Summer 2016

Commanded to Function as Priests

Our calling and our privilege

by Marty Schoenleber Jr.

Why did God choose you? Why did He draw your heart to Himself? Why were you placed in a family or a situation where you heard the truth of the gospel and bowed your heart in belief?

The “penny dropped”; you understood your need for a Savior; you knew you needed to be rescued from the guilt of your sin; and you trusted in the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, English Standard Version).

You don’t have to guess about why God chose you. The apostle Peter removes all doubt. Writing to a group of persecuted Christians, he cites a list of royal privileges and a royal purpose for all who follow the risen Christ:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9, ESV).

We, the people bought by the blood of Christ, are …

  • a chosen race
  • a royal priesthood
  • a holy nation
  • a people for his own possession

Before we believed, none of these things applied. But believing in Christ opened up a relationship of privilege, honor and responsibility with the living God. Peter underscores the wonder and awe of this new relationship by reaching back and borrowing the language of Hosea in the very next verse:

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

How are we to respond to this wonder: going from having no part in the family of God to being given the right to be called children of God (John 1:12)? Again, we don’t have to guess. Peter’s already told us: We have been given these privileges and rights and titles and callings that we “may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

Passionate proclaimers

God has made us part of His family so that we might tell the world about Him and what He has done for us. He wants us to bask in the wonder of being adopted into His family so that we will become passionate proclaimers of His greatness. This is why we were chosen; this is why we were given a royal priesthood; this is why we have been made into a holy nation; this is why He took possession of us to the praise of His glory; and this is why we have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

This passionate purpose was meant to fuel the “priesthood of believers” across all generations. For centuries, however, the privilege, power and beauty of this calling was obscured by medieval clergy-laity distinctions. In the “fullness of time” the Protestant Reformation was the tool the Spirit of God used to chisel it out of the Scripture again, and through which the Church began the process of bringing it to light. But what is it?

The doctrine of the priesthood of believers is that every follower of Christ has direct access to God without any other mediator than Christ so that each believer can respond directly to God and can minister to other people in the name of Christ. God has commissioned all believers in Christ to (1) “respond directly to Him” and (2) “minister to other people” in the name of Christ. Paid pastors aren’t needed for this, believers are.

Every follower of Christ has direct access to God without any other mediator than Christ so that each believer can respond directly to God and can minister to other people in the name of Christ.

This is why Paul says, “I appeal to you … brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1, ESV).

We are invited—no, commanded—to function as priests in the holy task of giving ourselves to the service of God. This is why the author of the letter to the Hebrews writes that we should offer up a “sacrifice of praise to God… . Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:15-16, ESV).

And right there in these verses is the outline of the tasks that churches and shepherds need to give themselves to in the equipping of the saints for ministry (cf. Ephesians 4:11-12).

The saints need to be trained and equipped in at least these three areas:

  • how to pray to and praise the Living God in the name of Christ
  • how to do good in the name of Christ
  • how to be hospitable in the name of Christ

This is the work of the ministry. Equipping the saints for their priestly role is at least this: training them to offer worship and prayer to God as they do good in the world and show hospitality. We do these things because they ensure that the gospel is adorned with credible lives. We desire that the world, in seeing our good works, would “give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, ESV).

Local churches that take this ministry seriously, that give real substantive thought as to how to equip the saints for these and other scripturally mandated activities (teaching, counseling, intercession to name a few), will change the landscape of the culture. When the saints function well in the priesthood that they have been given, the result is that “the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light” are proclaimed. And it is indeed these excellencies that we, who have been rescued, so fervently want the world to see.

Marty Schoenleber is lead teaching pastor of Trinity Church (EFCA) in Watseka, Illinois, and has also served as adjunct faculty at three different seminaries including Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He loves Jesus, his wife, his four kids and two grandchildren, and nearly any food from Philadelphia.