Many Adventists consider elections at a General Conference Session the most important agenda item. And we want to wish our leaders God’s abundant blessings, the guidance of His Spirit, strength, wisdom, and a loving heart. But elections also trigger considerations about the nature of leadership and the people of God, including the concept of the priesthood of all believers.
In 1 Peter 2:9, the community itself is called a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.”. . . With the baptismal commitment of faith, all Christians become priests in the pattern of Christ—preaching, sacrificing their lives for their brothers and sisters, and becoming prayerful stewards of the universe.1
The priesthood of all believers has important dimensions. All believers have direct access to the throne of grace (Rom 10:13; 1 John 1:9) because they are redeemed by Christ’s blood (Heb 10:19-22) and saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8). They can understand Scripture and therefore should have access to it (Acts 17:11). It also teaches the ontological equality of the believers and, consequently, their involvement in the mission, worship, and understanding of the theology of the church as well as the offering of spiritual sacrifices which include good conduct (1 Pet 1:15; 2:2; 3:16), service, and self-dedication (Rom 12:1).
Since the church as a whole is a priesthood, there is no room for unbalanced individualism or congregationalism. Unfortunately, in church history the priesthood of believers was divided into a twofold priesthood. Even today “the common priesthood of Christians is generally acknowledged but often muted in the interests of a special priesthood of the ordained.”2
On the other hand, church leadership is a biblical concept. Leaders develop plans, motivate church members to adopt and execute them, and encourage them to come up with their own. They stand up for truth, make tough decisions, and seek the best for the church, sometimes at great personal cost. Good leadership refrains from exercising kingly rule over the church (1 Pet 5:3). Following the example of Christ’s servant leadership (Matt 20:25-28; 23:8, 11), leaders allow the members to participate in decision-making, regarding them as having high potential and wonderful spiritual gifts needed to further God’s cause. The NT metaphor of the church as a body (1 Cor 12) points to a desirable diversity within a marvelous unity. Its members are called to respect elders, pastors, teachers, and administrators, who in turn are to exemplify humble service:
Men whom the Lord calls to important positions in His work are to cultivate a humble dependence upon Him. They are not to seek to embrace too much authority; for God has not called them to a work of ruling, but to plan and counsel with their fellow laborers” (9T 270).
The concept of the priesthood of all believers put into practice allows individuals to attain greater maturity and contributes to a climate of mutual love and to church growth. It also helps believers rejoice in their election and holiness and join in the effort “by all means [to] save some” (1 Cor 9:22).
1 Stephen Happel, “Priesthood,” in A New Handbook of Christian Theology, ed. by D. W. Musser and J. L. Price (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992), 380.
2 D. F. Wright, “Priesthood of All Believers,” in New Dictionary of Theology, ed. by S. B. Ferguson and D. F. Wright (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 532.
Ekkehardt Mueller is an associate director for the Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference.
This article has been reprinted, by permission, from Reflections, the BRI Newsletter, edited by Clinton Wahlen, Ph.D.