the weblog of Alan Knox

Why priests… again

Posted by on May 4, 2009 in books, definition, elders, office | 28 comments

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post called “Why Priests“. In that post, I included two reviews of a book by Hans Küng called Why Priests: A Proposal for a New Church Ministry.

Even though I couldn’t find the book in the school’s library, James at “Idle musings of a bookseller” was able to find the book. Here are excerpts that he’s posted over the last few days:

The Church and its credibility and effectiveness in society stand and fall according to whether it is the place where Jesus and the remembrance of him are to be found, whether it steps forward privately and publicly for the cause of Jesus Christ, whether is remains the advocate of Jesus Christ in the modern world and society despite failure in both word and deed.—Why Priests, page 18

“…a Church which bears the name of Jesus Christ, hears his word and is sustained by his Spirit can never be identified with a particular class, caste, clique or authority. Like Jesus himself, his Church too addresses itself to the whole people and particularly to the underprivileged. The Church, then, is the whole community of believers in Christ, in which all may regard themselves as people of God, body of Christ, structure of the Spirit. The decisive criterion of this community is not a privilege of birth, state, race, or office. What is decisive is not whether someone has an ‘office’ in the Church or what office he has, but whether and to what extent he is purely and simply a ‘believer': that is, one who believes, obeys, serves, loves, hopes.”—Why Priests?, pages 27-28

“Unlike the pagan or Jewish cult, the Christian needs no priest as mediator at the innermost part of the temple, with God himself. Rather , he is granted an ultimate immediacy to God which no ecclesiastical authority can destroy or even take away from him. No one has the power to judge, control or command decisions which fall within this innermost realm. To be sure, the Christian faith does not fall directly from heaven; it is passed on in the Church. But ‘Church’ means the whole believing community which, through the proclamation of the gospel—often done more by the humbler folk than by the hierarchs and theologians, more by deeds than by words—awakens faith in Jesus Christ, invites commitment in his Spirit, makes the Church present in the world through the Christian witness of daily life and thus carries on the cause of Jess Christ. It is after all everyone, not just a chosen few, to whom the proclamation of the Christian message in all the different kinds of congregation is entrusted; an individual and social life according to the gospel is required of all, and to all are entrusted baptism on [sic] the name of Jesus, the memorial, thanksgiving and covenant meal and the word of forgiveness of sins; the ministry of daily life and responsibility for their fellow men, for the congregation and for the world is given over to everyone—in all these basic functions a community of liberty, equality, fraternity.”—Why Priests, page 28

“Liberty is both a gift and a task for the Church. The Church may and should be a community of free people: as advocate of Jesus Christ it can never be an institution for domination or, still less, a Grand Inquisition. Its members are freed for freedom: liberated from slavery to the letter of the law, from the burden of guilt, from dread of death; liberated for life, for service, for love—people who are subject to God alone and therefore neither to anonymous powers not to other men. To be sure, faith in the crucified Christ cannot and is not meant to abolish law and power in society; the kingdom of complete freedom is yet to come. But this faith effectively subsumes law and power and completely relativizes them. Faith in the crucified Christ makes man become so free within the scheme of law that he is capable of renouncing a right for the sake of another person without recompense, and even of going two miles with someone who has made him go one. It lets him become so free in society’s power struggle that he is capable of using power to his own disadvantage for the sake of another person, and so to give not only his coat but also his cloak. The Christian message, for instance, the words of the Sermon on the Mount, supported by Jesus’ life and death, are not meant to set up any new law, to create any new juridical order. The are meant to free men from the law.”—Why Priests, page 29

“On the basis of this freedom which it has received and made concrete, the Church may and should be a community of fundamentally equal people. To be sure, we do not mean by this an egalitarianism that would put the multiplicity of gifts and ministries all on the same level; we mean rather that all members, whatever their differences among themselves, have the same fundamental rights. As advocate of Jesus Christ, it can never be the Church of a class, race, caste or officials. It is through a free decision that individuals have joined the community of faith or remain in it. Those who are unequal should be brought together here in a solidarity of love: rich and poor, high and low, educated and uneducated, white and non-white, men and women.”—Why Priests, pages 30-31

“As advocate of Jesus Christ, the Church can never have a patriarchal authority structure as its government. Here only one is the holy Father, God himself; all members of the Church are his adult sons and daughters and they must not be reduced to the status of minors. In this society men may set up only truly fraternal and not paternalistic authority. Only one is lord and master, Jesus Christ himself; all members of the Church are brothers and sisters. In this community the supreme norm is therefore not the patriarch, but the will of God, which, according to the message of Jesus Christ, is directed to men’s welfare—indeed, the welfare of all men…No one in the Church has the right to substitute for this brotherhood a clerical system’s paternalism and cult of persons and thus continue strengthening the rule of men over men.”—Why Priests, pages 32-33.

