Christ Made Every Believer a Priest, Not a Select Few
By: The John Ankerberg Show
|By: James McCarthy; ©2000|
|Why do Catholics have priests but Protestants have ministers? There is an important doctrinal difference explained in Jim McCarthy’s current article “Christ Made Every Believer a Priest.”|
Christ Made Every Believer a Priest, Not a Select Few
Since Christians have no need of an ongoing sacrifice for sin such as the Roman Catholic Mass, they have no need of a sacrificing priesthood such as found in Catholicism. In fact, they have no need of another man to function as their priest at all, for, according to the Bible, every believer is a priest unto God. In Revelation 1:6, John writes that Christ has made all Christians “to be a kingdom of priests” (Revelation 1:6; see also Revelation 5:10; 20:6). Peter writes that every true believer is a member of a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). All believers are “being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices” (1 Peter 2:5). These sacrifices are a yielded life (Romans 12:1), financial support of Christian ministry (Philippians 4:18), and “praise to God” (Hebrews 13:15), not an ongoing sacrifice for sin.
The Roman Catholic Church recognizes that the Bible speaks of a general or common priesthood of the faithful [941, 1141, 1546, 1591]. The Church teaches that Catholics enter into it through baptism [784, 1268]. This common priesthood qualifies a person to do such things as participate in the Eucharist, read the Word of God in the liturgical assembly, receive the sacraments, pray, and perform good works [901-903, 1657].
In addition to the general priesthood, the Church teaches that there is the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood [1142, 1547, 1592]. This priesthood is open only to men [1577, 1598]. Normally in the Latin Church, candidates must be unmarried and committed to living a celibate life . The ministerial priesthood is entered into through the laying on of hands by a bishop in the sacrament of ordination, or Holy Orders [1573, 1597]. In this way, men “…are signed with a special character and so are configured to Christ the priest in such a way that they are able to act in the person of Christ the head” . Through ordination they receive the “…power to consecrate and offer the true body and blood of the Lord, and to forgive or retain sins…” [1411, 1461, 1566]. Their appointment to the ministerial priesthood is permanent: “…once a man is ordained a priest, his priesthood, like Christ’s ‘in the line of Melchizedek,’ is forever (Hebrews 5, 6, 7)” . This priesthood, claims the Church, was established by the Lord at the Last Supper when He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19) [611, 1337].
The Roman Catholic Church cannot establish any of these assertions from Scripture. The New Testament makes no distinction between a common and a hierarchical priesthood. The claim that Roman Catholic priests share in the priesthood of Melchizedek is unjustified. The priesthood of Melchizedek, as we have seen, is based upon the “power of an indestructible life” (Hebrews 7:16). In that Roman Catholic priests grow old and die even as the rest of us, they fail to qualify. Finally, the Church’s primary proof-text for the ordained priesthood, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19), says nothing about ordination or the priesthood.
Determined to find biblical support, some Roman Catholic scholars argue that the New Testament office of elder and the Roman Catholic priesthood are one and the same. This view has even found its way into some Roman Catholic translations of the Bible, for example,
- And when they had ordained to them priests in every church…they commended them to the Lord….Acts 14:23 (Douay Rheims)
- For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest…ordain priests in every city, as I also appointed thee:… Titus 1:5 (Douay Rheims)
- Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the church…. James 5:14 (Douay Rheims)
In each of these verses, the word translated “priests” is the plural form of the Greek word presbuteros, meaning older man or elder. The Scriptures teach that the apostles “appointed elders…in every church” (Acts 14:23), not priests. Titus was to “appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5), not priests. And sick Christians were to “call for the elders of the church” (James 5:14), not the local priest. The New Testament word for priest is hiereus. It is not found in any of the three passages quoted above from the Catholic Douay Rheims Bible.
Adapted from The Gospel According to Rome by James G. McCarthy, Harvest House Publishers, © 1995.
- Second Vatican Council, “Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests,” no. 2. This article is indexed to the numbered paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The paragraph numbers are in brackets.
- Second Vatican Council, “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” no. 10; Second Vatican Council, “Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests,” no. 2.
- Second Vatican Council, “Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests,” no. 2.
- Council of Trent, session 23, “Canons on the Sacrament of Order,” canon 1.
- John A. Hardon, S.J. Pocket Catholic Dictionary (New York, NY: Image Books, 1985), p. 256.
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church also cites Titus 1:5 [1577, 1590] and James 5:14 [1510, 1516, 1519, 1526] in support of the ministerial priesthood.