The Catholic catechism teaches there are two divisions of the priesthood: the “common priesthood” (normal Catholics) and the “ministerial priesthood” (clergy). (CCC 1546-1547)[1] However, I have found this distinction is not common knowledge, nor is it the actual, functional mindset of most Catholics. Instead, they tend to reserve that title, calling, status, and privilege to their designated leaders.

In the Old Testament, the word “priest” is translated from the Hebrew kohen, which in essence means, one who draws near to God. It also speaks of a person who is authorized by God to minister in sacred matters and who acts as a mediator between God and those who desire to approach Him. So, the priests of the Old Covenant were called to draw near to the Most High in worshipful devotion, represent Him to the Israelite people, and then, represent the Israelite people to God in a mediatorial role.

An exclusive priesthood was God’s design for that era. God told Moses to anoint his brother, Aaron, as the high priest, and his sons as priests. That family line served as priests in the tabernacle of Moses, and later, in the temple of Solomon, until 70 A.D. when the temple was destroyed by the Romans and the Jews were taken captive. The Levites (one of the twelve tribes of Israel) also served in that prior age in a kind of subordinate priestly capacity, serving the Aaronic priesthood and fellow Israelites in religious matters. (See Exodus 30:30, Leviticus 21:10, Numbers 3:1-12, Deuteronomy 18:1-8, Jeremiah 33:21.)

However, such an arrangement was a “a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things” (Hebrews 10:1). In other words, that system was not God’s permanent plan; it was symbolic of something better that He intended to do in the future. Evidently, it was something He deeply desired from the start—for soon after their exit from Egypt, the God of Abraham gave the entire nation of Israel a conditional promise:

     “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6)

Yes, God’s longing from the beginning was for all His people to have access into His presence, to worship Him, serve Him, commune with Him, and represent Him in this world. Although that did happen at times in a lesser sense during that former era, it would take the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah to make it a living reality on the highest level.

The New Testament Era

This concept of an exclusive mediatorial priesthood was abolished in the New Testament era, a truth plainly revealed in Scripture. Since the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, every true, born-again believer is called to fill the role of a priest, verified by the following declaration from Peter’s epistle, presented to the entire church:

      If indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious, coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:3-5)

First, this passage describes all of God’s people as a “spiritual house” being constructed out of “living stones.” True born-again believers out of all denominations make up this corporate “temple of the living God”—His global dwelling place (2 Corinthians 6:16, See Ephesians 2:19-22). Each believer is also represented as an individual “temple” in which the Holy Spirit dwells. (See 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19-20.)

Second, this passage describes all of God’s people as a “holy priesthood”—a priesthood determined, not by natural birth, but by spiritual rebirth—a priesthood cleansed and made holy, not by the blood of animals, but by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Third, this passage encourages New Covenant priests to offer up “spiritual sacrifices” to God. That includes sacrifices of righteousness, sacrifices of thanksgiving, sacrifices of joy, and sacrifices of praise. (See Psalms 4:5; 116:17; 27:6; Hebrews 13:15.) True believers are not only called to offer “spiritual sacrifices,” they are called to become sacrifices to God, as the following exhortation indicates:

     I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)

What an amazing shift took place after Jesus ascended into heaven! In the Old Testament era, Israelites came prayerfully to the temple, to the priests, for their assistance in offering sacrifices to God on His altar. In this New Testament era, for those who are born again, the ancient methods of approaching God have been lifted to a much higher spiritual reality:

  • We are no longer required to go to the temple to offer worship; we are the temple.
  • We are no longer required to go through the mediatorial service of priests to be reconciled to God; we are the priests.
  • We are no longer required to bring animal sacrifices to God; we trust in the supreme sacrifice, the crucified Savior, and then, in worshipful response, we become “living sacrifices,” “crucified with Christ” (Romans 12:1, Galatians 2:20).

Long before this radical paradigm shift, God declared prophetically, “Behold, I will do a new thing.” (Isaiah 43:19). This “new thing” is a wonderful thing!

New Covenant Candidates for the Priesthood

Jesus launched His earthly ministry in the synagogue at Nazareth by quoting the Messianic prophecy that is recorded in Isaiah 61:1-2:

     “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” (See Luke 4:16-19.)

