Part Three - For the Life of the World: Chapter 7 - Priest
There are three senses in which we carry out priestly acts as the priesthood of believers.
“First there is the priestly ministry of access to God through worship and intercession.” Because we all have direct access to the Father, we can confess our sins to each other and receive absolution. We can intercede with God on behalf of fellow Christians and on behalf of the world. We can bless God with worship and we can bless the world with the presence of God.
“Second there is priestly ministry through service in the world.” We can help the helpless and include the outsider. We can ask strategic questions about problems that face the world and work for solutions. We can call people to a better vision for the world.
“Third there is priestly ministry of daily life.” Romans 12:1-2 talks about offering ourselves as a daily sacrifice. Everyday acts of work and service are sacred acts when done out of reverence for God and in response to God’s call. “Ordinary life is infused with God’s presence and can be given back to God as ‘spiritual worship’ (Rom. 12:1)”
Stevens emphasizes that our “priestliness” (my word) derives from our connection to the high priesthood of Jesus and we all participate in that priestly ministry; not just a few as representatives in some vicarious way. As you can gather from the three paragraphs above he also emphasizes that we fulfill our priestly function both in the gathered community life of the church and in the dispersed life of the community.
All this said, Stevens is concerned about an overly individualistic view of priesthood:
Not so obvious is how Protestants have lost the corporate priesthood completely in the granular individualism that has paralyzed Western culture, so making each individual Christian his or her own priest, a do-it-yourself priesthood. In comes Protestant churches the priesthood of all believers has degenerated into one vote per person as a way of finding God’s will for a congregation, or allowing every male (!) to have a turn in the pulpit. (176)
Stevens believes there needs to be a balance between “extreme individualism” and “oppressive coporateness” in how we conceive of this priestly function. We are individually priests but we are also corporately priest to the world, incarnating the priestly work of Christ in the world.
I really like what Stevens has to say about this balance. Too often the priesthood of all believers is used as a rationale for Christian individualism instead of seeing it as an extension of Christ’s work and the community we are gathered with.