The pastor serves the royal priesthood by preaching Christ’s Word and administered His sacraments. The royal priesthood, in turns, serves the neighbor just as Christ has served us. This service is not only in the Christian congregation where the royal priesthood prays for and supports the pastor but most especially in the world where God has placed His people in a variety of vocations. Here the royal priesthood passes on the Gospel that it has received in the divine service as Christ is confessed and His people give reason for the hope that is within them (I Peter 3:15). It is within the various stations of life where God’s priests live that they do what priests are called to do as they speak the word of God to others, speak to God on behalf of others in prayer, and offer themselves as living sacrifices on behalf of the neighbor.
The doctrine of vocation locates the dignity and honor of the royal priesthood in baptism. The Lutheran Confessions never pit the royal priesthood against the pastoral office as though the one is derived from the other. The Triune God has anointed all believers as priests in baptism. God puts a man into the office by call and ordination (AC XIV). He is there to distribute Christ’s gifts in sermon and sacrament so that the royal priesthood might be enlivened with the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. This distinction is especially well-stated in the 1997 statement, “The Office of the Church: An Orientation” by our German brethren: “The epistles of the New Testament and the Confessions of the Lutheran Church explicate how the office of the church and the congregation belong inseparably together and at the same time are to be clearly distinguished. They belong together because the congregation cannot lack the office through which the Gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered to her; and because the office is connected to the congregation, for whose service it was instituted. Yet they are to be distinguished because word and sacrament are not offered to the congregation in its own name, but in the name of God; and because the office of the church in its ministry is directed toward the congregation.”
The SELK statement goes on to define the place of the royal priesthood: “All people whom the Holy Spirit has called through the gospel, enlightened with his gifts, and maintained in the true faith are priests and kings before God by the power of their baptism (see I Peter 2:9ff; Rev.1:6). Thus they shall proclaim the great deeds of God and be witnesses of the gospel. They are priests because in faith they have unhindered access to God through prayer and because they exercise the service in which they must also suffer as witnesses of the gospel (see Rom. 5:1ff; 15, 16; Phil. 1:27ff; Jn. 16:2-4). They are kings because they also bring to people the blessings of God which Christ, their king and lord, makes them partakers. Thus they are identified with titles of honor that first applied to Christ: ‘elect of God, holy, beloved’ (Col.3:12; Christ in Mk.1:11; 9:7 and parallels). The people of God, made up of priests and kings, has its spiritual origin in the people of God of the Old Testament (see Ex. 19:5ff).” The royal priesthood proclaims the riches of Christ’s atoning work not in the public preaching of the church but according to each member’s station in life. It is within the context of one’s vocation that every man, woman, and child confesses Jesus Christ and proclaims His saving work.
Here we may note that the Small Catechism is the handbook for the royal priesthood as it was prepared so that the head of the household might teach his family the chief articles of the Christian faith. Luther envisioned the Small Catechism as not only a handbook for Christian doctrine but as a prayer book and a guide to the life of repentance, faith, and holy living. The Small Catechism is the road map for the Christian’s vocation as a member of the royal priesthood. It provides a “pattern of sound words” so that the believer is enabled to speak truthfully of Christ to his neighbor and serve the neighbor according to the will of God.
NOTE: This excerpt is from a paper entitled, Reflections on the Life of the Royal Priesthood: Vocation and Evangelism by Professor John T. Pless of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. This blogger is unsure of the original source of this paper.