But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
(1 Peter 2:9)
Historically speaking, this verse became one of the main rallying cries of the Protestant Reformation. Long deceived by the Roman Catholic Church, the reformers gained a piercing insight into what would become known as the doctrine of the universal priesthood of all believers, which would cause a major rift between them and the Establishment. The Catholic Church insisted that only those who were properly ordained as priests had access to God. Therefore, salvation could only be obtained through the official mediators of mankind- the priests. And the means the priesthood offered mankind salvation was through the sacraments. Firmly establishing themselves as the way of salvation for mankind, the Roman Catholic Church declared that there was no salvation possible outside of her institution, as the priests alone had authority to perform baptism, serve communion, and forgive sins.
The reformers begged to differ. Instead, the reformers saw in this verse the declaration that all believers, not just those properly ordained, had access to God. They deeply believed the cry of Hebrews 4:16, that by faith all men could boldly approach the throne of grace, and have equal access to God. Instead of having to find a go-between in a priest, the reformers dared to believe that they needed no mediator to have access to God, save the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, the reformers dared to believe that all believers served God as a royal priesthood, with Jesus Christ being the High Priest (Hebrews 3:1).
As great as this doctrinal advance was, that all mankind by faith had personal access to God, and could boldly approach His throne to find mercy, it is my growing conviction that the reformers did not go far enough. In their recovery of this doctrine of the universal priesthood of all believers, I believe they were still only looking at one side of the coin. When many in the reformation broke away from the Roman Catholic Church espousing this doctrine, they still maintained the old way of doing church.
When many broke away, such as with Martin Luther, they still maintained a priesthood of sorts. Yes, they believed with all their hearts that all men had personal access to God through faith. But, they still carried the Roman Catholic doctrine that only certain men, priests, pastors, the ordained clergy, etc., had the right to perform baptism, serve communion, and stand up to expound on the Scriptures, and so forth. Indeed, this way of doing church crept into the reformation, and subsequently, into most Churchs since then. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, etc., have likewise embraced this hand-me-down doctrine from Rome.
Such though, has no Biblical basis to it whatsoever. If the doctrine of the universal priesthood of all believers is to be fully recovered, it must not stop at the belief that all believers have access to God. Instead, to view the other side of the coin, it must embrace the conviction that not only do all believers have the right to have access to God without a mediator, but that all believers as priests unto God also have the right to serve each other! If we fully embrace the doctrine of the universal priesthood of believers, the days where only one or a small group of officially approved men stand up in Church service to perform baptism, serve communion, and expound on the Scriptures must entirely vanish.
For when we look at the example of the Levitical priesthood in the Old Testament, we see that not only did the priests serve the Lord in the temple ceremonies, but that they also served their fellow Israelites. They not only ministered unto the Lord, but they also ministered unto each other! With this picture in mind, does the apostle Peter understand that all believers form a priesthood.
Therefore, all believers have the right as priests of God to baptize, serve communion, but also minister the word of the Lord. If we fully embrace this doctrine, gone are the days where you enter into the ever-so predictable Church service where usually the order of service goes something along the lines of: Greeting -> Opening Prayer -> Singing -> Offering -> Sermon -> Altar Call -> Closing Prayer. Instead of a service being dominated by simply a handful of people at best, in an ever so predictable fashion, services would begin to look like this:
When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation
(1 Corinthians 12:26)
In the early Church, because it was taught that all believers were priests, when the doctrine of the universal priesthood of believers was put into practice, it was the common experience that in any given assembly, every single believer present may have something to potentially contribute to the service. Every believer present might potentially stand up and say something for an unspecified duration of time. One might prophesy, another might speak in tongues and another interpret, another may stand up and sing, another stand up and teach, another stand up and simply testify, and so forth.
Such is seriously lacking in the Church today. Instead, we are still doing things the way the Roman Catholics do it, where one man called the pastor, or the preacher dominates the service, and everything centers around them. Because of this, spiritually speaking, many believers remain spiritual infants all their lives. Their growth forever remains stunted because they never learn the fact that they too are priests, not only unto God but in service unto man.
