no longer be referred to as ministers. This is important because we want it to be perfectly clear that there is no clergy class that holds the office of the ministry regardless of whether they serve a congregation or not. Only those who have been called by a congregation are ministers, and they continue to be ministers only as long as they hold that office. I might also point out that the work of the ministry consists primarily of rebuking sin while pointing people to Christ, not deciding how money is spent. Decisions on spending are best left to the people who will pay the bills, namely the members (1 Peter 5:3).

 NOTE: Due to a confusion of language, and a change in the meaning of terms, some congregations mistakenly call their teachers “pastors” and call their pastors/elders “deacons” while calling those who carry out the Scriptural role of deacons “trustees.”

CONCLUSION
 
    Because we are priests of God we should conduct ourselves as ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). Even if we are not congregational officers we should support the work of the ministry, and should conduct our affairs in a way that is above reproach. You do not need to have a religious vocation in order to serve God. On the contrary, we are to serve God in every walk of life! If God has called you to be a baker, butcher, carpenter, or housewife, carry out that calling as unto Christ. I am not talking about wearing a Jesus T-shirt, or putting a fish symbol on a car, but doing a good day’s work, being honest, paying a fair wage, and being satisfied with your wages. We also have a responsibility to train up our children in the way they should go while making our home a haven of Christ’s love and supporting the work of the church. Our duty to our family should never be neglected! As priests, there may be times when we are called to minister to others in private conversation, and other times when we are called to speak before a group. However, if we are to accomplish anything we need to be involved in the work.