Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Priesthood of the believers

Those of you who have grown up in the Southern Baptist tradition are familiar with the idea of the priesthood of the believer. This is a Reformation era idea that continues today. The basic idea is that each Christian is capable of interpreting the Bible for himself/herself. Baptists don't believe that a church authority -- a priest, a Pope, a preacher -- has the sole authority to interpret scripture. That's the theory at least. In application, however, I would argue that the Benedictines come closer to the ideal than Southern Baptists.

For instance, on a Sunday morning, Sunday night, or Wednesday evening in any Southern Baptist church, almost half of the worship will be consumed by one man standing up and sharing with you his interpretation of scripture. Often this is presented in an extremely authoritative way (especially if he is a recent graduate of a Southern Baptist seminary). In many ways, especially given the power politics of the Southern Baptist convention, the priesthood of the believer has been subsumed into the power of the pulpit.

Compare that with the five prayer services each day in the Benedictine tradition. Combined, the services add up to about 2.5 hours of worship. During that entire time, one small sermon (a homily) is read - and it's usually an old sermon someone else wrote! In the meantime, massive amounts of scripture are read and recited and no one tells us what it means. Each Psalm is chanted and then there is a pause for meditation on what has just been said. Each person in the worship service has to figure out what the scripture means for himself/herself.

Which one of those sounds like a priesthood of the believer in a practical sense?

UPDATE: I was thinking about this last night and realized that I could be charged with only emphasizing one side of the Southern Baptist experience. Certainly there is much room for individual interpretation of scripture in our denomination -- through Bible study, Sunday School, etc.. And certainly in the Catholic church, ultimate interpretation of scripture resides with the church authorities. However, in the real practical side of corporate worship, I believe that in many ways the Benedictines have more latitude to apply the scripture to their lives than many Southern Baptists.

Just trying to provide the extra nuance....

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