Wherever two or more Baptists are gathered together, there will be an argument. Someone will have an alternative interpretation of a familiar Scripture passage and it will go downhill from there. Sooner or later, one of the good Baptists will respond, “You can’t tell me what to think. We believe in the priesthood of the believer.”
Ah, the “priesthood of the believer.” This precious doctrine is very dear to Baptists. The idea that every believer has direct access to the presence of the Risen Christ is one of those things that, well, make Baptists who we are. Sadly, this doctrine has been so misused and abused it hardly means anything anymore. In fact, most of the time, Baptists use it to mean, “My opinion is as good as yours.”
This isn’t what it means. And now, in our fragmented, broken, and very lonely world, I’d like for us to rediscover this precious teaching.
Sure, one of the obvious meanings of the doctrine is the belief that all of us have direct access to God in Christ. His resurrection has opened the doors of His throne room for us. We can make our prayers and confessions directly to Him. We don’t need another human being granting us that access nor do we fear another human robbing us of that access.
But there’s more to this teaching – so much more.
A priest is someone who represents God to His people and then, the people to their God. The priest is the one in between. The priest comes from the presence of God and tells the people what he has seen and heard. The priest then returns to the presence of God and tells God what the people are going through. Moses, Jeremiah, Elijah, Ezekiel, and many more all fulfilled this role in one way or another.
Paul often speaks of “bearing one another’s burdens,” and this is a great honor and privilege, to enter into the presence of Christ with another’s cares and pain. Sometimes life is too hard. Sometimes life is too heavy, and we need someone to help us pray. We need someone to step in beside us and take a little of the weight off of us. They won’t take all of the weight, but they can take just enough to keep it from caving in on us.
A parent prays for a sick child. Stand beside them and loan them your tears. I can tell you that parents don’t have enough tears to cry all by themselves. They’ll need some of yours.
A marriage that struggles. A husband that doesn’t know how to best love his wife, and his wife, honestly, doesn’t know how to love him. Be a priest. Go to them and, by going there, bring the peace of Christ to the moment. And when you leave, take some of the pain with you and lay it down at the feet of Christ.
There are too many lost. Too many broken. They would go to Jesus if they thought they had a chance, but they’ve long since given up on that. Too many bad decisions. Too many second chances. What would Jesus say to them except “Get out!” Be a priest. Tell them Jesus sent you to remind them that He never gives up.
And, go back to Jesus with all of their pain and losses. Like Abraham and Moses did so long ago, beg God for a little more time. Maybe another soul can be saved if they’re given just one more chance.
That’s what priests do. A priest always believes in the goodness and mercy of God and in the possibilities of their friends.
A priest will spend a lot of time lost in the presence of God. They’ll come back with visions and dreams the world can’t contain. They will be filled with overwhelming love. And, a good priest will go house to house sharing that love because if they don’t, they’ll drown in grace. They have to love. They have no choice. They simply can’t carry all of the love God has poured into and over them.
And they help their friends find their way back to God. After all, the priesthood of the believer means we always have access to God in Christ. What better way to use it than to bring someone back home to Christ?
That door is always open. The priest would know that. God told them to leave the door open when they left to go into the world.