The Royal Priesthood of the New Covenant
Presbyterii fidelium – Latin, “The Priesthood of all believers” is a doctrine taught and emphasized by Protestant Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin.
In 1962 – 1965, the Second Vatican Council also clarified the Roman Catholic understanding of this doctrine:
“Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church ‘a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.’ [cf. footnote: Rev 1:6; cf. Rev 5:9–10; 1 Pet 2:5, 9] The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are ‘consecrated to be … a holy priesthood’” [cf. Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium 10 §1]. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1546).
A secular definition of “Priest”:
Priest – One authorized to perform the sacred rites and sacraments of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and God; specifically: an Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, or Roman Catholic clergyman ranking below a bishop and above a deacon.
A Biblical definition of “Priest”:
Priest – Hebrew, “kohen”. Greek, “hierus”. Latin, “sacerdos”. In all three languages, the word always denotes one who offers sacrifices and intercessory prayer for himself or others, and one who acts as a representative between God and man.
Can a Christian be a “priest” without being a Pastor or Overseer?
- In the New Testament, the English word “priest” is a contraction of the Greek word “presbuteros”, which was an “elder” in the early Church.
- In his epistles (1 Timothy 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9), the apostle Paul uses the Greek word “episcopos” synonymously with the Greek word “presbuteros”, which means “elder”, or “priest”.
- The Greek word “episcopos”, has the meaning of one that is a “spiritual overseer”, and is translated as “pastor”, “overseer” or “bishop” in most English Bibles.
- Therefore, a “presbyter” is an “elder”, suggesting a Christian with wisdom and maturity, while an “episcopos” is an “overseer” or “pastor”, suggesting a presbyter or elder that is in a position of leadership and responsibility.
Thus, the term “priest” is indeed applied to all believers in the New Testament, but in those cases it implies no sacerdotal functions. The Scriptures teach that our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, has offered Himself once for all as a perfect sacrifice.
“The Priesthood of all believers” is a Biblical doctrine. All New Testament believers are “Priests”:
1 Peter 2:4-5 NKJV “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 2:9 NKJV “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”
Revelation 1:5b-6 NKJV “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Revelation 5:9-10 NKJV “And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.’”
JESUS is our “High Priest” of the New Covenant:
Hebrews 5:8-11 NKJV “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest ‘according to the order of Melchizedek,’ of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.”
Hebrews 7:11-17 NKJV “Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. For He testifies: ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’”
The greatness of Christ, our High Priest:
Hebrews 7:26-27 NKJV “For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.”
Because Jesus offered Himself “once for all” on the cross of Calvary, He rendered the necessity of a daily sacrifice for sin unnecessary. (This was the message of the Protestant Reformers to our Catholic brethren concerning the Mass.)
The “Priesthood of all believers” does not eliminate our need for Pastors and Teachers.
The New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit has given Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers as spiritual “gifts” to the Church for the purpose of building up the Body of Christ to do the work of the ministry.
Ephesians 4:11-12 NKJV “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
A New Testament “believer” is a “priest”, but may not have the spiritual gift or calling to be a leader in the Church.
A brief history of the title “Reverend” as applied to clergy in the Western Church.
The title “Reverend” is an Anglicization of the Latin “Reverendus”, meaning “reverence”. It can mean one who should be ‘revered’ and ‘respected’ for their position in the Church, or, one who ‘reveres’ (i.e. ‘fears’) and ‘respects’ God. (I prefer the latter interpretation for clergy.)
In the 15th Century it was used as a general term of respectful address toward anyone in the Church, whether clergy or layperson, and was equivalent to “Venerable” or “Honorable”. Christian men of high or dignified status in the community, but not holding a position or office in the Church, were often addressed as “Rev. Mr.” But since the 17th century, the title has been habitually used as a prefix to the names of ordained clergymen in most mainline Christian denominations.
In the Catholic Church, “Reverend” became a proper way to address priests in correspondence (e.g. ‘Rev. Fr.’).
In the Protestant ‘reformed’ Church, it became customary to use the title only for clergy holding a doctorate degree in some religious academic discipline. In the United Kingdom, particularly in the Church of England, the Doctor of Divinity degree was the highest religious doctorate granted by universities. This requirement eventually led to the development of the “honorary” Doctor of Divinity degree in America, which allowed clergy without formal education to properly use the title “Reverend” among their peers in their particular denominations.
In the United States, the Doctor of Divinity is recognized only as an “honorary”, non-academic, religious degree, granted by a church-related college, seminary, or university to recognize the recipient’s ministry-orientated accomplishments.
In modern times the validity of the Honorary Doctor of Divinity degree was challenged in the United States Supreme Court. Under federal law, a 1974 Supreme Court judgment accepted expert opinion and ruled that “…an Honorary Doctor of Divinity is a strictly religious title with no academic standing. Such titles may be issued by bona fide churches and religious denominations …so long as their issuance is limited to a course of instruction in the principles of the church or religious denomination”.
Link to the article “Priesthood of All Believers: Explained and Supported in Scripture” according to the National Association of Christian Ministers: http://www.nacministers.com/priesthood-of-all-believers
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