The Rev. Dianne O’Connell
I Peter 2
“A Priesthood for Protestants?”
Good morning, this being the first day after Judgment Day – the day some Christians believed would be marked by the Rapture and the second coming of Christ. I actually waited until after this morning to finish my sermon on the outside chance that I would be among those taken directly to heaven. But here I am. I did post a message on Facebook for friends to check in and let me know if they were still here, and I made a few phone calls this morning for the same purpose. Nobody was missing. And all of you are here, too. Somehow that is comforting.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, Harold Camping
of the Family Radio and Project Caravan Church Movement has been predicting
that May 21, yesterday, would be Judgment Day, beginning with an earthquake in
New Zealand and moving from time zone to time zone through the following 24
hours. As many of 200 million people
would be raptured directly to heaven leaving the rest of us here in total chaos
– left behind. Mr. Camping and others have spent millions of dollars
advertising this prediction all over the world with billboards, fliers, and
internet postings. This morning, Mr.
The vast majority of Protestant Christians have been quoting Acts 7
But this whole circus has brought up another question for me, and that is
the role of a trained clergy leadership in the Christian church versus the
Protestant principle of the priesthood of all believers – and our personal responsibility
to read and mediate on the Scriptures and think and discern basic truths for
ourselves. Harold Camping and Terry
Jones down in
You will remember that the Protestant
Reformers back in the 1500s departed from the Roman Catholic Church primarily
on the basis of three great principles
These were big steps five hundred years ago. But today’s reformers must push them even further. For instance, prior to the Reformation, church tradition and the word of the Pope carried as much or more weight than what was stated in Scripture. Protestant leaders said, no, we will base our faith on the Bible alone.
In today’s world, thinking theologians – and I hope that includes all of us – challenge that position and possibly add, yes, our faith is based in Scripture, but it is also informed by such things as science, personal experience, and societal values. Just reading the first letter of Peter this morning to the believers in Galatia, Cappadocia and Bithynia, I found myself filtering Peter’s pronouncements through my own personal theology. For instance, I had no problem with his call for Christians to be holy, hospitable, to take up responsibility for the care of each other. I had a great deal of trouble with his commands to obey all earthly authority, and for wives and slaves to be submissive to their masters. These concerns came out of just one letter. It takes a lifetime to apply one’s power of discernment to the whole Bible. But let’s move on to the second great Protestant Principle – that of Justification by Faith alone.
This is the Good Works versus Faith Alone argument. This is worthy of a
sermon of its own. But suffice it to say this morning, for me anyway, faith is
crucial, but without good works, life becomes pretty self-centered, even
empty. So, my personal theology includes
both. Which brings us to my original
That sounds pretty snazzy. Maybe I could turn in my white robe for a purple one with ermine around the edges. Then I remembered that the Protestant theological professors wore there plain, black academic robes to preach as a sort of protest against the ornate fashions of the Roman Catholic clergy of the time. Simplicity was called for.
More important than fashion to the Reformers was the idea of just who could play priest. Was there a special class or caste of person who could serve as intermediary with God and humanity – dispensing blessings or withholding forgiveness to individual Christians? Protestants said no, we as individual Christians have our own personal relationship with God – we acknowledge this every time we take communion and I say something about eating the bread together as a symbol of our unity, and drinking the wine as we receive it as a symbol of our individual relationship to God.
So, what’s this Royal Priesthood idea? The writer of I Peter tries to express his understanding of the role of church members through several strong and rather pleasant sounding metaphors.
The first thing Peter says is that Christians are members
of a chosen race. Throughout the Old Testament this title is applied to
the Jews. It was not because of their superior culture; the Egyptians
were older; the Greeks were more sophisticated. It was not because of
Moses explanation was simple
This was what the author of First Peter was trying to say
about the church. The early Christians, too, were at a loss to explain
why God had chosen them. Then it occurred to Paul; God had done it again
But chosen for what? "Chosen for privilege" or "appointed for service". I’m pretty sure most of us agree that Christians have been chosen, or appointed, to serve; we have been summoned by God, but to be a people for God's purposes.
The second thing Peter says is that Christians belong to a royal priesthood. A basic Protestant tenet is that all believers have a priestly role. But what is that priestly role? Well, for one thing, a priest connects people with God. The Latin word for priest is pontifex, -- which means bridge-builder—one who brings two sides together.
To accomplish this,
priests are expected to speak for God to the people. That is a switch for
some of us; we have thought it was the duty of others to speak for God.
Many of us, if we had any awareness of responsibility for others at all, may
have felt that we had done our share when we have gotten other people to church.
To change metaphors, we, who are the church, are God's letter carriers,
authorized to deliver a message. Getting people to church is just another
method of delivery - general delivery at that. What God has given to
every Christian is a special delivery message for those we contact. If
people act surprised that we are the ones chosen to deliver that message, let
us agree with them. We are like messengers from
But priests also speak to God on behalf of the people.
Peter goes on to say that
Christians are part of a holy nation. This is a touchy one – and one that might
remind us of the Koran-burning public nuisance in
As a priesthood of
believers, we are called to be bridge-builders not moat-diggers There will be a Judgment Day for each of us,
and we ourselves may actually be the toughest judges assigned to our case. I think Harold Camping has been wasting his
God-given resources and someday, perhaps, he will judge himself
accordingly. Pastor Terry Jones in
And so do we. May the Lord bless each and every one of us, members of a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation -- God's own people. Amen.