Is the priesthood of all believers biblical

From the priesthood of all believers

by predicant Dieter Eitel


Dear Congregation,

I. What do you think of when you hear the word priest?

I had my first encounter with the term priest in my children's Bible. There I met priests on the one hand as those who performed the temple services in Jerusalem and had to perform the sacrifices (e.g. Zacharias the father of John the Baptist) and on the other hand as the high priest Kaifas, who played such an inglorious role in the condemnation of Jesus.

At a second important encounter with the term priest, I was about the same age as your confirmand today. I kept seeing cars with a small, round, sky-blue sticker behind the windshield with a white cross on it and the letters SOS.

You all know what SOS means? It simply means: we are in need, come quickly and save us. It is the radio message that seafarers leave when they are in distress.

If you went closer, you could read the little text that was written all around the edge: "If you are in danger of death, please call a priest for me." Why a priest? So that Catholic people who die in an accident or who are on the verge of death can receive the sacraments of death (confession, communion, anointing of the sick).

The idea for this little sign on the car came from the Catholic. Father Leppich, who was a street preacher in Germany in the 50s and 60s of the last century (the older ones will certainly remember).

We all learned what a sacrament is in confirmation class, and if you haven't learned it yet, you are still learning it. I will not go into that now and also not the differences in Roman Catholic. and in the evangelical understanding of the sacrament. That would be going too far today.

("A sacrament is a holy and ecclesiastical act, founded by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in which invisible graces and goods are represented and given under visible signs." Answer question 57 in the Baden catechism)

In any case, for years I had a very Catholic idea of ​​priests as men who are something special and are allowed to perform ordinances.


II Our sermon text, on the other hand, paints a different picture. I read from the 1st letter of Peter to the young churches in Asia Minor, the area of ​​today's Turkey:

            Text reading: 1. Petr. 2, 2-10

You are probably familiar with some of the text. First there is the image of Jesus Christ as the stone that the builders rejected and that has become the cornerstone, precious for those who believe, a stumbling block for others. We remember last Sunday when Jesus Christ was at the center of the service.

In the church compass process, we selected the image of the congregation as the living stones that build up to form a spiritual house to characterize our congregations.

What interests us today is the image of the priesthood that Peter develops. He's obviously looking at the entire church. Not particularly selected and called persons, but all who have tasted that the Lord is kind (the reference to the Lord's Supper is clear).

We know from Paul's letters that the members of the Christian community are called "saints". In this respect, it is fitting when Peter asks them to develop into a holy priesthood that makes spiritual sacrifices that are pleasing to God.

What is meant by these sacrifices is explained by Peter after our sermon text:
"That is the will of God that you shut up ignorant and foolish people with good deeds." (you can tell by the language: Luther translation)

He encouraged those who had worshiped the Greek gods Zeus, Hera, Apollo or other gods before their baptism and referred to them as the chosen sex and the royal priesthood, the holy people. The people who belong to God, who brought them from darkness to his wonderful light. This people should proclaim, should tell their fellow human beings what has changed in their lives through Jesus.

It is this idea of ​​a priesthood that includes the whole congregation, i.e. all the baptized, that the Reformers discovered and that they take seriously.


III In the second Bible text, which is important for our topic, we heard in the scripture reading of the church as the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12: 12-27). Every congregation member has his / her gifts and tasks, all are equally important, no one is worth more than the other.

Applied to us today, this means: no matter whether elder, church servant, pastor, organist, employee in the visiting service, in the women's circle, in the music team, cleaning lady or preacher, we have all been assigned our tasks for a while by the congregation and are outside of our tasks simple church members who help their neighbors out of Christian conviction, who pray for those near and far, and who forgive each other when they have done something wrong. After all, we are fallible people.

We are happy and grateful that people use their talents for the church. And as someone who has taken on such a task, I can only say that I enjoy it and that I get a lot from it.


It is the community of believers that occupies offices; that is common to both texts.

IV Why do reformers like Luther now consider this priesthood of all believers so important, because they do not raise any objection to the fact that there are priests at all, or that there are pastors in the Protestant churches?

Because the Roman Church only accepts men as priests who are in the apostolic succession (the corresponding foreign word is succession). And I want to explain that.

