On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, the monk of Erfurt, nailed his ninety-five theses to the great door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Each stroke of his hammer echoed through the corridors of the great stone edifice and also reverberated through the recesses of the hollow heart of a decadent church. Majestic principles of spiritual action were again discovered and brought to light. Hope surged afresh through the souls of the concerned ones. And of all the verities which were reaffirmed, none was more important than that of "the priesthood of all believers." It was like the blow of an axe laid at the root of the tree of priest-craft, shivering the trunk of arrogant pretense and scattering the evil fruit of pomp, pride and pelf.
The Bible teaches that every child of God is a priest and there is but one high priest, the son of God. Every person on earth who has been called from darkness into light, every one who has laid hold on the mercy of God. "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, and a people claimed by God for his own, to proclaim the triumphs of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. You are now the people of God, who once were not his people; outside his mercy once, you have now received his mercy" (I Peter 2:9,10). The word "people" is a translation of "laos" from which we get "laity" All of God's laity are priests. The royal priesthood is composed entirely of the laity of God. Let us go one step further: God's laity is His clergy. The word "clergy" is from "kleros" which means "heritage." This is the word used in I Peter 5:3 where the elders, or bishops, are instructed not to lord it over God's heritage. The heritage is equated with the flock of God. The word of God knows nothing of a clergyman or layman. These expressions are a part of the "speech of Ashdod" and demonstrate how effective was our sojourn in Babylon and how close to its environs some of us still remain. The Protestant world soon forgot the implication of a universal priesthood of believers and there is every evidence that many of us are treading on the same dangerous ground. The spirit of professionalized service rendered purely for the fee involved, rears its head throughout the land, and betokens the fact that it still lives to quench the Spirit and to throttle the gifts of the many. Indeed, when we speak of "gifts" today we have reference to that bestowed upon the church by the people, rather than bestowed upon the people by the Father to be used in edifying one another.
We need to examine our vocabulary carefully. It is not enough to speak where the Bible speaks but we must also speak as the Bible speaks. When we do we will come to realize that ministry is not something done to the church, but that which is done by the church - the whole church! Every Christian is a minister. One enters the ministry by coming into Christ. That which makes one a child of God makes him a minister of God. We do not go away to study to become ministers, although those who have become ministers go away to study. You can no more make a man a minister of God by handing him a diploma than you can make him a priest of God by giving him a certificate. Men can make clergymen, and if they are made men will have to do it, but only God can make us ministers of God, and he makes all of us his ministers because he is no respecter of persons.
Because we have lost sight of this concept of the church we have forsaken the ideal of the Master for our lives. He said, "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister." But the sons of God now come, not to minister, but to be ministered unto. The result is that the saints are no longer participants in the arena but spectators in the grandstand. The pulpit has become the sacred precinct of a professional dramatist and resembles the stage for a polished performance rather than a speaker's stand for sharing life and experience of others of like precious faith.
Thus the congregation is spoon-fed for years and never learns to feed itself. The fact is that we are delivering babies who never intend to grow, enrolling students who never intend to graduate, enlisting soldiers who never intend to fight, and registering racers who never intend to run. Our motto has become "There he is Lord, send him!" The Ship of Zion is no longer manned by a volunteer crew working for sheer love of the Captain, but is steered by a pilot and an assistant pilot, while the remainder are paying passengers who are going along for the ride and complaining as they go. Many congregations are made up of half-converted individuals who think that when Jesus said we were to be childlike, be meant "childish" and they have to be petted and pampered to even keep them coming, much less to minister to others.
The tragedy is recognized when we remember that, in a world bursting at the seams with a population explosion, the preachers of the gospel who should be taking the message to the lost, are tied up and tied down, by having to salvage those who profess to be saved. Men spend years preparing themselves to reach the masses with the Message and then are forced to become glorified "flunkies" at the beck and call of every petulant member with some pettyfogging and pusillanimous problem. By the time the erstwhile gospel proclaimer considers complaints, referees ridiculous ruckuses, rounds up recalcitrants, placates the members of the official board, and the unofficial members who are just plain bored, he has not only had it but it has gotten him!
It is astounding how much dead weight there is in the average congregation. Dead timber produces no fruit and dead weight must be dragged along. Somewhere along the way we have missed the very essence of the Christian concept and the result is that we have the greatest accumulation of unused talent and the richest deposit of untouched ability of any group of people on earth. If we are going to be honest in our plea for restoration it is time that we begin to revolutionize our thinking so that every soldier will don the armor and every child of God will be active in ministering.
The primitive church did not send out missionaries. It was missionary! One reason the missionary society did not trouble them was because there was no one who could attend a meeting to discuss ways and means of taking the Good News to the lost. They were all out doing it. The entire church was scattered abroad and all those who were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.
Our greatest source of power is not in the pulpit but in the lives of those in the pews. We must meet the challenge of making every man of God a man of might. We must use our meetinghouses, not for parading profound pulpiteers, but for training soldiers in spiritual combat. We have moved the battlefield into the mess hall and our brethren spend their time fighting each other. Let us discover and utilize the tremendous power in the priesthood of all believers, a power that is all too often siphoned off down the drain of disuse and discouragement. - W. Carl Ketcherside, from Let My People Go.