the weblog of Alan Knox

Why priests?

Posted by on Apr 21, 2009 in blog links, books, elders, office | 17 comments

Yesterday, Dave Black (Monday, April 20, 2009 at 8:55 a.m.) mentioned a book by Hans Küng called Why Priests: A Proposal for a New Church Ministry. This is what Dr. Black said about Küng’s book:

He attempted to detail the catastrophic emergency (as he called it) in Christendom. The root, he said, was a polarity between the office of pastors/priests (who form the “above”) and the members of the congregation (who form the “below”). He pointed to the rediscovery and use of the total membership of a congregation as a necessary remedy. His call for a return to the New Testament concept of the church, not as a highly organized and professionalized institution but as a ministry of all believers serving Christ in every walk of life, fell largely on deaf ears.

This description piqued my interested, so I checked our library for the book. Nope, the SEBTS library doesn’t have it. So, I searched online. And, I found the following snippet from a review:

Why have priests? Kung answers: no particular reason. The idea of “priesthood,” as that term is commonly understood, has no special theological meaning, or even special validity, in an authentic Christian church. There is no basis in the New Testament, or in real tradition, for a sacralized class of ministers whose “mission” is to “govern” the faithful. There is, however, such a basis for a priesthood common to all Christians and for leadership by individual Christians in faith and love. In other words, the notion of a restrictive priesthood, limited to certain individuals appointed from above and set apart by ordination, is theological nonsense and an accident of history. Kung argues this thesis as well as he did his recent work on papal infallibility, and its importance is perhaps more immediate than that of the latter. Rome will wrong its hands in horror, but Kung’s large and growing following among the new generation of Catholics will love every line of it.

Don’t miss the importance of what Küng is saying, both for Catholics and Protestants – all Christians in fact. In the New Testament, there is “no basis” for a special class of ministers. I agree completely. And, as Dr. Black pointed out, this work, as well as many others who make the same claim, has largely fallen on deaf ears. The church does not want to hear it.

Why? Because, for the most part, believers do not want to act as priests and ministers themselves. We are too comfortable allowing others to be our priests and ministers.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 4-21-2009

    He’s pretty much saying what a lot of us already know. I agree with your evaluation there at the end. I gave up on being a hired gun. The only way I can see to accomplish that is by refusing to be a paid preacher, despite the fact I think it’s a legit way to work. People want someone to do it for them, and it is more than evident in the insipid commercials for churches I’ve heard (on local Christian radio mostly) that people just want to be tended to.

    Here’s a thought: If all Christians are to be priests (in the OT sense, not the Catholic/Protestant sense), then who are they ministering on behalf of? Therein lies the missional focus we’ve been missing.

  2. 4-21-2009


    I believe there are some who want to cast their spiritual responsibilities off onto someone else. But, I also think that there are many Pastors who don’t want to give up their status in institutional christianity.

    It’s my experience that that is the bigger reason that this message falls on deaf ears in the church.

    I’ve seen parishioners praying for others in theirs seats. I’ve seen the pastor of the church come over and tell them to stop praying because they had no authority before God to do that. I’ve actually seen that more than once.

    Although, I know that their are Pastors out their who would love to see paritioners praying for others.

    Just my observation.


  3. 4-21-2009


    Thanks for the comment and the RT. I agree with you connection between the priesthood of all believers and missional living.


    I have not witnessed that personally, but I’ve heard about it enough to believe that it happens… often.


  4. 4-21-2009

    Priest is simply the English corruption of the word “presbyter.”

    Hans Kueng also said that he wanted Barack Obama to be Pope.

    I cannot take him seriously no matter what he writes. Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.

  5. 4-21-2009


    Kung wrote this long before Obama entered politics. I’ve read several things by Kung (but not the book mentioned here). All of these books were written over 20 years ago, and I’ve enjoyed much of what I’ve read from him.

    I don’t think either the Catholic priest or the Protestant pastor can truly be compared to the NT presbyter.


  6. 4-22-2009

    Excellent post and your closing paragraph is true. It is easier to check mark “went to church” than it is to be the church. And, what Gary says about control/power is true.

    One of our local churches recently went through a transformation as the pastor stepped down because he believed this and the church moved to unpaid elder rule. It will be interesting to see how they do it all.

    Leaving in just a few days! We’re excited. God bless.

  7. 4-22-2009

    Brian B,

    I understand where you are coming from, to an extent. In my circles, many of us reject out of hand writings from men who carry the label “Arminian”. Once they get that label, their books are cast aside. On the other hand, we often accept with little discernment what has been written by the “right” authors. If John Piper writes something, it must be orthodox and valuable. Granted, everything I have read from his has been orthodox, but you see my point.

    By excluding from consideration anything written by someone I have major disagreements with I am confident that I have rejected many good books and articles.

    If what Kung wrote on a particular topic is in line with Scripture, than I say it should be welcomed. If it is not, it should be rejected.

  8. 4-22-2009

    Alan and Arthur,

    Fr. Kueng is a product of the aggiornamento which brought in the Second Vatican Council. Unfortunately, many of his teachings, including the one you quoted, Alan, are not in continuity with the history of the Church. Pope Benedict XVI was his contemporary at the Council, both he and Fr. Kueng being expert theologians and advisors. Pope Benedict saw the benefit of what he calls a “hermeneutic of continuity” or updating the Church in continuity with its living Tradition. What Fr. Kueng advocates is a hermeneutic of rupture, i.e. reinventing the Church to fit the modern world, or the idea that the Second Vatican Council was a new starting point for the Church rather than being an opportunity for the Church to dialogue with the world which was the intention of the Council to begin with.

