We believe in the priesthood of the believer
In the Old Covenant, the Lord called out a portion of His people to serve as priests. If someone wanted to talk to God, they went to find a priest. When they wanted to worship, they looked for a priest to help them prepare their sacrifice. One of these priests was a priest for the priests, a person we call the High Priest. There is no such holy caste in the New Covenant. All of God’s people are priests, at least in the sense of having direct access to the Lord.
It is a little complicated to talk about the role of priests in the English language. Our English word priest is actually a shortened form of the word presbyter, which means “elder.” So we do not have an adequate word to describe the office and responsibilities of the Old Testament priest. The French use the word sacreficateur, meaning “one who sacrifices.” To borrow a word from another language, the ancient Romans used the word pontifix, which means, “bridge maker.”
All such roles were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He is not only the one who sacrifices; He is Himself the sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27). He not only builds a bridge; He is Himself the bridge. The only intermediary we need between God and man, then, is Jesus (Hebrews 8:6). That’s why we say that all believers have equal status before and direct access to their Lord.
This is not to say that we all have the same callings or gifts, however. In the New Testament, we learn that all of God’s servants have different gifts (1 Corinthians 12). All of His people must be faithful in exercising those gifts which He has given them to manage and develop. He has called some to leadership positions. Some teach, some govern, some evangelize, and so forth. However, all exercise a priestly ministry of some sort.
This leads us to ask what it practically means for all of God’s people to be priests. To whom do these priests minister? Well, they minister to their fellow believers and to those who are not yet believers. We all have blind spots and need our fellow Christians to help us on our walk toward God. A trusted brother or sister in Christ can help us see things that we cannot see in ourselves. Sometimes we also need to unload our conscience and hear affirmations of God’s forgiveness from another believer. The Apostle James says that we can “confess our faults to one another that we may be healed” (James 5:16). So, while we all have direct access to the Lord, we also “bear one another’s burdens” by praying for one another and encouraging one another (Galatians 6:2). That is in part what it means to be a priest.
Since the very beginning, the Church has recognized that some believers have special gifts of pastoring others. We honor those gifts and those who have them by setting them apart through ordination. When these church leaders function as priests however, they are providing an example of how all Christians are called to work.
In other words, not everyone will have a reason to serve communion, baptize, or preach. However, if and when situations arise where that becomes necessary, any Christian may perform these priestly functions.
The work of redemption through Jesus is thus carried out through human beings, the Church. The Church is meant to serve as the courtyard of heaven; the embassy of the New Jerusalem.
The members of the Church are ambassadors, priests, bridges—all sorts of metaphors are helpful here—working to connect a broken world to a healing God.