on Luther & Calvin and
the Priesthood of all Believers

Luther on the Priesthood

  • Protestantism, edited by J. Leslie Dunstan (George Braziller: New York 1961) p 47-50; Martin Luther, First Principles of the Reformation (John Murray: London 1883) p 116-117

    The Church: Its Order

    It has been devised, that the Pope, bishops, priests and monks are called the Spiritual Estate; princes, lords, artificers and peasants, are the Temporal Estate; which is a very fine, hypocritical device. But let no one be made afraid by it; and that for this reason: That all Christians are truly of the Spiritual Estate, and there is no difference among them, save of office alone. As St. Paul says (I Cor. xii), we are all one body, though each member does its own work, to serve the others. This is because we have one baptism, one gospel, one faith, and are all Christians alike; for baptism, gospel and faith, these alone make Spiritual and Christian people.

    As for the unction by a pope or a bishop, tonsure, ordination, consecration, clothes differing from those of laymen -- all this may make a hypocrite or an anointed puppet, but never a Christian or a spiritual man. Thus we are all consecrated as priests by baptism, as St. Peter says: "Ye are a royal priesthood, a holy nation" (I Peter ii:9); and in the book of Revelations: "and hast made us unto our God, kings and priests" (Rev. v:10). For, if we had not a higher consecration in us than Pope or bishop can give, no priest could ever be made by the consecration of Pope or bishop; nor could he say the mass, or preach, or absolve. Therefore the bishop's consecration is just as if in the name of the whole congregation he took one person out of the community, each member of which has equal power, and commanded him to exercise this power for the rest; in the same way as if ten brothers, coheirs as king's sons, were to choose one from among them to rule over their inheritance; they would, all of them, still remain kings and have equal power, although one is ordered to govern.

    And to put the matter even more plainly: If a little company of pious Christian laymen were taken prisoners and carried away to a desert, and had not among them a priest consecrated by a bishop, and were there to agree to elect one of them, married or unmarried, and were to order him to baptize, to celebrate the mass, to absolve and to preach; this man would as truly be a priest as if an the bishops and all the Popes had consecrated him. That is why in cases of necessity every man can baptize and absolve, which would not be possible if we were not all priests. This great grace and virtue of baptism and of the Christian Estate, they have almost destroyed and made us forget by their ecclesiastical law. In this way the Christians used to choose.their bishops and priests out of the community; these being afterwards confirmed by other bishops, without the pomp that we have now. So was it that St. Augustine, Ambrose, Cyprian, were bishops.

    Since then the temporal power is baptized as we are, and has the same faith and gospel, we must allow it to be priest and bishop, and account its office an office that is proper and useful to the Christian community. For whatever issues from baptism may boast that it has been consecrated priest, bishop, and Pope, although it does not beseem everyone to exercise these offices. For, since we are all priests alike, no man may put himself forward, or take upon himself, without our consent and election, to do that which we have all alike power to do. For, if a thing is common to all, no man may take it to himself without the wish and command of the community. And if it should happen that a man were appointed to one of these offices and deposed for abuses, he would be just what he was before. Therefore a priest should be nothing in Christendom but a functionary; as long as he holds his office, he has precedence of others; if he is deprived of it, he is a peasant and a citizen like the rest.

    ... It follows then, that between laymen and priests, princes and bishops, or as they call it, between spiritual and temporal persons, the only real difference is one of office and function, and not of estate; for they are all of the same Spiritual Estate, true priests, bishops and Popes, though their functions are not the same: just as among priests and monks every man has not the same functions. And this St. Paul says (Rom. xii.; I Cor. xii.) and St. Peter (I Peter ii.); "... we being many are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." Christ's body is not double or twofold, one temporal, and the other spiritual. He is one head, and he has one body.

    We see then that just as those that we call spiritual, or priests, bishops or Popes, do not differ from other Christians in any other or higher degree, but in that they are to be concerned with the word of God, and the sacraments -- that being their work and office -- in the same way the temporal authorities hold the sword and the rod in their hands to punish the wicked and to protect the good. A cobbler, a smith, a peasant, every man has the office and function of his calling, and yet all alike are consecrated priests and bishops, and every man in his office must be useful and beneficial to the rest, that so many kinds of work may all be united into one community: just as the members of the body all serve one another.2

    Here you will ask: "If all who are in the Church are priests, by what character are those, whom we now call priests, to be distinguished from the laity?" I reply: By the use of these words, "priest," "clergy," "spiritual person," "ecclesiastic," an injustice has been done, since they have been transferred from the remaining body of Christians to those few, who are now, by a hurtful custom, called ecclesiastics. For Holy Scripture makes no distinction between them, except that those, who are now boastfully called popes, bishops, and lords, it calls ministers, servants, and stewards, who are to serve the rest in the ministry of the Word, for teaching the faith of Christ and the liberty of believers. For though it is true that we are all equally priests, yet we cannot, nor, if we could, ought we all to minister and teach publicly. Thus Paul says: "Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God" (I Cor. iv: 1 ).

    This bad system has now issued in such a pompous display of power, and such a terrible tyranny, that no earthly government can be compared to it, as if the laity were something else than Christians. Through this perversion of things it has happened that the knowledge of Christian grace, of faith, of liberty, and altogether of Christ, has utterly perished, and has been succeeded by an intolerable bondage to human works and laws; and, according to the Lamentations of Jeremiah, we have become the slaves of the vilest men on earth, who abuse our misery to all the disgraceful and ignominious purposes of their own will.