The Roman Catholic still exists today. The Church insists that the ordination of her priests and bishops can be traced back to the apostles whom Jesus sent after his resurrection. - As the Father sent me, so I am sending you (John 20:21) - The apostles in turn are said to have sent men out and laid their hands on them, these in turn other men, etc., for 20 centuries or even today. From this the office of bishop developed and from this the office of pope.

This apostolic succession or succession has only been historically secure since the 12th century, but the Roman Church continues to insist that the ordination of its bishops can be traced back to the apostles. This means that in the Catholic church hierarchy bishops are always filled from above, ultimately by the Pope and thus he can of course prevent unpleasant people from getting into such a position.

You may remember that Pope Benedict XVI. denied the status of a church to the Evangelical Church during his visit to Germany. It is only a community of faith. This is based on the fact that the Protestant churches do not value this apostolic succession. According to the evangelical understanding, following in faith alone is decisive.

Luther uses an example to make his criticism clear (this is now Luther in the original):

“If a group of pious Christian lay people were caught and put into the desert, who did not have a single priest ordained by a bishop with them, and would agree there, choose one among themselves, married or not, and command him to baptize the office To hold mass, to attend (forgive sins) and to preach: he would truly be a priest, as if all the bishops and popes had consecrated him. Hence it is that in times of need everyone can baptize and do what would not be possible if we were not all priests. "

And further typically Luther: "For what has crept out of baptism can boast of being ordained priest, bishop and pope with that alone, although it is not right for everyone to actually exercise such an office."

Because a priesthood is ultimately a conferred office, “that is why the priesthood in Christianity should not be treated differently from a bailiff (today we would say: mayor). As long as he is in office, he heads the community, as soon as he is (no longer elected or) deposed, he is again a farmer or citizen like everyone else. "

So it is only baptism, belief in the Triune God and the Gospel that suffice as the formal basis for an assignment to a pastor or priest, Luther deduces, and we believe that to this day.

My quotes all come from Luther's 1520 book “To the Christian Adel of the German Nation”, with which he calls on the nobility to reform the church for their part, since the church itself is not ready to do so.

Luther was an extremely courageous man who applied the standard of the Bible to church practice, even at the risk of questioning his church leadership and especially the Pope, and who always expressed himself frankly. More than once his life was in danger. When he traveled to the Reichstag in Worms with the imperial promise of 21 days of free escort, he was by no means certain that he would survive his “here I stand, I can't help it”. Quite a few bishops and cardinals would have loved to see him burned at the stake, like Jan Hus in Konstanz at the time.

Today I am happy to be a member of a church whose bishops and leaders are not determined by a central office far away, but who are elected in the regional synod. It may well be that a simple pastor is elected one day, whom the church leadership or the EOK have not proposed (as happened a few years ago in the Protestant Church of Hesse and Nassau, the church in which I grew up am). And that's good.


V. At the beginning of the service I had already spoken about the fact that the priesthood of all believers is a prerequisite for us predicants to be able to celebrate a full service with you at all. But neither can we think about the priesthood of all believers without considering the role of women in the Church.

Women as disciples traveled through Galilee with Jesus just like the disciples. Three of them are named in Luke 8: 1 (Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna). It was women who were with Jesus until the end. Women found the empty tomb and it was women again to whom he appeared first after his resurrection.

Then why should there not have been women when Jesus sent the disciples?

In the Acts of the Apostles we are told of Lydia, the purple merchant, who was baptized and her house and who lodged Paul and Silas with her. And at the end of Romans, Paul sends greetings to numerous women, "Who work in the Lord".

All of these women are in male society, and early Christianity was one of them, either forgotten or pushed into supporting roles. Imagine if there had been priestesses, bishops and maybe even popesses from the beginning. In the Roman Church things might have turned out differently.

The reformers, too, one must admit, were children of their time and only granted women a role in the background. It stayed that way in the Protestant churches for more than 400 years.

Believe it or not, female pastors have only been ordained in our Protestant regional church in Baden since 1962. At first they were only used in religious education, in youth work and in special positions with limited rights. And only since 1971 have women in Baden become parish priests with full rights and duties. That was just 46 years ago!

Ultimately, this change in the law of our church, which has long been demanded by the emancipation movement, also goes back to the priesthood of all believers recognized in our church.

May other reforms in our church not take as long a journey and persistence as this one.


Sermon on February 5th, 2017 in Ittlingen and Richen