Monday, October 01, 2007

BRAPSISS Revisited

At my alma mater we were given the handy acrostic BRAPSISS to help us remember the Baptist distinctives:
  1. Bible as only rule of faith and practice
  2. Regenerate church membership
  3. Autonomy of the local church
  4. Priesthood of the believer
  5. Soul liberty
  6. Immersion & Lord's Supper the only ordinances
  7. Separation of Church and State
  8. Separation Ethically and Ecclesiastically
On the whole this seems like a pretty good summary of what it means to be Baptist. I'm not sure about point 4 though. In an article on BRAPSISS, David Saxon defined the "P" this way:
"P—the priesthood of the believer" is the personal application of the principle implicit in the autonomy of the church. Just as local churches cannot be made to answer to man-made institutions, such as the papacy, other episcopal overlords, or extra-church presbyteries, so the individual believer within the context of the local assembly answers to Christ alone. We do not need the church to give us authorized interpretations of Scripture or a priest to hear our confession or dispense grace to us; we ourselves exercise the ministry of reconciliation. In short, we do not need a priest because we are priests.
This definition emphasizes that through Christ every believer enjoys direct access to God. I can represent myself to God because I'm my own priest. This truth is taught in passages such as 1 Tim 2:5 and Rom 5:1-2. But is "each is his own priest" what the Bible teaches when it mentions the believer's priesthood?

We know that Christ, the great High Priest, has put himself forward as a final sacrifice for sins (Heb 10:10). Furthermore, those who are reconciled to God through Christ's blood are also called priests (1 Peter 2:5, 9; Rev 1:6). When the NT calls believers "priests" it must mean that in some sense believers have a ministry like that of OT priests. The priest's role was to represent the people to God, and God to the people. Through their work the people of Israel were put right with God. The priesthood of NT believers seems to have a "for others" dimension as well, in addition to the teaching that "each is his own priest." When Dr. Saxon mentions the "ministry of reconciliation," he is alluding to 2 Cor 5:11ff. This passage seems to teach that our ministry as God's priests is not mainly for ourselves but for others. Paul explains in 2 Cor 5:19-20 that those who are reconciled to God are in turn charged with a ministry of reconciliation: "[I]n Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."

And 1 Peter 2:9 says much the same thing: "But you are . . . a royal priesthood, . . . that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light."

As priests, we pray for others to be reconciled to God and go about proclaiming the message of reconciliation through Christ. We go to God on behalf of people, and to people on behalf of God, and through our prayers and the message of Christ's once-and-for-all sacrifice people are put right with God. This is the biblical meaning of the priesthood of the believer. The NT seems to emphasize the "for others" dimension of each believer's priestly work, and to teach also that "each is his own priest." I would suggest that BRAPSISS needs to be amended on this point to better reflect the Bible's teaching.

6 comments:

MadMup said...

Josh, I always appreciate your entries even if I don't feel like I'm totally understanding them completely. It's sorta like going through seminary vicariously, and makes me wonder if I should be footing part of your bill...

Josh said...

I need to be more succinct. My point in this post is that if you look at the verses that actually mention the priesthood of the believer, they talk about ministering to others, not ministering for one's self. The BRAPSISS definition of priesthood doesn't match the passages which discuss it. The definition is true, but not of priesthood. They need to add another letter, like "'D' - direct access & accountability of every believer to God," or something.

Anonymous said...

Josh,

Very interesting post. Not to be too technical, but would it be better to describe the priestly function only in terms of "the things towards God" and not "the things towards man"? Hebrews continually describes priests in this way. The King was the person who brought God's rule to the people and so can be described more as bringing God or his rule to the people.

How does Saxon's definition account for responsibilites in the community? "one another" passages? the laying down of "rights" and liberies for the sake of others (Rom. 15:1-6)?

The Christian life is not lived with this kind of independence it seems to me.

I think you are dead right, to point out the priest's responsibilites to the community, namely, to bring the people to God.

Thanks for this post and the critical interaction with a popular but flawed view of the priesthood of believers.

John Meade

MadMup said...

My not understanding your posts isn't a failure on your part - it's a difficulty on mine. Don't let up on my account :)

Josh said...

John--Do you mean, the priests represent the people to God, but kings and prophets represent God to the people? I think that's mainly right. But don't the priests in a fashion pronounce or confirm God's forgiveness to the people? For example in Lev 9:22 & 23, after making offerings before the Lord Aaron "lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them." And isn't it likely that after making atonement for a person's sins (as outlined in Lev 4-6) that a priest would make some verbal pronouncement of God's forgiveness? This is what I was thinking of when I mentioned representing God to people. (Don't be soft on me here. I want to know if I'm all wet!)

About the "one-another" responsibilities: This definition doesn't touch on them does it? I think the average church member would understand this definition of priesthood to mean "My pastor can't tell me what to believe." It sounds a lot like the refrain sung by the old SBC moderates: "Being Baptist means freedom." That's why I like the "D" I proposed in my comment above. It acknowledges that believers each have unfettered access to God without minimizing our responsibilities toward one another encapsulated in "P".

Anonymous said...

Josh,

I have not checked the thread until now, so I apologize for the delayed response.

My distinction between kingship and priesthood generally works. Perhaps a better way of putting it is that the priesthood is only concerned with the things towards God. If we understand this phrase to mean only bringing people to God, we will err. Rather the phrase simply designates the God-sphere, namely the cult and offerings, in which the King was not to officiate. With this synthesis, we can make sense of the dual nature of reconciliation and forgiveness.

Hebrews explains that the Levitical priesthood was concerned with "the things to/towards God" ta pros ton theon (Heb 5.1 cf.2.17) in the contexts of propitiation and forgiveness. He means the offering of the sacrifice and the resultant forgiveness. This seems to be the meaning of the things towards God, though the emphasis may still be on bringing us to God (cf. Heb 4.16, 10:19ff)

You're right that the definition does resemble the one put forth by the old moderates, which emphasized "soul competency" [wrongly] and "the priesthood of all believers". If all we mean by these terms is that each one of us must stand before God on the last day and give an account, fine, but if we mean by these terms, freedom from one another and one another's accountability, then we are grossly mistaken. The NT describes the relationship between believers in terms of dependency. I am not sure about in the area of forgiveness (cf. the Lutheran absolution), but our prayers for each other are a means for accomplishing our final salvation (Phil. 1:19-20). The moderates and individual spiritualists missed the beat on this one.

Blessings,
John