“Although various functions are mentioned in the New Testament, the problem of a Church office is never explicitly dealt with. Church ‘office’ is not a biblical concept. It came later after reflection and is not without its own difficulties. Evidently the secular words for ‘office’ were deliberately and consistently avoided in the New Testament in connection with Church functions. They express a relation of domination…

“Of course there is authority in the Church. But authority is only legitimate when it is based on service and not on power, prior rights and privileges from which the obligation of service is then considered to flow. We would therefore do better, if we want to speak in a precise theological fashion, to speak about Church ministry rather than about Church office. To be sure, it is not the word that counts but the way it is understood; talk about Church ‘ministry’ can also be misused to hide the realities if the exercise of domination in the Church is not abandoned at the same time…

“Power can be used well or badly. Even in the Church power cannot simply be abolished. But it can be used, when effectively channeled, to carry out functions that serve the common welfare. The unavoidable use of power is one thing; the use of it by individuals or groups to dominate is quite another. In the latter case it is a matter of retaining a privileged position or increasing one’s own power. Power can be used responsibly in the Church only in terms of service and is to be evaluated according to its quality as service; such power which comes from service is genuine (and primarily inner) authority. The opposition is therefore not between power and service but between the use of power to dominate and its use to serve.”—Why Priests, pages 39-40

What do you think?


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

  1. 5-4-2009

    I think I agree with most of what he says, but I think he has a flawed understanding of the Catholic Church, in which he is himself a priest. The Catholic priesthood is not akin to the Levitical priesthood. Through his ordination, a Catholic priest is participating in the sacrificial ministry of Christ himself, the ministry which Christ instituted on the night he was betrayed.

  2. 5-4-2009


    Thanks for the link. I will be posting a few more this week. I’m about done with the book–gardening has interfered with reading lately : )

    The latter part of the book tends more heavily toward Roman Catholic specific stuff than the earlier part. But, it still contains some good food for thought.


  3. 5-4-2009


    From that pen: Amazing! But ??

  4. 5-4-2009


    The only participation we have in the completed sacrificial ministry of Christ is the sin that was propitiated at the cross. Even the faith by which we are saved is a gracious gift of God. Every man, even “popes” and priests, are but dead sinners until made alive again through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit.

  5. 5-4-2009


    I see where the NT refers to priests, but only in the sense that all believers are now priests.


    I’m looking forward to reading the remaining excerpts.

    Aussie John,

    I don’t understand.


    Yep. Even our response is a work of God through the Holy Spirit. Although, from Scripture, it seems that we can hinder his work.


  6. 5-4-2009

    Arthur Sido,

    Did I say anything about popes and priests not being regenerated through the Holy Spirit?

    The Catholic priest is ordained to confect the Eucharistic sacrifice which is Christ’s sacrifice sacramentally made present so that all the faithful may participate in the body and blood of Christ. From the point of view of an evangelical Protestant, this is nonsensical since they do not espouse sacramental theology.

  7. 5-4-2009

    Alan, the term “priest” in the context of the Catholic Church is a corruption of the word “presbyter.” Catholics accept the docctrine of the priesthood of all believers as well.

    In the liturgical life of the Church, the presbyter is the sacramental representative of Christ, hence you will hear that Catholic priests are in persona Christi when they are performing their sacramental duties. In that sense he is indeed functioning as a priest since he is doing the work of Christ in the person of Christ, i.e. he is alter Christus. But as I said to Arthur Sido, as an evangelical Protestant who rejects the sacramental worldview, this is nonsensical to you.

  8. 5-4-2009

    Arthur Sido,

    After a little more thought, I think maybe a study of the term communio might help clarify what I mean by participation.

