This month we continue to look at the three different theologies found in the Baptist's Congregational polity form. Last week we looked at “Believer’s Baptism,” from early Baptist into the present. Baptists over the years have administered baptism as a response to God’s regenerate work in an individual only after that individual has confessed faith in Christ by their own accord. In so doing, Baptists have desired to maintain a regenerate church congregation.
The next critical theology that assists with Congregational Polity is the belief in the doctrine of “The Priesthood of the Believer.”
The Priesthood of All Believers.
Read 1st Peter 2:4-10
FINDING OUR ABSOLUTE VALUE
It can be hard to find one's actual value in a world that seems to have thrown out absolutes. Measuring one's identity has become even more difficult. Today, our world wrestles with finding the correct measuring conspiracy. In the ancient past, people believed in divinely given identity; even the Greeks looked to something outside themselves to measure identity and value. Socrates' famous line was, "An unexamined life is not worth living." Today we consider that a mythology worldview.
In the recent past, modern worldviews looked for identity in achievement. The old "Early to bed, early to rise makes a man health, wealthy, and wise" kind of thinking. More recently, post-modern worldviews seek identity through self-identifying. As each identity conspiracy makes its way through culture, humanity begins to open doors to make up new ones. The idea of building a life philosophy has become so pragmatic that it is more about finding a life-hack than a real sense of identity. When we look back on Western Civilization history, we can see a turning point for this kind of thinking. History calls this era the enlightenment, closely related to the church era known as the Reformation.
The enlightenment era takes us back to the late 1600s to a French philosopher, Rene Descartes, who worked as a mathematician during this time. Descartes believed that if the foundations of knowledge were not completely solid, anything built upon that knowledge would inevitably collapse. Because of this theory, Descartes decided that if there was reason to doubt the truth of something — "no matter how slim the doubt" — then it was to be rejected. Descartes's enlightenment reasoning would lead him to question even his own existence.
Descartes's conclusion to his struggle is, "cogito ergo sum," which loosely translated, says, "I think therefore I am." More clearly translated says, "I am thinking; therefore, I exist." Descartes demonstrates the need to assure himself of his own existence, like every human being, his own value. Descartes found it impossible to doubt the existence of your own thoughts because, in the act of questioning, you are thinking, thus by his own definition existing. Descartes's philosophy would become the basis for a modern solid truth foundation: a thinking mind must exist. A stark contrast to a biblical truth foundation found solely in the person of Christ.
Descartes's philosophical attempts to rebuild all knowledge and establish proofs for the existence of all thing's material and spiritual, including God and faith, inadvertently Descartes creates two separate realms. By imposing our confidence in the existence of anything but our thoughts, Descartes pushes all things into the realms of mental (mind) and the physical (body). However, the mental we can be sure of, the physical needs to somehow link to the mind. Leaving us to think that we perceive through our senses, which gives us evidence of a universe beyond our own mind. Evidence that only exists in one’s mind means there is a problem with verifying anything outside of the realm of thought.
Descartes's doubting creates a rather alarming concern for us: that our experience is not infallible truth. That experience is not proof of the existence of an external physical world. Descartes's skepticism of solid factual truth has generated many explanations on the limits to what we can know as truth. Equally as well, Descartes's doubt of truth limits how our existences tie us to that of the world around us. The philosophy of humanism has been trying to bridge this gap for centuries. Thus, leaving us with a bucket of options to engage the identity placed within us from the beginning, "let Us make mankind in Our image" (Gen 1:26 NLT).
Those struggling like Descartes with the skepticism of solid truth leave people to communicate in the value system of accomplishments. One's value becomes locked in one's greater purpose, self-worth to society, and ultimately acceptance by that society as valuable. The ultimate meaning, self-worth, and ultimate value come from God's blessing, not accomplishments. People often base their self-concept on their achievements. However, our relationship with Christ is far more critical than the existence of a job, success, wealth, or knowledge. God has chosen us as his very own, and our call is to represent him to others. Remember that your value comes from being one of God's children, not from what you can achieve. You have worth because of what God does, not because of what you do.
When we begin to understand our value before God, we begin to appreciate our access to God. Christ alone provides our access. A solid truth, a divine truth, given to us by our existence as image-bearers, not our achievements of self-sufficiency. Because of Christ, not because of the accomplishments in work or class or societal value, is the reason we become an “Order of Priest.” We become an order of Priest so that we might have “Direct Access to God.”
Ponder these truths of scripture:
Ephesians 2:18 (NLT) Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.
Hebrews 10:19-25 (NLT) And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.
Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NLT) For, There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.
The Order of Priest takes direction from the Father, who works through the Body of Christ the Church. There is a responsibility that comes with - Direct Access to God as an Order of Priest. They are to speak to Christ on behalf of those they serve inside and outside the church. To speak to Christ is to speak to God himself.
Hebrews 5:1-3 (NLT) Every high priest is a man chosen to represent other people in their dealings with God. He presents their gifts to God and offers sacrifices for their sins. And he is able to deal gently with ignorant and wayward people because he himself is subject to the same weaknesses. That is why he must offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as theirs.
The Order of Priest falls under the principle of Lordship of Christ, which profoundly shapes the Baptist understanding of the church and its congregation's polity and responsibilities both to itself and the world around it. The Great Commission opening line reveals that Christ is the head of the church, - "All authority" (Matt 28:18) says Christ is in command, in heaven, and on earth (Matt 18:15-20). Christ must have absolute supremacy in all things. Including the function and business of the Church and the personal lives of the Order of Priest who make up the church.
Baptists readily adopted this Reformation principle because of its biblical foundation. The New Testament refers to all believers as priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6, 5:10). When Jesus died on the Cross, God tore the temple's veil (Mark 15:38), symbolically removing the division between the people and priests. Because of Christ's death and resurrection, believers no longer needed a priest to speak to God on their behalf. Baptists are to be priests to one another, intercede for one another (1 Tim. 2:1-2), and offer their lives as sacrifices to God (Rom. 12:1).
The priesthood of believers is not "Lone Ranger Christianity." Although each believing member is a priest, they are a priest through the Body of Christ. A priest in a covenanted community of believers, alert to the congregation's departure from the faith delivered unto the saints.
Our early Baptist forefathers did not establish a lonely, isolated seeker of truth, but instead, a band of faithful believers united in a common confession as a local, visible congregation. The universal priesthood expresses not religious individualism but its exact opposite, the reality of the congregation as a community.
Dr. A Pelham