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The Priesthood of all believers and Trinity 1

When discussing the priesthood of all believers I tried to highlight the corporate nature of our priestliness.  I only find my priestliness in union with Christ and in union with others.  Both are essential.

The priesthood of all believers is not a priestliness that is the private possession of each believer.  If we argue like this then the very basis for the doctrine is undermined.  If I claim priestliness in myself then I can be priestly without you.  And if this is admitted then my different gifted-ness and the distinct exercise of my priestly gifts will easily appear as a different order of priestliness to yours.  And once we say that we're a hop, skip and a jump from a priesthood of the few.

No - the priesthood of all believers upholds that, while having different gifts to you and while exercising them in different ways, I cannot be priestly without you.  Yet with you I am both priestly and I have your gifts - for you in your giftedness belong to me, and I to you (Rom 12:5ff).

In thinking this through the connections with trinitarian theology suggest themselves pretty readily.  In John 17, Christ prays for a priestly church unity.  That is, He prays that the church be united as witness to the world. (see v18, 21, 23).  In v21 and 23, Christ makes clear the proto-type for such priestly unity: the Father-Son union.  So in thinking about Church and gifts, there seem to be some fruitful lines of enquiry into Trinity and attributes. 

In this post I'll consider things from Trinity => church.  In my next post I'll think of church =>Trinity.

As we consider things from Trinity => church. It seems like the major trinitarian heresies are easily seen in our understandings of church.

tritheism: a 'trinity' of separable Persons becomes, in church practice, separable priests - lone-ranger, hit and run  evangelists divorced from the corporate life of the church.

modalism: a one-ness in which the Persons lose their distinctiveness becomes, in church practice, a forcing of church members into the same mould.  Everyone must exercise every gift.  Training in mission = making everyone do street-evangelism.  That kind of thing.

subordinationism (Arianism): The ontological subordination of Son and Spirit becomes, in church practice, the suborination of the non-full-time Christian workers.  It's the old two-tier way of life first espoused by Eusebius but replicated today.  The 'perfect' are the priests (nowadays the 'full-time Christian workers'), the 'permitted' are the regular folk (nowadays those whose tithes support the 'full-time Christian workers'). 

The antidote must be to go back to the trinity and understand again how the many are one.  Not competitively, not identically, not merely apparently.  Rather the one-ness (of God and of church) is a unity of distinct Persons whose belongingness to one another makes them who they are.  

I am - in all my differentness to you, in all my distinct gifting and role - one with you in the mission that constitutes both me and the church.  Without you I have no mission, in fact I have no ecclesial being - that is, I am not a Christian.  I have my life and being and we have our mission to the world only because we belong together at the very deepest level.

20 "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  (John 17:20-23)


Rest of series:

Part two

Part three - Let Jesus be Jesus

11 thoughts on “The Priesthood of all believers and Trinity 1

  1. kc

    Glen I think I’m clear on the first portion of your article pertaining to Church unity and I would agree completely with respect to purpose and function. I think I still see authority and responsibility as being individual. For example if I fail in my responsibility it need not follow that you fail as well or if I subject myself to any other than Christ it does not follow that your authority in Him is diminished.

    I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the Trinity => Church concept. I’m intrigued to say the least. ;-)

    (BTW did you receive my reply on the essay you sent? I responded using my current ISP Email address and I fear it may have been filterd.)

  2. Missy

    Wow, Glen, I think I like this. I am part of a congregation that for many years stressed what you describe as modalism here. We crashed. But God was not done with us. Putting this into the perspective of the relationship of the Trinity you've been describing is very helpful to me. Darn tax season! I'll see if I can find time to consider this further.


  3. glenscriv

    Hi KC, great email you sent me. Will get back to you when I have more than a moment.

    I notice that, whereas in your last comment, you maintain 'corporate in purpose and practice' in this comment you maintain (the lesser?) 'corporate in purpose and *function*'. Is that a deliberate adjustment to your position, accidental or are you using the terms synonymously? For me 'corporate in practice' is where the rubber hits the road in the exercise of a corporate priestliness. It is very necessary to elucidate for each member their personal responsibility and authority in Christ to do the work of witness. *Because* I, personally, belong to this priesthood in Christ *I* have this task. I'm not swallowed up by the priesthood, but I, in my concrete different-ness from you, belong to the priestly nation with a God-given role within it. By analogy Jesus says: "Here I am, it is written of me in the scroll, I have come to do your will O God." (Heb 10:7). But in the exercise of that will, Jesus says, "I can do nothing by myself..." (John 5:19,30). Jesus made it clear in His priestly mission that He was not alone - that He belonged to, was equipped by and worked for Others.

    If we exercise our corporate priesthood we ought to be similarly explicit that we're doing so as a body and not simply as a loose association of evangelists. If the priesthood is truly corporate and priestliness is basically mediating God, then we need to be much better at whole-body-evangelism. The whole organism is the evangelist (and even the specially gifted 'evangelists' within the body are told their job is to equip God's people for their works of evangelism - Eph 4:10ff). Therefore the practice of one-man/one-woman evangelism (which I am particularly attracted to!) needs to be re-thought. How is my evangelism corporate evangelism - am I representing and drawing people into the life of the church?

