Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Grammarian, XII


By the way, the priesthood of all believers is not in the Bible.

The passage everyone loves to quote is this, from I Peter 2.9:

"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light."

Now it's evident that the "ye" here refers to the faithful of God, and that therefore they are "a royal priesthood." But the term "priesthood" here is collective, and it goes together with "royal" and also with "holy nation."

What you Synodical types have gone and done is to try to tap into this in such a way as to give a divine imprimatur to everything a congregational voters' assembly does. I think you need a lesson in grammar, to say nothing of your theology.

The Apostle is clearly exalting the status of the Church, as opposed to "them which stumble at the word, being disobedient," listed just prior to this verse. Contextually, he pours on these descriptions of the Church, to indicate thereby just what a great gift the grace of God has made her: a chosen generation, that is elect in Christ; royalty, that is, bound to the King of Kings; and a priesthood, that is, bound to Him who is our High Priest before God. This is why the Church is also an holy nation: holy in Christ; a peculiar people, separate from all people on earth, again, in Christ.

The entire context here is that of magnifying the grace of God which makes the Church the royal, priestly Queen of all Creation. And each descriptor is collective, that is, in the singular.

So, boys and girls, don't go blathering on about the priesthood of all believers as a license to make divine decrees by reason of your voters' assemblies, as though the majority in them somehow constituted the living voice of God. (In case you're wondering, the living voice of God is what comes out of Jesus' mouth, and out of the mouths of "holy men of God moved by the Holy Ghost," etc.)

The phrase you love to use, "all believers," is not there. The term "believers" would be plural, and would divide and individualize the Church; but it isn't there. Although the plural pronoun "ye" is used, it is at once related to a long string of collective terms. It is abundantly evident that this is a reference to a unified whole, the body of Christ; and Christ is also one.

There's no counting going on here, no rule by majority. The Church is one, because Christ is one. He rules His Church, by His grace.

So don't go misusing the Bible, and remember your grammar.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Father. Too many laypeople and clergy are also unaware that this is not unique to the NT church but is found in Exodus 19 at a time when there were certainly no voters' assemblies.

solarblogger said...

You are right about the passage speaking of a priesthood rather than individual priests. But I don't see it as such a leap that a priesthood would be made of priests. The problem may be in a leap taken as to what priests do.

I do see a problem with the voters' assembly conclusions people draw. It usually seemed to me that much of what was done in a voters assembly, even when it was not pernicious, was probably not what was in mind when priesthood was spoken of. I hoped to God it was not. Surely Jesus didn't come to earth to ensure people spent all their time in committee meetings.

If we want to draw out the details of what royal priesthood means, I would expect to find it in 1 Peter 2:5, "Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." And I wonder if this is not related to Romans 12:1, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." If presenting our own bodies as living sacrifices is what makes us priests, that is a different picture from lording it over each other because of a status. I'm not sure whether this is the primary meaning of priesthood or not. But it may be worth considering.

I wonder what some would do if their laymen started sacrificing animals at church (individually OR collectively) on the grounds that they were priests. It might become clear to them that they had better find some definition for the term from the text.

Father Eckardt said...

Interestingly, as "anonymous" has pointed out, this idea of all the people of God being collectively a priesthood is first found in Moses.

What this means is that while it may be said that all the people of God have priestly duties to perform, there is no warrant here for scuttling the appellation "priest" for a clergyman, any more than there would have been for doing so when the Levites were priests.

But in the Missouri Synod, we have arrived at the remarkable twist by which everyone is seen as a priest except the priests.

For more on this, incidentally, you may consult my article in the upcoming issue of Gottesdienst. Not a subscriber yet? Well, find the link in the sidebar of this blog, and sign up quickly. The next issue is coming out very soon.

Luke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luke said...

Pr. Eckardt:

Tim Wengert of the ELCA seminary in Philadelphia had a good article on the myth of the "Priesthood of All Believers." You can find it at this URL: http://www.valpo.edu/ils/documents/05_wengert.pdf
I'm sure you likely ran across it while preparing your upcoming article for Gottesdienst.

Interestingly enough, the 19th Century Lutheran theologian Henry Eyster Jacobs (who did teach there was a priesthood of all believers) denied both the spiritual priesthood being the source of the office of the holy ministry and that the spiritual priesthood possesses functions of the holy ministry.

Two quotes from Jacobs' teaching on the holy ministry illustrate this:

"The spiritual priesthood of all believers and the ministerial office must always be carefully distinguished. The spiritual priesthood invests every believer with the right to approach God directly without the intervention of any other priest but the great High Priest of our profession, the Son of God Himself, the only Mediator between God and man. It has its sacrifices to offer, but they are not propitiatory, for there is but one such, viz., the sacrifice made by Christ, once for all on the altar of the Cross, Heb. 9:28. They are eucharistic sacrifices, the spiritual sacrifices of prayer, praise and thanksgiving, 1 Pet. 2:5; Rom. 12:1."

