One of the most significant contribution of the great reformer Martin Luther to the protestant movement was the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9, Rev. 5:9). He developed this in his treaties of 1520. Since then, it has been considered as the most revolutionary doctrine in the history of Christianity. He threatened the very existence of hierarchical and absolutist structure of the social order led by the papacy (religious elite) and the Holy Roman empire. He argued that it was a pure invention that pope, bishops, priests and monks are called the “spiritual estates” while princes, lords, artisans and farmers are of “temporal estates.” In other words, the papacy said that their job was spiritual matters whereas the princes, lords, artisans, and farmers just dealt with the things of the world. Since the papacy dealt with all things spiritual, they didn’t want the people of the “temporal estates” getting involved in their business. If the people of the temporal estate did get engaged in spiritual matters, then the papal would lose control and authority, which was a threat to them.
Martin Luther argued that is a believer in Jesus Christ is apart of the “spiritual estate” the only difference that exists between the papal and the average Christian was the office held. Paul says in 1Corinthians 12:12-31 that we are all one body, yet every member has its work by which it serves the others. It is because we all have one baptism, one gospel, one faith, and are all Christians alike. Peter also says that every Christian is apart of the priesthood in that they can go directly to God just as any person from any office can (1 Peter 2:9). It follows from this argument that there is no actual, primary difference between laypeople and priests, princes and bishops, except for the sake of office and work, but not for the sake of status with God. While all other doctrines are highly emphasized in churches and theological schools, the notion of the priesthood of all believers is much neglected.
Who is a Priest?
A priest is a representative of God to the people, as well as people to God (Hebrews 5:1). Priesthood means that we teach the scriptures (Leviticus 10:18-11), resolve conflicts (Deuteronomy 21:5), bless God’s people (Numbers 6:22-27), Keep the tabernacle. (Numbers 3:38; 4;16), continue the sacred fire. (Leviticus 6;12-13; 1Thessalonians 5:19). All Israel was originally chosen as a kingdom of “priests” to the Gentile world (Exodus 19:6); but Israel renounced the obligation through fear of too close nearness to God (Exodus 20:16), and God accepted their renunciation (Deuteronomy 18:16-17; Deuteronomy 5:24-28).
Only the high priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice for the sins of the people (Leviticus 16:2; Numbers 7:89) during the day of atonement (Leviticus 16:11-28). A curtain separated the Holy of Holies from the holy place in the tabernacle (Exodus 26:33). Immediately after the death of Christ, the veil of the temple was torn into two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). The curtain was a physical, visible barrier indicating that access to God was strictly prohibited because of his holiness. All the elect saints from Jews and Gentiles are called to be priests unto God (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9), and being transfigured shall reign with Christ as king priests (Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:6).
It is imperative to remember that the holiness of God remains unchanged from all eternity; even after the curtain is torn. What has changed, then, is that the atoning death of Jesus on the cross has provided the appropriate wrath-bearing sacrifice, one which the bulls and goats of the old covenant could not offer (Hebrews 10:4). Through his sacrifice, we gain access to the holy place as Hebrew describes (Hebrews 10:19-20).
We find all believers having access to the Father through Jesus Christ atonement, unlike the old system of priests going before God on behalf of the people. The death of Christ, therefore, open a new chapter in the history of faith by giving us access to the Father. The priests represented people before God and were demanded to observe holiness without which they would not access the presence of God as that would attract death ()Leviticus 10:1-7. Christians are told to be holy (1Peter 1:15-16), and are apart of a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), and called to be priests and kings (Revelation 1:6).
The current world of Christianity reflects the papacy of Luther’s time. Many Christians have become overdependent on pastors, bishops, apostles, as well as prophets in their practice of faith. Very few have remained loyal to personal Bible study and prayer, for instance. The majority depend on the sermon taught on Sundays, and some don’t have Bibles at all. Before the reformation, only the priest and the pope had access to the Bible, but we’re fortunate to have access to Bibles. Their authority was above scripture and what they said was final. They dictated what they wanted the Bible to say as opposed to sharing what the Bible actually said. Luther and reformers protested with statements like, “Let the Bible speak.”. Today, I interact with many Christians who are obsessed with what their pastors, apostles, bishops and prophets said and rarely do we go back to scripture to confirm if what they said was in link with the Bible (Acts 17:10-15). When going through spiritual warfare, we run to ministers of the gospel rather than put on the full armour of God and wage war in the spirit (Ephesians 6:10-18). Since we don’t view ourselves as a priest like 1 Peter 2:9 says we struggle with praying, we are easily taken advantage of by false ministers, and we lift up church leaders as the people of Martin Luther’s day did.
Be Responsible for your Spirituality
We need Christians that have the Bereans spirit and integrity (Acts 17:10-15). Christians who regardless of how powerful a preacher is, they would go back to the scripture and check out the truth for themselves. Prophecies were in the scriptures and some even from false prophets came to pass, and hence God instructed Moses that even fulfilment of a prophecy should not be the measure of true and false prophets (Deuteronomy 18:21; 13:1-5). We need to understand that we are all priests as per the scripture, and we must fulfil the mandate of the priesthood. We must learn to go before God and even intercede for others. God desires priests who are informed and not ignorant (Hosea 4:6). We should, therefore, study the scriptures and be well conversant with our faith so that we can give answers to anyone who may ask (1 Peter 3:15). So who are repeating history by lifting up the papacy or are you behaving as a priest should?