Priesthood of all believers

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The Priesthood of all believers is one of the pillars of Protestant Christianity, which distinguishes it from the Orthodox Church, Roman Catholicism, and Anglicanism. In each of these other branches of Christianity, the church body has ordained priests who are authorized by bishops who received their authority from other bishops in a line extending back to the Apostles who themselves are believed to have been commissioned by Christ to lead his Church. According to this view, His authorization has been passed on to today's clergy by other clergy.

The authority to perform functions that are of a priestly nature generally are forbidden to laymen. Where or when a priest cannot be summoned, some exceptions are allowed under extreme circumstances such as the performance of a baptism for someone close to death.

The critical issue involved in the Priesthood of all believers is not, however, whether every member of the Church can personally participate in administering the sacraments or preaching, etc. It is, rather, a question of who it is in the community who chooses those who perform these tasks we associate with the clergy. The Protestant view is that all who are members of the congregation have a part in choosing the pastor, thus delegating the power associated with the pastoral office. The older churches adhere to the concept of the power being passed along on to today's clergy through a historical line of ministers, all of whom ultimately received it from the Apostles rather than through a congregational vote. See Apostolic succession.

In theory the Priesthood of all believers also may call for a reconstruction of the community norms thought to exist in the infant Church (i.e., New Testament Christian Churches as described in the Bible). It seeks more evenly divided roles and responsibilities amongst all the members of the Christian body. An example of such a division is who would perform the various functions of Pastoral Care. In practice Martin Luther invoked the doctrine to point out the Catholic Church’s non-uniformity in its concern of all Christians, regardless of their position within the social order. Papal medieval interdicts meant not only the spiritual death of a city or other region (no sacraments were administered: no one not even were babies were no longer baptized and no one who died in a city under papal interdict would receive extreme unction [last rites]) but also literal economic starvation, since no other Roman-Catholic regions were allowed to trade with them, else they also receive a papal interdict.

Martin Luther in his Open Letter to the Christian Nobility first describes aspects of the Priesthood of all believers[1] :

We are all alike Christians and have baptism, faith, the Spirit, and all things alike. If a priest is killed, a land is laid under an interdict. Why not in the case of a peasant? Whence comes this great distinction between those who are called Christians?
Balaam's ass was wiser than the prophet himself. If God then spoke by an ass against a prophet, why should he not be able even now to speak by a righteous man against the pope?

The protestant work ethic is an extension of the Priesthood of all believers. In the wake of decades of ecumenical efforts by the Roman Catholic church and various Protestant churches, some other forms of this doctrine have begun to gain recognition within Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches--an example is Vatican II's Decree on the apostolate of the laity.

See also


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