  9. 5-4-2009

    Brian, it is nonsensical because before Christ breathed his last breath on the cross, he said, “IT IS FINISHED!”…

    Trying to take what Christ accomplished, and bottle it up, to be dispensed through some “sacrement” is nonsense…

    To suggest that certain individuals are “ordained” to represent Christ, in any way that is above the rest of the Body, who are all ambassadors of Christ, are all represtatives of Him, is nonsense…

    When Christ came, He fulfilled, completely, what had been represented by Jewish “liturgical life” for centuries… To return back to such an interaction with God, by appealing to human mediators, is to reject the One true mediator, CHRIST, because Christ lives forever to intercede for us. We do not need anyone else to ever represent us before God. We do not need anyone to mediate on behalf of the Mediator, Christ does not need anyone to supplement His atonement….

    This is not simply the conclusion of an “evangelical protestant”, it is the conclusion of anyone who takes an honest look at the scriptures…

    - Daniel

    (okay, I’m done…)

  10. 5-4-2009


    I understand that the English word “priest” is a corruption of the Greek word “presbuteros”. Unfortunately, I think there’s also a “corruption” in the understanding of “presbuteros” in attaching it to the OT idea of “priest”. But, I’m not picking on the Catholic idea here… Protestants do the same thing with their “elders” and “pastors”.


    If there is anything sacramental in the NT, it is assigned to all priests… that is, to all believers.


  11. 5-4-2009

    You know, it’s weird, I’ve come across like 3 conversations today that have all involved this matter of sacrements (I guess the Spirit is trying to get my attention, who knows…) But at this point, I don’t know if there really is such a thing as a “sacrement”, even for all believers equally… What the heck is a sacrement anyway? I think I need to find out…


  12. 5-4-2009


    That’s why I said “if”… :)


  13. 5-5-2009


    Simply that an RC priest has been very publicly defrocked here for espousing the very same things as the quotes suggest.

  14. 5-5-2009

    Like a mustard seed,

    Perhaps you should consider what Jesus meant by “it” in “it is finished.” What was finished?

    It is not nonsensical to me. It makes perfect sense in the grand scheme which is the sacramental economy of the new and everlasting covenant, and yes it is quite scriptural. To say that all Christians are ordained to the same position and role is frankly not attested to in the scriptures.

    I think it is completely without charity to assume that I have not honestly studied the scriptures, My honest study of them clearly reveals the sacramental economy of which I have spoken, the Church itself being perhaps the greatest example of a sacrament which is a visible outward sign of an invisible or inward grace.

    As I said, to an evangelical Protestant, the sacramental economy is nonsensical. What I am not sure of is why it is nonsensical to them. I would venture to guess that it has something to do with the whole notion of incarnation and the rejection of some aspects of it by evangelical Protestants, but that is my best guess.

    Aussie John, the priest which you speak of would have issues amongst evangelical Protestants as well. He would probably be most welcome in the Unitarian Universalist communities.

  15. 5-5-2009


    By “if” sacraments exist, do you mean to imply that God cannot use physical matter to bestow his grace? Are you really comfortable with even doubting that is possible? It sounds very much like the doubt that Jews and Muslims express when Christians say that God took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and became man!

  16. 5-5-2009

    Brother I have purposely stayed out of this commentary and have been reading the threads.
    I was born, baptised and raised Catholic.
    I honestly have never heard one priest or other state that all believers are priest in Christ.
    Also I do see a lot of the Old Testament rituals being played out in the Catholic Church. From the garments they wear on into the sacrements being presented in the body.
    Everything that the Catholic church is supposed to be a symbolism of what Christ did. Except I see no where in the New Testament that we are to do symbolisms.
    All of the symbolisms were done away with when Jesus said “it is finished”.
    The work of what Christ did on the cross freed us from the law. Symbolic law, which is just what the Catholic faithful reinstated.
    I have no disrepect for people who are still in the Catholic faith. I just know as an adult when I would go and ask the priest certain questions why we were doing things. They would not or could not give an answer.
    I was a youth leader in the parish I was apart of.
    Yet I was being pulled from the Catholic church by the Lord because of some of the teachings that didn’t line up with the written word in the NT.
    Sir I mean no disrespect to you at all! I just feel compelled to put this out.
    I must disagree though about how you say the Catholic priesthood is not akin to the Levitacal. Again because of the way things are done in the church by only the priest.
    Jesus lives in the heart of the believers now. We don’t need another mediator who is just another man.

  17. 5-5-2009


    With all due respect, you were misled. Even Catholic priests are human and are capable of speaking in error. Catholics do indeed believe in the priesthood of believers.

