One of the most significant errors facing the Protestant reformers was the view that there were two classes of Christians. One was “ordinary Christians,” the other was “truly spiritual Christians”—that is, those who worked full-time for the Lord in the priesthood, monastery, and nunnery. Ordinary Christians may do vital work, but their vocation could never measure up to the “truly spiritual” work of full-time vocational ministry.
Returning to sola scriptura, the reformers disputed the biblical basis for this distinction. Instead, they emphasized the priesthood of all believers, the idea that all service rendered to the Lord—from pastors to laity—is vital to the spread of the gospel. In other words, all believers are called to work for gospel advance, because God has made them all priests.
In his new book, Created to Draw Near Our Life As God’s Royal Priests, Ed Welch traces the theme of the priesthood from the first pages of Genesis. He writes, “The garden was the first tabernacle, and humanity’s home was in the presence of God, in his Most Holy Place. . . . Priests are the very offspring of God and share in his likeness” (21, 26). In the garden, we learn not only of the perfect creation the Lord made, with man at the pinnacle, but also of the serpent and man’s fall. “The serpent’s goal,” Welch observes, “is for humanity to be remade in his image and imitate him” (39).
In this book, Edward T. Welch shows us the purpose for which we were created: to be brought near to God as a kingdom of priests. He traces the priestly identity throughout the entire Bible, showing us how holiness leads to closeness to God. Through the blood of Jesus, God extends his invitation for all to draw near with open arms. And in his presence, we discover what it means to be truly human: known, unashamed, and wise, full of meaning, purpose, and abundant life.
God’s Nation of Priests
Welch—counselor and faculty member at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation—shows how the background and purpose of Peter’s first letter is significant for the priesthood of all believers. The letter was written to elect exiles (1 Pet. 1:1–2), those who were facing suffering. Peter writes to help them face suffering head-on. The God who called these elect exiles is holy (1 Pet. 1:13–16), and so he calls his people to holy living.
The priesthood of believers, Welch explains, is rooted in God’s grace. He always intended his people to be a covenant community (Ex. 19:16), and Christ created this new-covenant people through his all-sufficient work. Only as a result of his work can Christians offer themselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to the Lord. Because of Christ’s priestly work on our behalf, we now serve as new-covenant priests.
Priesthood and Christian Ministry
Welch helpfully guides us to understand the nature of Christian fellowship: “Priests discern the body of Christ (1 Cor. 11:29), which means that we know that the body of Christ is set apart for unity through humility and love, and we work for peace and reconciliation when we see interpersonal fractures” (193). True Christian theology is lived out in community with other Christians. Welch calls us to deal with our difficulties in community by addressing the problem with ourselves first, seeing ourselves aright in light of Christ so we can do life with one another. Only then can we, as he explains, be “good neighbors who contribute to the good of the community and to stand out in the way we love” (193).
Welch rightly argues that pastors are to equip the congregation “for every-member ministry” (206). In the New Testament, God’s people are given the “one anothers.” These are given to show what healthy Christian and church life should look like when operating under God’s Word. After all, I need others to help me when I’m struggling with anxiety, marriage challenges, and other things in order to help me grow. In turn, others need me to walk with them through the various seasons. Together, as God’s people, we walk with one another because of our shared union with Christ. Local churches are discipleship hubs where we gather and, like sandpaper, rub against each other as we repent and confess to God and each other. And together we grow.
The royal priesthood reminds us that both men and women are vital to church health, as every member uses his or her gifts to serve the body. Christians have one baptism, one gospel, one faith, and all Christians alike are to serve the Lord.
Value of Your Work
Welch has given us a reliable treatment on the priesthood of believers that will help every Christian grow.
The Lord has established our callings and placed us where we can serve both him and our neighbors. As his new-covenant priests, our work has enduring value. So no matter what work you’re called to, may Christ be honored in your service.