Blog - Embodying Truth
Priest: A Case of Identity TheftTuesday, August 26, 2014
Let’s say you’ve served as an accountant in the same office for five years. Imagine the comments (and those you’d never hear!) if you were to show up at work in a clerical collar. Whatever the remarks, they would all doubtless stem from your fellow workers’ association of the collar with a comparatively small group of people known as priests.
How small a group? It is difficult to pin down a number for Protestant bodies in which the clergy wear clerical collars. But in the U.S. Catholic Church, the priest-parishioner ratio is one priest for every 2,000 non-priests. A website, arguing in favor of such collars, says, ". . . if you dress like a minister, everyone will think you are one.”
The problem with that? If you don’t dress that way, no one will think of you as a minister. Which leaves the typical workplace without any ministers. Which seems to be a far cry from what Paul had in mind when he said church leaders are to "to prepare God's people for works of service [ministry]” (Eph. 4:12). Or, "for the work people who follow Christ must do” (UBS New Testament Handbook Series).
Further, Peter spoke of Christ-followers as being a "holy priesthood” and a "royal priesthood” (I Pet. 2:5, 9). This means God has called all believers into the priesthood. But rarely do those who labor in the work world think of themselves as priests. Why not? Because only a few decades after Peter wrote those words, a form of identity theft set in. That’s when Clement of Rome limited the priesthood to just a few. He began using Old Covenant labels, like "high priest,” "priest,” and "Levite,” for church leaders. "Laymen” for everyone else. New Testament writers had never used such titles within the church.
More than 1,400 years later, Martin Luther saw the identity theft for what it was. He said, "All Christians are priests, and all priests are Christians,” and, "All Christians are alike priests.” If all believers share in this identity, how should they exercise their priesthood?
Simply stated, priests serve by: (1) representing God before people, and (2) representing people before God. How do these two roles apply in the workplace? First, as you live out the fruit of the Spirit in your actions, reactions, attitudes, and speaking, you represent God before your coworkers. Second, as you get to know others in your working network (and their needs) you can pray for them, representing them before the throne of God. If you do those things, your work becomes a major part of your priestly service.
Sadly, Clement’s "layperson” identity—contributing to the sacred-secular divide—still persists. A contemporary website on clergy clothing says: "A business suit in our opinion is completely inappropriate, because it is worldly.” And, "A business suit says, ‘Money.’”
According to one estimate, evangelical believers in the U.S. may number 100 million. Perhaps half of them are in the labor force. How would it change our culture if all 50 million were to reclaim—and act on—their biblical identity as priests (even if wearing business attire)?