    Returning to the subject we had begun, I think it is made clear by these considerations that it is not sufficient, nor a Christian course, to preach the works, life, and words of Christ in a historic manner, as facts which it suffices to know as an example how to frame our life; as do those who are now held the best preachers; and much less so, to keep silence altogether on these things, and to teach in their stead the laws of men and the decrees of the Fathers. There are now not a few persons who preach and read about Christ with the object of moving the human affections to sympathise with Christ, to indignation against the Jews, and other childish and womanish absurdities of that kind.

    Now preaching ought to have the object of promoting faith in Him, so that He may not only be Christ, but a Christ for you and for me, and that what is said of Him, and what He is called, may work in us. And this faith is produced and is maintained by preaching why Christ came, what He has brought us and given to us, and to what profit and advantage He is to be received. This is done, when the Christian liberty which we have from Christ Himself is rightly taught, and we are shown in what manner all we Christians are kings and priests, and how we are lords of all things, and may be confident that whatever we do in the presence of God is pleasing and acceptable to Him.

    on Calvin and the Priesthood of all Believers

  • Wilhelm Niesel, The theology of Calvin, translated by Harold Knight (Westminster: Philadelphia 1956?) (Munich 1938) 202-3

    But it must especially be noted that as regards the permanently necessary offices Calvin affirmed as self-explanatory that more than one of these can be exercised by the same person. The pastor must in any case fulfil also the duty of an elder, while that of the doctor is also open to him,l and similarly the doctor can serve as a preacher and pastor.2 In the final edition of his Institutes even, Calvin speaks in one important passage of three rather than of four orders in the church, reckoning the office of pastor and that of doctor as the same.3

    Of course it must be said that offices may not arbitrarily be accumulated in the hands of one person. The pre-requisite for the bestowal of an office is that the person concerned shall have the necessary capabilities.4 And in this respect we have already seen, in discussing the church as the body of Christ, that the Lord does not bestow all gifts on one individual but distributes the gifts of the Holy Ghost in such a way that each member is dependent on others, so that the coherence and the unity of the church are promoted.5 Human ambition and desire to rule must be checked. "We must therefore realize that in the church we are assigned our places by the Lord in such a way that we must serve each other under the one Head; we must realize also that we are so endowed with a manifold diversity of gifts that we serve the Lord in all modesty and humility and bear in mind the honour of Him who has given us all that we possess."6 This is why Calvin so much stresses the fact that the ministry of preaching in its varied aspects should be undertaken by variously gifted persons; the gifts which Christ has imparted to each individual are to be respected and thus "the sole Lordship and pre-eminence of Christ"7 must be secured and His position as Head of the church recognized. For Calvin's doctrine of orders the New Testament vision of the church as the body of Christ is fundamental, while the thought of the / priesthood of all believers, which only too easily can be understood as a common possession of all the necessary gifts, plays no part in his doctrine. Here again the strong Christo-centric tendency of his theology becomes clear.

    Although the ministry and especially that of the preacher remains always a service, and its members are servants and unprofitable instruments of God,8 yet its authority must be recognized and it must be had in honour of men. This is so because God Himself, as we have already seen, wills to act towards us mediately through the agency of men.9 Naturally the dignity of the individual minister varies according to the character of the gifts and offices; but it is always a fact.10 Calvin declares that the Lord wills that His servants should be regarded plainly as His messengers.11 "To them is applicable the word: Whosoever hears you hears me: whosoever despises you despises me."12 The preachers of the Word "represent the Person of the Son of God".13 Hence Calvin could dare to say that by his ministry Christ ruled His flock.14 He knew, of course, that the authority and dignity of the office did not spring from the man to whom it is committed. This authority and dignity are rather inherent in the office itself, or better still in the Word of God, to serve which the person concerned is called.15

    No one should presume of himself to seize the authority and dignity of any office.16 For the exercise of any office it is indispensable that one should be truly called.l7 This calling is decided by election.18 For an understanding of Calvin's doctrine it is extremely instructive to observe how he conceives this election. It does not mean that by the will of a majority is to be decided what person is to hold any particular office in the church, whilst the independent power of the individual wishing to hold such office must be repressed. The choice does indeed take place through the agency of men; but it is not they who properly speaking decide

    1 In. IV, 3, 4. 2 CR 5l, 198. 3 In. lV 4, 1. 4 CR 51, 196; IV, 3, 12. 5 CR 51, 192; 49, 497 f., 238, 367, 503; 48, 186; In. IV, 6, l0. 6 CR 49, 367. 7 CR 48, 186. 8 CR 49, 350; 50, 235. 9 See above. 10 CR 50, 190. 11 CR l0b, 352. 12 In. IV, 3, 3. 13 CR 27, 688. 14 CR ll, 121. 15 In. IV, 8, 2. 16 In. IV, 3, l0; CR 55, 59. 17 In. IV, 3, l0. 18 In. IV, 3, 15; CR 48, 120.

    CR=Corpus Reformatorum, vols. 1-59. IN= I. Calvini Institutio Christinž Religionis, Geneva 1559 (CR vol. 2)

  • TN ULC Ministerial Union | TN Attorney General's '97 Opinion on ULC ministers
    James Luther Adams on "radical laicization" & the Priesthood of all Believers
    on Luther & Calvin and the Priesthood of all Believers