    Your post tells me two things: 1) you don’t understand the nature of the Catholic priesthood and its relationship to the priesthood of Jesus Christ and 2) you don’t understand the concept of the Levitical priesthood and its relationship to the Jewish people. The Catholic priesthood would be more akin to the priesthood of Melchizadek (thou art a priest forever) than that of the Levites whose priesthood time limited. To say that all things in the Catholic Church are done by priests is wrong. I teach and I am not a priest. Deacons witness marriages, preside over funerals, and perform baptisms and they are not priests. There are many lay people who bring Holy Communion to the sick and shut-ins and they are not priests. I have yet to be in the presence of a priest who offered an animal in sacrifice to Yahweh, which is what the role of the Levitical priest was. The Catholic priesthood serves the body of Christ, as that link says, “the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood.” It is not even remotely the same as the Levitical priesthood.

    Ironically, I left Protestantism for the Catholic Church for the same reasons that you left Catholicism: glaring errors in the scriptures and the nature of the Church and her relationship to her head, the Lord himself.

    I keep reading we reject Christ for human mediators and that we believe Christ’s atonement needs supplementing. I even see it implied by you that we advocate a return to the law. All of this is utter nonsense. Catholics do not separate the work of the Church from Christ himself because it is only through grace which itself is a gift from the Lord that we are able to do any good in the name of the Lord, and we certainly don’t advocate a return to the Mosaic Law.

    It is unfortunate that you were not able to get a priest to answer your questions to your satisfaction, but I would hardly say that this gives you the authority to misrepresent the Catholic faith in the manner that you have. I would be more than happy to dialogue with you by e-mail( I daresay that I could probably answer your questions. Whether it is to your satisfaction is a different matter altogether.

  18. 5-5-2009

    I appreciate your response. I may take you up on the email as I could say more in a not so consolidated manner.
    I suppose from the standpoint of having been raised in the Catholic faith is that even through all of the cathecism classes a Catholic still doesn't understand why the church does certain things. In that there is a lot of error. I mean no one could explain to me why they baptized infants. (That was a question I posed to a local priest.)
    I don't judge the whole Catholic church on one priest.
    The Catholic church priesthood I should say more represents the Levitical priesthood in that before Vatican 2 council the priest did do all the ceremonies.
    Where I grew up we were a small Catholic town. So it was very very traditional. Almost to the point of where they would have been ok going back to Latin only.
    I left the church in 1995. I was then in my 20's. I do know for a fact that one statement was the scratching of the chaulk board for me.
    One older gentleman in one of our parish meetings talking about some changes needed stated< "I feel we need more devotionals to Mary."
    The name of our church was St. Mary's.
    At the time I said to myself, I don't know what is wrong with that, but it is not resonating with my spirit.
    Needless to say that was the catalyst the Lord used to make me leave.
    I have a lot of friends and family in the Catholic church and I will not speak badly about them nor the way they worship.
    I was approached many times by well meaningful Baptist friends who would attack me on what I believe. I know that is not the way to approach people and hope that I didn't come across that way in my previous post.
    Again I feel the email situation would be an excellent way for us to discuss somethings. Right now my mind is not into debating nor is this the right place.
    I will get with you on more.
    Thank you sincerely,

  19. 5-5-2009

    This is a good discussion… and valuable I think. Something to think about: Everyone who commented is surrendered to Jesus as Lord and accepts the authority of Scripture. The difference lies in how we interpret Scripture.


  20. 5-5-2009


    Interestingly, I can answer the question of infant baptism and devotion to the Blessed Virgin, but I don’t think a combox is the place for it.

    As far as the Mass prior to the Council, I actually attend Mass in a Church according to the Roman Missal of 1962. The role of the priest is clear as is the role of the deacon, the subdeacon, the altar servers, the choir, and the congregation. It is very clearly outlined, but regardless, deacons have always had the authority to witness weddings, (I actually sang with a schola at a Tridentine Latin Mass in which the marriage itself was witnessed by the bride’s father who is a deacon), baptize, preside at funerals, and bring Holy Communion to the sick. Since the Council the role of the laity itself has been expanded, you are right, but this is not to the detriment of the Church but to its benefit.

