By Dr. Clark Armstrong
Many people do not realize that the concept of the “priesthood of all believers” was also one of the main tenets of the Reformation from its very start. And many pastors or teachers have overlooked or downplayed that truth.
At its beginning, however, the Reformation’s main points were sola scriptura (scripture alone as our source of authority), sola fide (salvation by faith alone and not by works), and the priesthood of all believers. The other “solas” were added as the Reformation proceeded. All of these were in reaction to prevalent practices and teachings of the Catholic Church at that time. The great principle known as “the priesthood of all believers” was a reaction to the fact that the Catholic Church taught that prayers, confessions and ministry could only be done through or by the priests of the church.
The reformers believed literally that all believers are a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9). The book of Hebrews teaches that Jesus Christ is our one true high priest and that we can go straight to him with our prayers (4:14-16). The word priest means “bridge or mediator.” In 1 Timothy 2:5, it says that “There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” Luther taught that a sinner could confess personal sins directly to God through Christ and find forgiveness (Heb. 2:17-18, 1 John 1:9). That was a very radical thought at the time.
The reformers taught that, as believers, we all have direct access to God through Jesus and there is no necessity for an earthly mediator. The prayers of the priests could be helpful, but Luther viewed the practice at his time as a perversion and misapplication of the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood which was clearly fulfilled in Christ and done away with by the New Testament. The practices that he opposed in his 95 theses were seen as blatant malpractice by the priests of the church.
Every time a sinner repents directly to the Lord; every time we offer prayers to God freely; every time we call on the name of the Lord personally, we should give praise to God for this wonderful doctrine of the Reformation!
*Dr. Clark Armstrong is a Missionary Professor at Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines where he has served with his wife Connie since September 2013. Previously he served as a pastor for 32 years in the United States.