Vol.XII No.II Pg.4
April 1975

General Priesthood

Robert F. Turner

In our first article tracing the background of the American restoration we discussed the work of Erasmus and Wyclif in making Gods word, available, and encouraging common sense interpretation of it. Their 14th. and 15th. century work seems far removed from our day, yet it had to precede our reform or restoration efforts. It gave the studious laity a better grasp of truth than that of tradition-bound clergymen and led to a reaffirmation of the scriptural principle of the priesthood of all Christians.

The loss of universal priesthood in apostasy had to be reversed. The historian Philip Schaff says priesthood of believers is one of three fundamental principles of the Reformation, and that its true development lies in the direction of general education, in congregational self-support and self-government, and in the intelligent co-operation of the laity with the ministry in all good works.

In England, by 1374, John Wyclif was opposing the secular authority of the pope. To counteract the influence of the friars, in 1380 he taught and sent forth a body of itinerant evangelists, apparently including laymen. They were condemned by a Catholic Bishop for preaching without episcopal or papal authorization. But the common people heard them gladly, admiring their independence, devotion to conscience, solid religious commons sense, and sound exposition of the Gospel. Wyclifs Civil Lordship says everyone in the state of grace has a real lordship over the whole universe; are reciprocally lords and servants. The fires of liberty were being lit.

Wyclifs teachings spread to Holland; and John Huss of Bohemia became chief defender of these views as early as 1402. He struck at the foundations of the hierarchical system, exalted conscience above papal council as interpreter of truth, and made the Scriptures the final source of appeal. His zeal to preach the word, serving Christ before men, resulted in his being burned at the stake, 1415. A century later Luther began his reform, independent of. Wyclif and Huss, yet sowing in ground they had plowed. He used the death of Huss as an example of an ecumenical council that erred.

Martin Luthers Ninety-five Thesis protested the abuses of indulgence in the Roman church, but when these led to a public debate with John Eck (in 1519) it became apparent that he had struck at the center of the medieval—ecclesiastical system; at its ideas of priestly mediation which denied the right of every believer to immediate entrance into the very presence of God. (Shepherd, p. 101). Luther ordained a deacon (1525), and even consecrated a bishop (1542). These startling departures from Episcopal Succession were crippled, however, by his own assumption of episcopal prerogative, and ties with the state.

But by now the fire of individual freedom to approach God — the priesthood of believers — was a cardinal principle of Reformation. It is shameful that we who have gained so much-at such great cost —- rarely discuss this important truth, and will allow violations of its principle to go unchallenged. Read carefully our discussion of priesthood, p.2, this issue.