    In a prior post on Facebook, Alan, you mentioned the world influencing the Church. In reality, I see what Fr. Kueng is doing as just that. The Church is the visible Kingdom of God. Jesus likened it to a mustard seed which starts out small but grows so large that birds will build nests in its branches. We can prune here and there, but we cannot uproot it or prune it back to the point that it 1) is not recognizable anymore or 2) dies. In my humble opinion, the reforms that Fr. Kueng advocates would lead to either or both of those realities. Furthermore, we cannot return the mustard plant which is full grown and a home for birds to its former state of a seed or a seedling.

    While the Catholic priesthood or Protestant ministry may not be exactly the same as the πρεσβύτερος of the New Testament, there are enough similarities that their roles can be recognized as originating in that New Testament office.

    In another blog post you mentioned organization, and I have had opportunity to contemplate what you discussed. I realized that I don’t see the Church as an “organization.” It is an organism, a living and growing entity, which is ensouled by the Holy Spirit and to which we bring all of our gifts. Each of those gifts as you mentioned are meant for the building up of the Church. I believe that the ministry of the Church as we know it is itself a gift. We cannot simply toss it out because it does not suit our needs or because it does not fit our understanding of the writings of the New Testament. Suffice it to say, if Jesus promised the apostles that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church, and it has lasted as long as it has, I dare say that we must be doing something right.

    I really appreciate the gift of your blog. It has made me contemplate my faith in ways I would never have imagined just a couple of months ago.

    Pax Christi sit semper tecum.

  9. 4-22-2009


    I’ve noticed the tendency to either dismiss or accept a book based on the theological bent of the author. When I’ve read these books anyway, I’ve found that I can learn even from people with different theological perspectives.


    In what I’ve read from Kung (mainly from his book The Church), I have not seen where he is allow the culture to form his understanding of the church. Instead, I’ve found him to be very scriptural and exegetical. For example, see excerpts in my posts “Charismatics” and “Kung on the Church in Corinth“.


  10. 4-22-2009


    Fr. Kueng is making assumptions that simply because St. Paul does not outline minute details in his letters to the various churches that those details simply did not exist, i.e. when do services begin, who leads the services, etc. You and I both know that the Church which is a living organism is not like a fly in amber. It will grow, and you cannot return the Church to the form that it had in the New Testament because to be honest, the New Testament does not really give enough details as to the answers to such questions as above to be able to reconstruct it. To attempt to do so would simply be speculative.

    Now as to Fr. Kueng succumbing to the Zeitgeist, I give you these links:,2144,2766236,00.html

    My issue with him is that as a Catholic priest, he perpetuates lies by saying things such as, “When we have a pope, who claims that — as theological Lord of the world — only those who are with him are true Christians and that only his Roman-Catholic Church is the true church, it gets on many people’s nerves,” and “When the pope in [a much-publicized 2006 speech in the Bavarian town of] Regensburg tried to define Islam as a religion of violence, he noticed himself that he took the wrong path. You have to remember the kind of trails of blood Christians left in history.” He obviously didn’t read either document that he was critiquing, and he obviously has issues with Joseph Ratzinger as a man.

    I am sure that many of Fr. Kueng’s writings are meritorious, but you will have to forgive me if I refuse to fawn over them. For the record, I could just as easily say that your support of his writings is simply because they reinforce your position of questioning the status quo in a church which you see as in need of reorganization and revitalization. I simply do not have the same experience of a church which appears to be asleep.

  11. 4-22-2009

    One other thing, if there is no need for a special class of ministers to govern the Church, how do you reconcile that with 1 Tim 3 particularly 1 Tim 3:5 which says of a bishop, “for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church?” Why even mention bishops? For that matter, why replace Judas with St. Matthias in Acts?

  12. 4-22-2009


    This sounds like a Catholic squabble to me. I’m sympathetic, because Southern Baptists certainly have enough of those.

    I do not think that elders (presbyters) as described in Scripture form a separate class of priests. That does not mean that elders are invalid or unnecessary.


  13. 4-23-2009

    What is the squabble? Fr. Kueng? It is indeed a squabble between him and the Pope. However, my point is that you know them by their fruits. I am not aware of Pope Benedict being nearly as harsh with Fr. Kueng as Fr. Kueng is with Pope Benedict.

    Our priests are not a separate class similar to the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament. If anything they are men who are ordained to participate in the priesthood of Jesus Christ for a specific purpose, that of confecting the Eucharist. I suppose it would be more accurate to say that our priests are according to the order of Melchizedek. That is not to say that we reject the idea of the priesthood of believers because we don’t. All Christians are called to offer spiritual sacrifices, indeed their very selves to the Lord. However, only certain men are called to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice.

  14. 4-23-2009


    “When I’ve read these books anyway, I’ve found that I can learn even from people with different theological perspectives.”

    Case in point is this blog. A year ago I would have dismissed what you write about regarding the church, pastors, elders, preaching, etc. as some lib’ral nonsense or perhaps even some kind of Commie plot. I am glad that your sober and Scriptural arguments made me reexamine some of the traditions I thought were Biblical.

  15. 4-23-2009


    I understand that only Catholic priests allowed to “confect the Eucharist”. Is that a NT distinction or a later development?


    I’m glad you stuck around. I’ve learned alot from you too.


  16. 4-23-2009

    I think it is quite a leap to take the breaking of bread in fellowship found in the New Testament and derive from that a whole set of rituals and doctrines that make up the Mass and Eucharist.

  17. 4-24-2009


    I have some thoughts about OT/NT leadership in my doctoral dissertation which I have made available online:

    See Ch. 3.

    Barb O.