What it Means to Be A Baptist?
A Royal Privilege
All believers have equal access to God through the one mediator, Jesus Christ.
For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; (1 Tim. 2:5)
Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 2:5)
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: (1 Pet. 2:9)
The “Priesthood of the Believer” means that we have no earthly authority between us and God. Baptists believe that there is no man or church authority that one must go through to fellowship with God and likewise that God does not need to go through a man or church to fellowship with us as well. We can go directly to God with our petitions and prayers, and He may make His will known directly to us. This principle came about as a reaction to the Catholic Church placing itself and the clergy between the believer and God.
Sadly, this principle is often only given lip service and not lived out in day-to-day practice. We believe that we can go boldly to the “throne of grace,” but if you ask the average Christian how much time that they have spent in prayer in the last week, it will be a depressing answer.
Peter’s injunction to, “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1Pet 3:15) is for all believers, not just the pastor. The pastor’s job is to prepare his flock to defend the faith for themselves. The believer then should be a student of the Word of God so that they can be ready to defend the faith that they say they believe.
In America, this tradition was fought for us by a man named Roger William, a minister in the New England area. He was a strong proponent of Individual Soul Liberty.
Williams graduated from Cambridge University in 1627 and was ordained in the Church of England. He soon embraced “Separatists” ideas and decided to leave England. In 1631, he arrived in Boston. He was much displeased with the Puritan theocracy. He strongly believed in separation of church and state and upheld the principles of soul liberty. “Soul liberty” is a belief that everyone is responsible to God individually. It bases its belief in the New Testament teaching that every believer is a priest to himself, having full access to God without the need to go through a church, church leader or priest. (Hebrews 4:15-16; 10:19-22) Despite his views, he was made the pastor of the Anglican church in Salem. Shortly after that, because of his doctrinal preaching, he was forced to leave Salem and went for a short time to Plymouth. He returned to Salem where he was summoned before the court in Boston because of his outspoken beliefs and was banished from the colony. The charge recorded against him was that “he broached and divulged new and dangerous opinions against the authority of the magistrates.” Clearly, he was banished because he believed in religious freedom and taught the New Testament belief that a believer’s sole source for his faith and practice was through Scripture alone. His “crime” was that he rejected the unbiblical ideas of the state church such as infant baptism and other false teachings of the Puritans. The Puritans drove him from their colony in the dead of winter.
Does the Bible verify Roger Williams belief in sole liberty and the priesthood of the believer? We listed passages at the beginning of this article showing that the Word of God affirms this belief. We are blessed to have Christ Himself who taught this belief. Christ, dying on the cross, being buried and rising again provided direct access to God the Father through Him. This is revealed in Ephesians 2 where the Bible says that Christ “hath broken down the middle wall of partition.” This references when the veil of the temple was rent from top to bottom during Christ’s crucifixion.
There was a man named Cyprian of Carthage that introduced heresy against this biblical doctrine soon after the time of Christ. Lockyer in his “All the trades of the Bibles” references this man.
Cyprian of Carthage in the second century A.D. was made bishop and led the early church after Christ into apostasy in this area. He said that the bishop was a high place, touting that the bishop had absolute supremacy and was a God appointed ruler of the church. Cyprian also conceived the idea of the clergy as sacrificing priests, who when they officiated the Lord’s supper offered up on the altar the very body and blood of Christ. With Cyprian’s departure from the divine order there gradually developed a distinct order separating themselves from the laity. He said they were to assume “the office of priest as the dispenser of grace – conferring rituals and as the custodian of the kingdom of heaven entrusted with the dread power of the keys.”
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
This undoubtably teaches that the believer has direct access to God through Jesus Christ.
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised; (Heb. 10:19-23)
The priesthood of each believer in Baptist thought is tied closely to another concept, that of soul competency. Each person has a God given competence to know and follow God’s will. A decision to follow Christ as Lord and Savior is an individual decision. There is no one who can make this decision for another. The ability to find God’s will for your life and have a personal relationship with Christ comes from the concept of both the priesthood of the believer and individual soul liberty.
Each New Testament priest is responsible for his or her own actions. Individual believers can go directly to God without the aid of any intermediary. Individuals can and should read and interpret the Bible for themselves without religious officials dictating to them what to believe. Be leery of those that deny access to the Word of God or say that the Word of God is limited to the average church member. This is Catholicism and will make a weak congregation in a church. Being a priest in the New Testament fashion is a gift from God, not a human achievement; it comes with salvation.
The concept of the priesthood of believer is basic for Baptists. It is based in Scripture and makes the individual able to ascertain insight into the Bible. The believer has the Holy Spirit upon salvation to guide him into all truth. “Thy word is truth.” Praise the Lord for His wonderful plan of allowing the individual access to the wonder of an omnipotent, omniscient God.