Anizor, Uche and Hank Voss. Representing Christ: A Vision for the Priesthood of All Believers. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016.205 pp. Pb.; $20. Link to IVP  

Representing ChristRepresenting Christ is a study of the priesthood of the believer written by two recent Wheaton Ph.D graduates who have published dissertations on this topic (Anizor, Kings and Priests: Scripture’s Theological Account of Its Readers, Pickwick, 2014; Voss, The Priesthood of All Believers and the Missio Dei: A Canonical, Catholic, and Contextual Perspective, Pickwick 2016; both with introductions from Daniel Treier). Representing Christ fills a gap in discussions about the church by reviving a discussion on the priesthood of believers and applying this key Reformation doctrine to a modern church context.

The book begins by exposing a major problem in contemporary Christianity, the exaltation of the clergy in contrast to the priesthood of all believers. This brief introduction contrasts the priesthood of the baptized (the Orthodox tradition) and the priesthood of the faithful (the Roman Catholic tradition) with the Protestant doctrine than all believers are priest. Although Luther did not coin the term, most associate the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers with him. The book therefore includes a chapter on Luther, although the book strives to thoroughly biblical.

Chapter 2 sets the scriptural context for a “royal priesthood” using the model of the Garden of Eden as a Sanctuary and Adam as a Priest-King. This theme is drawn through the Exodus as God establishes his own people to be a nation of priests and David as a royal priest (focusing primarily on Psalm 110 and the Isaiah’s Servant songs). In the New Testament, 1 Peter 2:4-9 is a programmatic statement since Peter picks up on the idea of a royal priesthood from Exodus. If Adam was a priest-king in the original sanctuary, and Christ is a priestly servant, then the church is the offspring of Jesus and are therefore like Adam priests in a new Temple, the church. The theme seems to be muted in Paul’s letters, although the authors do reflect on Paul’s description of the believer as a living sacrifice, doing “acceptable worship.” For Anzior and Voss, the biblical vision of a royal priesthood of the church is the eschatological fulfillment of Israel’s corporate and professional priesthood, but viewed through the lens of Christ as the true Priest-King (55).

In the third chapter, Anzior and Voss describe the priesthood in the medieval period as a backdrop to their presentation of Luther’s reforms. Luther dismantled the hierarchy of the medieval priesthood and changed the way church life functioned. Luther’s unique contribution was to dispel the myth of “two estates,” a professional (elite) clergy and a non-professional laity. For Luther, all believers are called to do ministry even if not all exercise that call in the office of pastor. This is not an individualistic, democratic church, but rather a church united around the proclamation of the Gospel. In fact, as Anzior and Voss demonstrate in their fourth chapter, this community should reflect the unity and community of the Trinity. They want to avoid professional clericalism, but also atomistic collectives which misunderstand what being “in Christ” means.

What would a community practicing a biblical priesthood of all believers look like? In their fifth chapter Anzior and Voss describe this community by following Dallas Willard’s VIM model: Vision, Intention, and Means. The church’s vision needs to be representing Christ as a member of a royal priesthood, the intention of the church is being faithful to baptismal vows, and the means are the “seven central practices” of the royal priesthood.

The seven practices are drawn from Luther and beginning with baptism and concluding with the Lord’s Supper. These two public rituals frame the regular practices of the royal priesthood. Perhaps it is too much to describe Christian baptism as an ordination to a royal priesthood (on the analogy of the ritual washing of the Old Testament priesthood). The Lord’s Supper as the “culmination” of the practices of the royal priesthood does not seem to resonate with the purpose of the celebration in either the Gospels or Paul.

The middle five of the seven practices of the royal priesthood seem more related to the function of priests. Prayer, lectio divina (reading Scripture), Church discipline, and proclamation are the traditional functions of priests both before and after the Reformation, and Anzior and Voss include serving other priests as an additional practice. Here they have in mind the frequent command in the New Testament to serve one another (since everyone is a priest, serving one another is to serve the other priests).

The book concludes with a short chapter reflecting on why the royal priesthood of all believers is such an important doctrine. If everything they argue in this book is true, “so what?” Anzior and Voss believe their vision of a biblical royal priesthood will promote unity in the church and allow the church to better represent Christ in a world desperately in need of the grace of God.

 

NB: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.