One of the greatest Baptist distinctives is the priesthood of all believers.
The Apostle Peter refers to a holy priesthood in 1 Peter 2:5, and Martin Luther is the earliest thinker and church leader to use this phrase, suggesting that all Christians are, in fact, priests.
It was a catalytic thought that spurred Luther forward into the Reformation which eventually separated Protestants from the Catholic Church, and Baptists have adopted it as our own.
Historically speaking, Baptists care about the theology of this phrase because it reinforces for us who has access to God.
In biblical times, the high priest would sacrifice for, speak for, interpret scripture for, and even pardon sins for the community. The role of the priest was that of mediator between this world and the Divine. Its importance cannot be overstated.
But now, thanks to Christ, who is described in Hebrews 4 as the “great high priest,” we all have unfettered access to God. We can bow our heads and pray. We can bless and interpret. We can listen for and speak about God on our own without the role of the church in our lives.
I offer this historical tidbit because for the last 20 years this phrase has done nothing more than sit in the back of my mind like a trophy on a shelf. It means something to me, but I rarely thought about it – until lately.
COVID-19 has brought this phrase back in my mind because I am seeing priests everywhere.
Neighbors are helping neighbors. Strangers are offering well-wishes and prayers through social media. Young, abled bodies are running errands for seniors. Strangers wave when walking or running down the street. People are blessing others constantly.
The role of priest has never been more on display in my lifetime than right now. And everyone is buying into it whether they know it or not.
I don’t think it is because a bunch of people are becoming more Baptist. If anything, COVID-19 is reminding us that denominationalism (even with its strengths) is not a direct reflection of the Kingdom of God.
Love is. Neighborliness is. Service and blessings are. And these priestly roles are on full display everywhere you go.
Here’s an example: My family and I are spring cleaning. I took a carload of supplies, clothes, games and furniture to a local thrift store.
I was met with such gratitude and care by their workers. Then I noticed a woman sitting in her car waiting for her husband to return from the grocery store. She put her hands together like she was praying and bowed to me.
Then I noticed everyone in the parking lot waved at me as I drove away. They weren’t cheering me on, they were living as priests.
These moments had nothing to do with me. No one knew that I’m actually someone who gets paid to be a priest (a pastor).
To each of them, I was just some guy wearing a protective mask driving a minivan in a parking lot on a Wednesday morning.
Somehow, though, despite the odds, in the midst of this pandemic, we’re being reminded of what is beautiful, true and good, and it is flowing to us from the priestly class (in other words, humans).
Somehow, the collective has slowed down enough to see that everyone around them is a child of God. And then the collective is making the conscious decision that everyone should be treated the way she/he/they would want to be treated.
So, the priests bow to one another. They nod. They wave. They bless. They smile even though they’re wearing masks.
They pause their day, calm their soul and the divinity in them rises to recognize and greet the divinity bound up in the other.
This kind of love is palpable, contagious and holy. And it flows from God into the world through the priestly class, which just happens to be all of us.
I’ve never seen God more clearly thanks to each of you.
Keep it up. You’re a reflection of God’s love that we all need to see.
J. Barrett Owen is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Waynesboro in Waynesboro, Virginia. He is a member of the EthicsDaily.com / Baptist Center for Ethics board of directors.