    All of this leads me to say with certainty that I don’t discount what evangelical Protestants believe or are saying here in theory. When I read Daniel post, “When Christ came, He fulfilled, completely, what had been represented by Jewish “liturgical life” for centuries…” and “We do not need anyone else to ever represent us before God. We do not need anyone to mediate on behalf of the Mediator, Christ does not need anyone to supplement His atonement….” I wholeheartedly agree! Where I disagree with him is that he thinks the Catholics have returned to the old way of doing things when we clearly have not. Catholic worship, piety, prayer, ministry, our very existence itself is centered in the Lord Jesus. Even things which scare the pants off of Protestants (like devotion to the Blessed Virgin) when properly understood are clearly centered in devotion to the Lord.

    The same is true with our ministerial priesthood which is at service to the Church, but the source of that service is Christ himself.

    I don’t feel that I am being judged or condemned by anyone here. I enjoy the chance to discuss this, and thank Alan for allowing me to do so.

  21. 5-5-2009


    You said, “The role of the priest is clear as is the role of the deacon, the subdeacon, the altar servers, the choir, and the congregation.” Are you saying these roles are clear in Scripture, or in the RC theology?


  22. 5-5-2009


    What would you say was accomplished at the cross? I would say that Christ became sin for His sheep, taking the just penalty of their sins upon Himself and imputing His righteous standing to them. That He fulfilled the requirements of the law for the elect by His cross (Col 2: 13-14). As such, the sacrificial ministry is completed in that there is nothing left to be sacrificed, nothing is left to accomplish. When people ask me when I was saved, I tell them I was saved in the first century AD.


    I would argue that the believer can hinder, through sin, the sanctifying work of the Spirit. I am not as sure that the someone who is regenerated by the Spirit can impede that work, although I also approach the whole topic from an irresistable grace position as part of my overall soteriology.

  23. 5-6-2009

    Interesting and very helpful conversation.

    As to ‘sacraments’, Doesn’t God normally accomplish His work by using real, physical means?

    And as to “it is finished”, I think its helpful to understand that Jesus was proclaiming that His work (as it relates to the purpose of Torah) was done. He accomplished what Israel had failed to do. But this “end” also marked out another “beginning”. In bringing about nothing less than new creation, Jesus was also teaching us that “in Him” we still have much to accomplish. In that sense we have much to look forward to and much work to do.

  24. 5-6-2009


    As to ‘sacraments’, Doesn’t God normally accomplish His work by using real, physical means?I don’t think that is the case. How does God work in the believer? The changed heart is an internal thing, an outwardly invisible work of the Holy Spirit. The preaching of the Word is not really physical. I think that we far overemphasize the physical.

  25. 5-6-2009

    Brian, no one ever said that Catholicism is a return to the Mosaic Law, rather, it is a reinvention of it, replacing the OT liturgies and symbols, with new ones, but in the end, you still have a certain individuals, and certain practices, which are effectively put forth as the “bridge” connecting people and God, that is in intermediary, and that is solely the place of Christ…

    so when Christ said, “it is finished”, it means:

    I don’t need to confess my sins to a “priest”, I confess them to God, and my brothers and sisters in Christ…

    I do not need anyone to bring “holy communion” to me, I can eat any piece of bread, and drink any drink, and be reminded of Christ’s sacrifice, which is the only thing that atones for me…

    I do not need to attend any sort of “mass”, or any other offical church gathering, cuz wherever I’m with other believers, I’m being built up through the Body…

    I do not need to pay one ounce of attention to what some council decided in this year or that year, because those are merely the conclusions of men, and have no authority over the Church…

    All I need is Christ, alive in me, and He takes care of the rest…

  26. 5-6-2009


    The preaching of the Word, the reading of the written word are very outward and “physical” in nature. I honestly don’t see how this can be denied. The overall point is that God ordinarily employs common means to accomplish His will and communicate His grace.

    I tend to see a problem in the Church with an overemphasis on the inward/ invisible/ spiritual/ individualistic stuff.

    I don’t understand what you mean by “outwardly invisible”.

  27. 5-7-2009

    Wade, the preaching and reading are external and physcial, but the are that way to the believer and unbeliever alike. In other words, a believer and an unbeliever can both read the Bible or listen to a sermon. The difference is the impact and that is where the work of God happens. The work of God happens internally.

  28. 5-9-2009


    That’s all I’m saying — Preaching is an example of one of the physical “means” that YHWH uses. Just like water, bread and wine are physical means.