Even though, as far as we know, the Messiah spoke only this brief excerpt from the original prophetic passage, it continues with a more detailed description of what He was sent to accomplish:

    To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:3)

Then the prophecy continues three verses later revealing a glorious new identity that would be granted to those who receive the wondrous, life-changing ministry of the Messiah in this New Covenant era:

         But you shall be named the priests of the Lord; men shall call you the ministers of our God. (Isaiah 61:6 MEV)

This is an all-inclusive statement. Go back to verses one and two. All those who receive the “good tidings” (the good news) of the Gospel, all those whose broken hearts are healed by the love of Jesus, all those who are liberated from spiritual captivity and brought out of the prison of the fallen nature, all those who mourn over their sins and receive God’s comfort, all those who are given “beauty for ashes” (the beauty of a relationship with God in exchange for the ashes of past defeats in life) will then become “priests of the Lord.” What an impartation of destiny, but how can this be?

Because such blessed individuals have a story of salvation and redemption to share. They have a testimony—a faith-building witness that what God has done in their lives, He will do for others. Thus, they become God’s authorized representatives, sent forth into this world to reveal His name, proclaim His Word, share His grace, and spend the rest of our lives praising Him. That’s what priests do, and that is the God-given role of all those who are born again. What an awesome blessing! What a spectacular honor!

The Great Privilege: Entering the Holy of Holies

Under the Old Covenant, only the high priest could enter the holy of holies in the tabernacle of Moses and only on one special day of the year (Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement). The ark of the covenant was in that sacred space and the glory cloud of God’s presence rested on the lid of the ark (which was also called the mercy seat—symbolically, God’s representative throne on earth).

When Jesus died on the cross, however, the separating veil between the holy place and the holy of holies was “torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38). Quite likely, this was God’s joyous way of revealing that the way had been made for all people to enter His presence and enjoy personal communion with Him—not one day a year, but every second of every minute of every hour of every day. A beloved Bible passage validates this interpretation:

     Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh. (Hebrews 10:19-20)

Think of the profound implications of this phenomenal revelation. If all true believers can now “enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,” why would they need the mediation of some humanly authorized priest? Instead, all who believe “have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). This is a wonderful truth! But to fully enjoy its reality, those who truly love God and desire spiritual intimacy with Him must have the courage and boldness to embrace pure doctrine and break free from established religious traditions.

The doctrine of an exclusive priesthood in Catholicism serves to bind people to an institution in the fear that they cannot access the things of God any other way. It takes a priest to perform infant baptism. It takes a priest to serve communion, it takes a priest to hear confession, impart absolution, and assign the necessary penance. It normally takes a local priest ccoperating with a visiting bishop to impart to participants in Confirmation the seal of the Holy Spirit. Finally, it takes a priest to perform the last rites (extreme unction). So from birth to death, it is necessary to go through a priest to access the things of God. But none of these things are true. What a soul-liberating experience it is to fully comprehend that there is “one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” and that any true believer can go to Him directly and receive from Him directly in all these areas (1 Timothy 2:5)!

(In order for these statements to be fully and effectively supported by Scripture, readers are urged to examine the indepth comparison between Catholic doctrine and biblical Christianity provided in Mike Shreve’s book, The Beliefs of the Catholic Church, available on this website.)

See Yourself as God Sees You

It’s time that all believers see themselves in this blessed God-given role and extricate themselves from any belief system that denies the full rights of this status to all but a select few. There was no exclusive group who claimed the office of being “priests” in the early church and it was certainly not reserved only to men. So, if we are going to replicate authentic New Testament Christianity in this hour, there will no exclusive group within the body of Christ claiming the priesthood status now. So, let us rejoice exceedingly, as the apostles Peter and John did, to declare the following scriptures to every fellow believer in Christ:

     But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

     To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:5-6)

By this last passage, it is apparent that Christians are not only priests of God during this earthly sojourn; they are chosen to fill this role for all eternity—living forever in the presence of the everlasting Father and worshipfully serving Him in the New Creation to come. Yes, we will be “an everlasting priesthood” in an ultimate and glorious sense (Exodus 40:15). This should lead us all to a powerful conclusion—that if all true believers will be glorified, eternal priests in the Kingdom of God to come, then all true believers are certainly called to be priests right now, during their earthly pilgrimage through time.

[1] CCC is a reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P4T.HTM (accessed 3/30/2024)