Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Priesthood of All Believers Doesn’t Mean We Are Each Our Own Pope…

We evangelical free church types, not being Roman Catholic, do not subscribe to papal infallibility.  Of course Roman Catholics also do not think that everything the Pope says or does is infallible, but only when the Pope speaks ex cathdera (as the mouthpiece of God in his position as head of the Roman Catholic Church(**and please see Fr. John Montag’s additional explantion in a comment below)).  Protestants, if we protest anything, protest the authority of the Roman Catholic church as an institution, and the Reformers orginally were protesting specific practices of the church which the Reformers felt were man-made doctrines or practices, without Biblical authority (things like the sale of indulgences, purgatory, etc).  Instead of church authority, the Protestants emphasize the priesthood of all believers– that we each have access to God through Christ, who is our mediator.  We don’t need a priest or the church to mediate for us, because Christ gives us free access without need of human mediation. 

What this often leads to for evangelical free church types is an anti-ecclessial attitude which is suspicious of any authority.  In some sense then, evangelical free churchers are kind of like the hippies of the 60’s who didn’t trust authority, and who won’t be fooled again by ‘the man’.   We are often radically individualistic, not particularly prone towards community, and we trust our reading of the Bible more than most peoples (including our pastors’ in most cases).   Ironically, in not being willing to trust in the traditions of the History of the Church because they are ‘man-made-creations’ we instead rely on our own viewpoint of Scripture with little to no historical guidance. 

The positive side of this is that protestants tend to have an empowered lay community, since each layperson feels that they are in some sense their own priest.  Vatican II, it has been argued, was in some sense a move towards the empowerment of the laity (non-priests) in the Roman Catholic church.  When the mass was no longer said in latin, and the ministry of the lay people was emphasized, the central importance of the priest, some have argued, was slightly undermined.  (The number of priests dropped by over 8,000 in the US from 1962-1974– around a 30% decrease)

But the downside to the protestant emphasis on the priesthood of all believers is the radical individualism and lack of submission to authority.  Really, this is perhaps a misunderstanding of what the priesthood of believers really means.  The priesthood of all believers doesn’t mean that I only have one priest– me– rather, all Christians are responsible to proclaim the gospel, and live out the gospel to the world.  We don’t have a small class of ministers to do this work (although of course ordained pastors and priests have a special role in the church) but rather all of us are called to be ministers of Christ to the world and to each other. 

So the priesthood of all believers is not a doctrine which should lead to more individualistic Christianity, rather, it should draw me into communion with other believers.  If I am called to be ministering to the spiritual and physical needs of all the church and all other believers, than I should have a very others-centered stance and life.  If God really does call all Christians to be priests, then I should have an attitude of reverence and even submission to other brothers and sisters in Christ, expecting God to speak to me through them.  This attitude of faith and hope towards other believers, and the ability of the Holy Spirit to use them in my life and me in theirs, is indicative of a real understanding and belief in the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, I think.  At any rate, you shouldn’t try to be your own infallible pope.  Being out of fellowship and without any submission to any other believers is a great way to practice your own personal papacy, but its not Biblical, and its indicative more of an autonomous stubborn American individualism than a sanctified Christian life

May God have mercy on us all.