- priesthood of all believers
- In the first of his crucial essays of 1520, the "Appeal to the German Nobility," Martin Luther called upon the Christian leaders of Germany (all of them laypeople) to support his demand for reform; he supported his call with the idea of the priesthood of all believers. Luther suggested that all Christians were, by virtue of their baptism, consecrated to act as priests; in fact, baptismal consecration was higher than the ordination offered by a bishop or pope. The congregation of such priests summons and appoints one of its number to act as worship leader, preacher, and speaker of God's forgiveness of sin. Such a person is a mere functionary. Falling back on I Corinthians 12, in which St. Paul spoke of the church as one body, Luther suggests that each church member engages in his/her own work the better to serve the whole.Luther singled out the princes as possessors of the temporal authority to punish the wicked. If the leaders of the church had been guilty of wrongdoing (and Luther believed they had), then it was the Christian princes who should move against them.Luther was not challenging the essential priestly role of ministers in serving the sacraments or hearing confession (part of the office of the keys for the binding and loosing of sins as mentioned in Matt. 16:19). At the same time, he challenged the exclusive right of ministers to priestly activities. As all are priests, each Christian can, for example, pray for others and teach others.Once freed upon the Protestant constituency, however, the doctrine of the priesthood of believers took on a spectrum of connotations far beyond those intended by Luther. In their most extreme form, Protestants have argued for a thoroughgoing rejection of the ordained ministry in favor of a layled church. BAPTISTS have found the idea compatible with their understanding of the traditional sacraments as ordinances, and their rejection of any form of clericalism and sacerdotalism.Within liberal Protestantism, the doctrine was used to affirm the role of the laity in ministry. This has led to the establishment of educational programs for laypeople, who often assume various professional and semiprofessional roles such as preaching, diaconal services, or teaching. Lay members are admonished to develop a personal ministry directed to serving either the congregation or the larger world.Further reading:■ Cyril Eastwood, The Priesthood of All Believers: An Examination of the Doctrine from the Reformation to the Present Day (London: Epworth Press, 1960)■ Larry Richards and Gib Martin, Lay Ministry: Empowering the People of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Ministry Resources Library, 1981)■ Herschel H. Hobbs, You Are Chosen: The Priesthood of All Believers (New York: Harper & Row 1990)■ W. Norman Pittenger, The Ministry of All Christians: A Theology of Lay Ministry (Wilton, Conn.: More-house-Barlow, 1983).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.