". . . Every minister of the Word should be, like all the regenerate and believing in his congregation, a spiritual priest, but he is such, in virtue of his personal and individual relation to God, and not in any official capacity, or as a minister.
Neither in his official acts, is his representative capacity chiefly that of the priesthood, comprising all the believing, in his congregation. A minister of the Gospel is, first of all, a representative of God to men, one divinely called to preach the Gospel, in God’s name, and to apply its promises to individuals in the Sacraments. He can offer nothing to God in man’s behalf, but offers to man that which God has provided."


LTZ

TAM said...

Fr. Eckardt,

I look forward to your article. The Missouri Synod has its problems, but on this issue, no one beats my old home in the Wisconsin Synod. When the individuals in the collective royal priesthood are not taught the value of their God-given vocations, there is a tendency to "churchify" everything one is doing. "Full-time public ministers" are seen, not in any Office, but as on a higher level of sanctification than everyone else, so there's incentive to make more "ministry" for yourself to do. In my experience, this is especially true of women. I am one, so please don't accuse me of sexism. Among my female acquaintances there are "ministries" of tutoring schoolchildren, selling kitchen utensils, making natural lotions, and (my favorite) rubber stamping, just to name a few.

By making more "ministries" for ourselves to do, we are missing out on the blessings that come to us through the Office of the Holy Ministry and instead of acting like a royal priesthood, we can become royal pains forcing our self-styled ministries on those who very likely have no use for them.

TAM a.k.a. anonymous of Nov. 16

Carl Vehse said...

By the way, the priesthood of all believers is not in the Bible.

If Rev. Eckardt were to have put "priesthood of all believers" in quotes, then he could say that such a phrase, or its Greek equivalent, is not in the Bible, just as he could say that the phrase "Triune God" is not in the Bible. But the understanding of the royal "priesthood of all believers" is in the Bible, including 1 Peter 2:9, and the word specifically refers to all Christians (believers). so the concept is clear (see for example Walther's Theses on the Ministry).

What you Synodical types have gone and done is to try to tap into this in such a way as to give a divine imprimatur to everything a congregational voters' assembly does. I think you need a lesson in grammar, to say nothing of your theology.

Just what "Synodical types" Rev. Eckardt is talking to is unclear. Off hand, I can't think of any Missouri Synod Lutherans (or other Waltherians) who give to (or recognize in) a congregational voters' assembly a divine imprimatur to EVERYTHING it does.

So, boys and girls, don't go blathering on about the priesthood of all believers as a license to make divine decrees by reason of your voters' assemblies... (In case you're wondering, the living voice of God is what comes out of Jesus' mouth, and out of the mouths of "holy men of God moved by the Holy Ghost," etc.)

Again, one wonders to what blathering of boys and girls about a "license to make divine decrees" Rev. Eckardt is referring. And as Rev. Eckardt's parenthetical comment infers, such blatherings even include a license to produce new canon (out of church tradition perhaps?).

Although the plural pronoun "ye" is used, it is at once related to a long string of collective terms.

The Apostle is clearly (1 Peter 1:1, 10, 12, 15, 20, 25) addressing first God's elect scattered in congregations throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, and second, through God's Word to us, all true Christians (i.e., the invisible church).

There's no counting going on here, no rule by majority.

What Peter is writing about here is not the bylaws of a congregation polity, but through the power of the Holy Spirit, a description of all true believers. Peter is not trying to equate the priesthood of all believers with the public office of called ministers.

As Walther noted in his Thesis 1 on the Ministry: The holy ministry, or the pastoral office, is an office distinct from the priesthood possessed by all believers, although Walther did note in Thesis IV: The ministry is not a special or, in opposition to that of ordinary Christians, a more holy state, as was the Levitical priesthood, but it is a ministry of service. (This is based on the Tractatus, para 11.)

But in the Missouri Synod, we have arrived at the remarkable twist by which everyone is seen as a priest except the priests.

So who are these priests who are not seen as priests (in the 1 Pet. 2:9 sense)? Is this some sort of code word? If anything, since the Benke heresy debacle (and even going back to the CCM decision of 1992), the concern in the Missouri Synod is not in recognizing the "royal priesthood", but that of establishing a Lutheran papacy in the purple palace... and an advocacy that an episcopist (Stephanite) polity is the way to stop it.

In his Theses IX and X on the Ministry Walther had some good advice on how the priesthood of all believers should deal with such problems.