    I think, for these sorts of reasons, if my failures (or successes)aren't affecting your evangelism, perhaps we need to ask how corporate has the exercise of it been? Now my failures cannot cannot affect the commission you have received (authorized by the Lord's resurrection (Matt 28:18)) but they will affect the practice of it on the ground. Even if we go out on lone-sniper-ops won't we quickly be asked 'What about paedophile priests? What about the inquisition...?' Evangelism is an essentially corporate activity (even when done solo!)

    Now as I say that, I'm having to re-think 10 years of street-evangelism. So I'm not saying it lightly. I'm still committed to open air preaching but I need to think through more thoroughly its *corporate* practice.


  4. glenscriv

    Hi Missy,

    Thanks, I hope I'm not saying much different to 1 Cor 12. "Different parts, one body. Don't squish 'em together!" But yeah, the modalistic tendency is definitely the one my church experience has leaned towards - effectively telling every part to be the same! I'm glad your church is emerging from this. So often in the modalistic (part-squishing) churches, people eventually just give up on witness. "I'm not a soap-box evangelist therefore I'm not a witness for Jesus!" It's very sad.

  5. kc

    Glen, I was a bit sloppy and I agree that practice is a better term as well as with the remainder your thoughts. ;-)

  6. jim

    I am a 73 year old American who had almost no religious upbringing, stepping into “old time holiness” at the age of 30, my bunch long since evolved into a form of modern-day Pentecostal televangelism, and this old man, after more than four decades of teaching and preaching, not just the Book, but the journey as it has come to me, now sitting in the balcony of a church still in my “roots’, but isolated from me in just about everything but the “paternal umbilical cord”. Your site is a new discovery and much of what you say thus far encountered is like fresh manna to me. In reading “The Priesthood of All Believers and Trinity” and retrieving a copy to keep in my collection of such treasures, I noted my own theology acquired along the way and share here only for your thoughts. For me, the basic “schematics” (in as much as we can try to explain them) were lost, for the most part, long ago, our biggest detriment in this faith being our thinking that our individual doctrinal dogma has solved the mystery, “truth” equivalent to our own reasoning rather than a Reality who will always be more than we can conquer. I sense within your writing “thirst” and “hunger” yet within your walk; and I offer this, not with a demand for agreement, but merely to hopefully find community in what lies “beyond the veil”.
    Part One – “The antidote must be to go back to the trinity and understand again how the many are one. Not competitively, not identically, not merely apparently. Rather the one-ness of God and of church is a unity of distinct Persons whose belongingness to one another makes them who they are. I am – in all my differentness to you, in all my distinct gifting and role – one with you in the mission that constitutes both me and the church. Without you I have no mission, in fact I have no ecclesial being – that is, I am not a Christian. I have my life and being and we have our mission to the world only because we belong together at the very deepest level.”
    ***While I can accept this paragraph, yet I see it in terms of not necessarily being a matter of being one in the “mission” as long as we remain one in Christ.
    Part two – “The equal divinity of the Three is the corporate divinity of differently gifted Persons.”
    ***Again, while I can agree somewhat with “equal divinity of the Three”, yet I do not see Trinity as being “differently gifted persons” other than in the sense that are divinity in three different forms.
    Part Three – “We don’t need to assign these differences in Jesus to some ‘human nature’ locked off from a special sphere of uncorrupted deity.”
    ***If Jesus can be understood to “human” in the sense that He had no body, no spirit, and no soul until they were created within the womb of Mary as “the second Adam”, to be dine in the truth that, conceived by the Holy Ghost, he knew from birth the original blueprint known in Eden, the Spirit of God as fourth component of His identity, not only does “Trinity” possess better clarification, but (as I put it) it can then be expressed that Jesus “was not until He was”, but “once He was, He always was”.
    Just where I find peace in all this. Peace, my friend…..

  7. Glen

    Thanks Jim, and for your earlier comment on evangelism. Yes, hoping I'm not trying to "conquer" the mystery but to explore it. Mysteries, in the Bible, are for declaring (e.g. Col 4:3). Every blessing in Jesus.

  8. Brian Midmore

    Hi Glen
    your attempt to map trinity onto the church is interesting. But does it extend our understanding of the church beyond the Pauline model of a body with many parts and functions that is submitted to the head which is the Messiah? This model excludes 'modalism', 'tritheism' and 'subordinationism' without having to appeal to a postapostolic theology.

  9. Glen

    Hi Brian,

    The Head and body analogy is incredibly fruitful and I don't see the Trinity as competing with that model at all. In fact in Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12 Paul seems to move between Trinitarian terms and head-body terms.

    In a deep sense our doctrine of God is pre-apostolic :) Certainly the heresies that called forth particular articulations of the Trinity came later but the fact that (from John for instance) Jesus and the Father are "in" one another and yet have a distinct ordering, etc, is basic gospel truth. And even within John Jesus repeatedly sends the church on the model of His relationship with the Father, by the Spirit (e.g. John 20:21)

  10. Brian Midmore

    I wasn't questioning the Trinity by the way. My heresies are only of a very minor variety (but true nonetheless of course).

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