Priesthood in the church

The English word 'priest' is derived ultimately from the Latin presbyter, meaning 'elder'. However, the function of a priest is not well conveyed by that, and the word has now acquired additional connotations.

In the Old Testament, the priest stood between the people and God. The people could not come into the Holy place in the Temple; only the priest could enter. The people could not make sacrifices to God, the priest had to do that for them.

When Jesus died, the curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom, to show that the barrier between man and God had been bridged. If we are in Jesus, we have direct access to God. Therefore we do not need a priest in the Old Testament sense of the word.

The Bible tells us that the Church is a holy people, a royal priesthood; do we behave as if we believe that?

From the time of Constantine, the institutional church began to take on pagan practices and beliefs, as thousands of unredeemed pagans came into the church in obedience to the emperor. One of these pagan beliefs is the distinction between clergy and laity. The bible recognises that certain people may be called to a particular ministry within the church; but to claim that only someone who is ordained a priest is able to give communion is to deny the scriptures that tell us that we are all priests.

It is normal for the senior person in the church to give communion; but to import a 'priest' from elsewhere if our own vicar is unavailable is to claim by our actions that 'ordained' Christians are in fact closer to God than the rest of us; we effectively deny the truth of the scripture.

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Oliver Elphick
Last modified: 28th June 2003