This is easily manifest in the typical Sunday morning service. God forbid the pastor get sick, go on vacation, or go as a guest speaker somewhere else. For if he does, you can be sure if the people get wind of it, there will be an extremely low attendance that morning. Why? Because the Church has become dependent upon one man to go up the mountain side and hear from God, then come back down and speak what thus says the Lord. If that man they have become accustomed to hearing from for what thus says the Lord should not be there to perform, out of familiarity, they dont like to go see his less admired substitute. Thus, many pastors avoid even making an announcement that they will be going out of town for a duration of time out of fear people might not show up in their absence altogether!
If such is the case in your Church, where the numbers drop off dramatically because of the absence of one person, then be sure that your Church is not where they should be in their spiritual development.
There is only One person a Church should be centered around, and that is Jesus Christ. If the Church is centered around one extremely charismatic leader and cannot survive without their presence there, be sure that Church is not centered around Christ.
Take for example at Central Church of God in Charlotte, North Carolina. In the past year or so, Pastor Loran Livingston, considered by many to be the top preacher in the Church of God (Cleveland, TN), and is the official voice of his denomination, suffered a major sickness that required him to step outside of the pulpit for several months. Central Church of God easily packs in several thousand people into any given service. However, it is interesting to see that when Loran Livingston fell ill, and was unable to preach, that nobody in this massive congregation was considered an able enough preacher to take over his pulpit for the duration of his illness. In order to maintain numbers within that Church, another highly recognized preacher within that denomination was put there in his place until he gained enough strength to preach again.
For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.
Jesus Christ desires a Church that is centered around only One man, and that is Himself. A Church that is centered around Christ, while they might miss the presence of a beloved and highly respected member should they not attend one service, ought to not scatter and be found missing themselves should he fail to attend.
In a Christ centered Church, where believers come together understanding that they are all priests of God, they should come with two expectations. The first expectation that they should come with is that when the saints assemble, that they are going to encounter the presence of Christ. For Christ promised where two or three gathered together in His name, He would be there in the midst of them. The second expectation that they should come to the assembly with is because Christ is present in their midst, that He will not simply be present in some atmospheric, ghostly sort of way, but that Christ will manifest His presence in their midst through each of them.
When this is understood, the saint comes to the assembly not only with the expectation of receiving a blessing from the Lord, but they will also come with the expectation of being a blessing to somebody else! So many come to our assemblies expecting to receive a blessing, but how many come with the sense that they might become a blessing? How many come expecting to stand up and testify of what the Lord has done in their lives? How many come expecting to stand up and prophesy? How many come expecting to stand up and teach?
I bet very few. I best most dont even pray that when they assemble with the saints this Sunday, that they might stand up and minister as a priest of God unto the people. Yet it should not be this way. Oh, they might pray for a couple hours during the week if they know they are being asked to stand in the pastors absence to preach. But, because we dont come to the assembly of the saints prayed up and expecting to being a conduit of blessing to others, and dont open ourselves to the working of the Holy Spirit, it should not be a surprise at all that we dont end up being a blessing to anybody at all.
It is my hearts cry that all believers realize this doctrine of the universal priesthood of believers. Oh to God that we would realize this doctrine, and be the priests God has called all of us to be! I would encourage you this Sunday when you gather with the saints, not to come to Church simply as some passive receiver, but that you would come to your assembly expecting to be used by God as a blessing to the rest of the saints.
If you are by gifting a teacher, earnestly seek the face of God that He would give you something to teach. If you are a prophet, earnestly seek the face of God that He would give you a prophetic utterance that you might proclaim to the saints. If you have the gift of tongues, earnestly seek the face of God that you might give utterance and that an accompanying interpretation would be brought forward.
If we would all do this, even if all the pastors in the local assembly might be altogether absent this Sunday, our numbers should not drop in the slightest save for their absence. We should come with the same expectation that regardless of who is there, Jesus Christ will be there.