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Anabaptists and the priesthood of all believers

Posted by on Jul 16, 2007 in blog links, church history, elders, office, service | 1 comment

Dave Black has published the second article in his series on the Anabaptists. It is titled “What I Have Learned from the Anabaptists (Part 2)“. In this article, he discusses the Anabaptist understanding of the priesthood of all believers and compares this with a sacerdotal view of Christianity. The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers does not negate the need for leadership, but it does change the method of leadership. He says:

We can go a step further. In 1 Thess. 5:14 Paul specifically requests the “brothers” – not the church leaders – to admonish those believers who were unruly. Why, if the believers were to defer to their leaders in the case of church discipline, did Paul command the church to expel the unrepentant sinner in 1 Cor. 5:4-5? We have no right to go beyond the clear pattern of the New Testament and insist upon a clergy-laity distinction. It is clear that the New Testament elder was not a proud, prestigious, and powerful ruler but rather a humble, gentle, and deeply spiritual brother (see Matt 23:8) who in the spirit of Jesus was called to serve rather than be served.

To the Anabaptists, then, a clerical ministry seemed out of step with both the spirit and the letter of the New Testament. As Heb. 13:7 shows, the authority of leaders was based not on their position or title but rather on their example (anastrophe) and faithfulness (pistis). The relationship of members to leaders was not one of duty but of love and respect.

We have to recognize that theologians themselves have done much to create this confusion. Jesus’ model of church leadership has nothing to do with status or office. This monumental misunderstanding of the New Testament seems to me to be one of the flagrant proofs that the Anabaptists’ return to the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers was both necessary and inevitable for a group so earnestly seeking the truth of the Word of God. I see this same spirit at work today when I see younger leaders eschewing grand titles such as “Reverend” or “Minister” or “Senior Pastor,” preferring instead to be called “Brother So-and-so” or simply by their first names. This kind of thinking is contrary to every manmade system or philosophy. A Christianity that seeks no power, no prestige, no position but instead prefers humiliation, service, even suffering? Unthinkable – except, perhaps, to an Anabaptist.

So, according to Dave, the type of Christian leadership supported by Scripture is different from the normal leadership patterns of this world. Instead of exercising authority, Christian leaders exercise service, humility, and suffering. As far as I can tell, this is the kind of people that Jesus told his disciples to follow. He said to follow those who were servants, not those who attempted to exercise authority.


One Comment

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  1. 7-17-2007

    Thanks for this post Alan. I find the story of the Anabaptists interesting. There is a great movie called “The Radicals” which is a dramatization of the story of the Anabaptists.

    I think that it is so interesting that while the doctrine of justification by grace through faith seemed to be recovered by the Reformers the method of ecclesiastical operation basically remained the same. It was still a power-based system based on human power to enforce submission upon it’s subjects. The more I look around the more I see that what really separates the system of the world from the Kingdom of God is really just who is in charge. The world’s system is all about trying to climb the ladder of power. The Kingdom of God is all about, well, God as King. Is Jesus Lord or are we? Thanks again.