What does it mean that Christians are priests before God?
The sign-up sheets for the neighborhood canvass were empty. The pastor went out of his way to recruit more door-knockers.
“Pastor, I’d love to help, but I’m just not ready for that.”
So many church members were hospitalized in the past week, the pastor didn’t know how to visit them all—especially the woman at the other hospital on the far side of town. He asked a woman who lived near there if she could visit and encourage her.
“Pastor, I’d love to help, but I don’t know what I’d say.”
The pastor’s grandfather was called home to heaven. The funeral was across the country on a Saturday afternoon. The pastor had a sermon prepared, but he just needed a church leader to lead worship on Sunday and read from the pulpit in his absence.
“Pastor, I’d love to help, but I’m just a simple layperson.”
God has blessed the holy Christian church with pastors to lead worship, visit the sick, and spread the love of Jesus—to name just a few of the things we call our pastors to do as they minister to God’s people. But once the congregation calls the pastor to do these things, what is the role of congregation members? Are they “just simple” laypeople?
The royal priesthood
The apostle Peter probably would cringe to hear members of God’s church call themselves “just a simple” anything. He wrote in his first letter, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). God speaks in glowing terms about you, the people who fill the pews. Chosen! Holy! Special! Royal! Priests before him!
When you read Peter’s words about priests, make sure you’re putting yourself in the 1st century rather than the 21st. When Peter was writing, priests were servants of God in the temple in Jerusalem who made sacrifices on behalf of the people. They were the go-betweens for people approaching God and for God approaching people. It was a group that was great in importance but certainly small in number.
That is why Peter’s words are such an astounding thought: In Christ, every believer is a priest before God! No longer is God’s priesthood an exclusive group in one location. Now God’s priesthood is everywhere people confess his name, and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord has direct access to God. All Christians hear God in his Word, pray to God from their heart, and serve God in their lives.
Martin Luther had seen the way the Roman Catholic priesthood created an unhealthy “us” and “them” mentality in both laypeople and clergy.
Clergy were elitist. Laypeople were “simple.” To combat these ideas, he wrote in On the Freedom of a Christian: “The one true priest of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, has been anointed by God to be our prophet, high priest and king. Christ, who by right of the firstborn has all honor and worthiness, shares this with his Christians, so that through faith they must all be kings and priests with him as St. Peter says: ‘You are a priestly royalty and a royal priesthood.’ ” Later Luther adds the rhetorical question: “Who can comprehend the honor and dignity that goes with being a Christian?”
Praise God that we are his priests, called out of darkness to praise him!
Your pastor is your brother-in-arms
Understanding our position as special, chosen, royal priests in God’s church will change how we view our pastors, each other, and ourselves.
Our synod is richly blessed with one of the best church worker-training education systems in the world. Our pastors and all our called workers are theologically and practically trained to dedicate themselves to full-time, professional service in the church.
With all of that in view, your pastor still will be the first to tell you that your status before God is exactly the same as his: You are both forgiven sinners loved by Christ. That makes you both royal priests. He needs your service just as much as you need his!
I’ve heard many stories of children in the pews growing up thinking that their pastor was God himself—a humorous thought to any pastor, who knows so well how unlike God he really is. While we love our pastors and have great respect for the position we have called them to, we greatly benefit from seeing them as equals, fellow royal priests, and brothers-in-arms. Your pastor is not raised up on a pedestal above you. He is in the trenches beside you.
Each member is a partner in ministry
Peter had more to say about how this royal priesthood functions. The whole book of 1 Peter is worth a read for any Christian wondering what his or her priestly role might be. One useful passage in particular is 1 Peter 4:10: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” When we participate in the ministry of our congregation, we are simply
utilizing the gifts that God has already given us.
Church leaders sometimes talk about the “80/20 problem”—the phenomenon that 80 percent of the work in a church is done by only 20 percent of the people. The problem is evident in many churches, but people propose many different solutions. Let’s learn from Peter to help solve the 80/20 problem: Work together, faithfully using the gifts God has given us. We may not all have the same gifts, but we all have gifts. What are they? How can you use them? Talk to your pastor and your fellow priests to find out!
Every royal priest is a gift to the congregation and to the kingdom. This means you are a gift! As every royal priest serves before God, it is all to his glory: “If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11).
Your whole life is service to God
Serving as a royal priest goes far beyond the walls of your church building. It happens far more often than on Sunday mornings. When God called you out of darkness into his wonderful light to declare his praises, that wasn’t a part-time position! “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).
Seeing yourself as a royal priest before God will bring meaning to every part of your life, not just the “churchy stuff.” God put you in many callings to serve him. God put you in your family to love. God put you in your job to work hard. God put you in your community to serve.
There’s no such thing as “just a simple layperson.” You are part of his chosen people. His special possession. A royal priest in his kingdom. And it’s an honor to serve with you!
Author: Jared Natsis
Volume 110, Number 02
Issue: February 2023