The Priesthood of No Believer: On the Priesthood of Christ and His Church

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Abstract

This article seeks to begin to rebalance the relative neglect over the past fifty years of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, a doctrine which is central to non-episcopal forms of Protestantism. However, in so doing, the article seeks to offer a corrective to traditional accounts of the doctrine. Critiquing the tendency for the priesthood of all believers to enter discussion in relation to ecclesial polity rather than more fundamental theological concerns, the article advocates that the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers needs to be considered theologically in terms of what it says about the nature of the church, not the polity of the patterns of its ministry. The article traces the evolution of the idea of priesthood through the Levitical priesthood and New Testament to the early church. It then considers the recovery of the idea of priesthood belonging to the whole church at the Reformation; but argues that even here the magisterial Reformers' ecclesial-political setting determines that they largely treat the priesthood of all believers as a negative doctrine about church order, and, indeed, that the relation of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers to issues of ecclesial polity and governance continues in contemporary ecclesiological discussion. This is to the detriment of the positive theological content that identifying the church as a priesthood might offer. Thus, the concluding section of this article sketches what positive theological content might be provided in speaking of the church as a priesthood.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)374-398
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal of Systematic Theology
Volume17
Issue number4
Early online date1 Sep 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2015

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