A Question I Was Asked:

Does the 'Priesthood of All Believers' Make Ministry Redundant?

The Actual Question:

The recent UK Apologetics article about "leaderless churches" was certainly fascinating, but when Martin Luther raised the question of the 'priesthood of all believers,' didn't he refer to the abolition of Christian ministry?

UK Apologetics Reply:

The answer is, absolutely not, he did not mean that at all.

In his famous 1520 reforming essay, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, he wrote:

"Although we are all priests, this does not mean that all of us may preach, teach and exercise authority. Certain ones from within the community must be selected and set apart for such office. Anyone who holds such an office is not a priest by virtue of that office, but is a servant of all the others, who are just as much priests as he is."

So, as Alister McGrath points out,

"The recognition of the equality of all believers thus does not imply the identity of all believers."
(For both quotes, see page 206, Reformation Thought, Alister McGrath, 1993 paperback version, Blackwell, Oxford, UK).

It must be understood that Luther always supported the principle of leadership, authority and discipline within congregations of Christians, indeed this remains important in present day Lutheran Churches.

In fact, Luther never wanted separation from the Catholic Church at all, but wanted a full reformation of Catholic doctrines, practice and - not least - behaviour. That reformation finally came at the Council of Trent (1545-1563). It is sometimes referred to as the 'Counter-reformation,' but it did not go far enough, mostly just underlining previous teachings, although certain abuses were addressed and better education was demanded for priests. The purpose of the Council of Trent was to undermine Protestantism by displaying a Catholic willingness to reform itself but, because most of the serious problems were never satisfactorily addressed, Trent actually served to strengthen the Protestants.
Robin A. Brace. February, 24th, 2010.