CHURCH GOVERNANCE 2: Misuse of ‘priesthood of believers’ challenged pastor leadership

“The moderate emphasis on the priesthood of all believers was little more than a veiled attempt to undercut the leadership role of pastors, especially conservative pastors, in the Southern Baptist Convention’s Conservative Resurgence,” asserted Baptist historian Jerry Sutton in his book, “The Baptist Reformation.” Pastors of Southern Baptist churches continue to deal with the misapplication of the biblical concept of believer-priests as local



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congregations cling to the idea that every member’s perspective is of equal value.

“The problem with the distorted priesthood of all believers and the argument for a purely egalitarian congregationalism which insisted that all believers have equal rights and responsibilities in the church, is that it makes no latitude for immaturity or carnality in the church,” Sutton wrote. In seminary classrooms, the doctrine was used as an alleged biblical defense of academic freedom. “Cecil Sherman argued that if a seminary professor came to the conclusion, based on his study, that the virgin birth was a myth, then that professor should have the right to teach that doctrine in his or her seminary class,” Sutton noted.

“It is dangerous to make a doctrine say more than is biblically warranted,” he stated, having authored a 1988 resolution on priesthood of believers that was approved by a two-to-one margin by Southern Baptist Convention messengers meeting in San Antonio. The statement noted that “the high-profile emphasis” on the doctrine was a recent historical development, adding that none of the five major systematic theologies used by Southern Baptists gave more than a passing reference to it.

Sutton wrote, “The primary emphasis on the priesthood of all believers, both the biblical, historical, and even Baptist material, is that a Christian does have direct access to God. It is a privilege that one does not have to go through a priest other than our Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, and that we have the right to read the Word of God for ourselves.”

In his article, “The Priesthood of All Believers,” for the book “The Believer’s Church,” Beeson Divinity School President Timothy George explained that the doctrine focuses on community rather than the individual. “The issue is not the right of any individual to worship and interpret Scripture acc

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