A few months ago a couple of Jehovah’s Witness missionaries knocked on our door and my wife accepted their literature but asked that they return when I was home to present their message. I always make it a point to be gracious to missionaries of other faiths since my own mission taught me how disappointing tracting and proselytizing can be at times.
The missionaries returned the following Saturday and we enjoyed a two hour conversation about their church. Our discussion was interesting, to say the least, and we agreed on several points of doctrine. I eventually asked about priesthood authority in their church and was surprised to learn that neither of them really knew much about it or hadn’t given it much thought. I took this opportunity to share a brief history of the LDS church and its authoritative foundations, along with my testimony of a living prophet. I even pointed to a picture of the First Presidency I have on my wall in my office to show them who I was talking about.
They eventually returned the following Saturday with a DVD documentary about Charles Russell, the “Joseph Smith” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that they said may help answer my authority question. It did…sort of. I concluded that the Jehovah’s Witnesses, like many modern Protestant churches, believe somewhat in the priesthood of all believers. In preparation for their next visit, I studied priesthood authority again and decided to post a few of my notes here for reference. Many of my thoughts are derived from John Tvedtnes’ article entitled, “Is There a ‘Priesthood of All Believers’?” I recommend his short article for further reference.
Briefly, the priesthood of all believers is the concept that all true believers in Christ are inherently authorized to baptize and perform other saving ordinances. This idea first surfaced during the Reformation when Reformers, such as Martin Luther, realized that they had cut themselves off from the priesthood lineage of the Catholic Church and needed to provide an explanation that would authorize them in their ecclesiastical acts.
Proponents of the priesthood of all believers cite to 1 Peter 2:9, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” Peter, however, was referring to Exodus 19:5-6 where the Lord told the Israelites through Moses that if they would “obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation." Of the Israelites present at that time, only the Levites were chosen to receive the priesthood. Moreover, none of the Israelites in Moses’ day acknowledged Christ as Savior, so it appears even they would not have met the criteria set forth by Martin Luther to receive the priesthood of all believers.
In advancing his claim of priesthood for all believers, Luther wrote, "in fact, we are all consecrated priests through Baptism, as St. Peter in 1 Peter 2 says." Peter, however, says nothing about baptism to become a priest and in fact doesn’t mention baptism in the passage in question.
In contrast, the Bible teaches that baptism is not enough to receive priesthood authority. This was made evident in the story of Simon the Sorcerer who attempted to purchase the “power” to “lay hands” on people from Peter and John after witnessing the Holy Ghost bestowed on several in Samaria. See Acts 8:5-20. Although Simon believed and had already been baptized (Acts 8:13), this did not provide him with any priesthood authority, nor was he able to purchase the priesthood from Peter or John.
In John 15:16, Christ told his apostles, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you." Their ordination did not stem from their baptism but because they had chosen to follow Christ. See Luke 6:13; Mark 3:13-15. The chosen 12 received "power" from Christ that the other disciples of Christ did not have, and he later bestowed that same priesthood power on seventy others, as discussed in Luke 10.
In ordaining high priests, Hebrews 5:4 declares, "And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron." And how was Aaron ordained? The Lord told Moses to "anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office." See Exodus 30:30; see also Exodus 28:41; 40:13; Numbers 3:3. In other words, there was a specific ceremonial ordination that took place which included the anointing and consecration of Aaron to his calling. Later, certain Levites were ordained to the priesthood by the laying on of hands. See Numbers 8:10-11.
Today many Christians feel duly authorized to preach the gospel and baptize people stemming from Christ’s commission found in Matthew 28:19. They fail to realize, however, that Christ was speaking only to his ordained apostles at the time. See Matt. 28:16 and Mark 16:14-16.
Priesthood authority does not come from knowledge of the Bible, a degree in theology bestowed by some man-made university, or even an apparent call from God in some vision or dream or while contemplating the Bible. In Matthew 7:21-24 Christ said that “[n]ot every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” When all is said and done, “many” will have claimed to acted in the Lord’s name, using his authority, but the Savior declared that he would cast out those whom he did not know, or those whom he did not authorize to act.
It’s been a few weeks since the Jehovah’s Witness missionaries last visited me, and I’m beginning to wonder if they intend on not returning. If they do return, however, I plan on sharing with them a few of these notes and hope to have the opportunity to share my testimony of priesthood authority with them.