What It Is All About
Every child of God is a priest! Every man and woman who is a Christian has entered "the priesthood." The only high priest in God's system today is in heaven. That is the theme of this book. It is just that simple. If the Bible teaches that, this book is in harmony with the will of God; if the Bible authorizes a special priesthood composed of a clerical class, in this age, then this book is wrong in its presentation, and its author must stand condemned as one who opposes the plan of God.
I have no intent or desire to defend modern religious institutions, nor to champion the societies which have been spawned in the fertile brains of fallible men. It is my firm conviction that the community of saints planted by the holy apostles in the first generation of the Christian era constituted the divine pattern for the entire dispensation. My humble efforts will be bent, not toward the refinement, amendment, or reformation of any existing sect, but toward restoration of the primitive "colony of heaven" as representing God's ideal to which we must conform if we would meet his approval.
No careful student of the early congregation of believers can fail to be impressed with the simplicity of its worship and functioning. Imbued with a fervent zeal, motivated by a common purpose, possessed of a deep love for each other, "all the believers kept together" and "among all those who had embraced the faith there was but one heart and one soul" (Acts 2:44; 5:82). In such a company each felt under compulsion of spirit to do all he could to edify his fellows. None served for gain. Those who had personal property and real estate sold their possessions and distributed to all who had need; no one thought of threatening the needy with eternal destruction if they did not support a privileged class.
In the original church of God there was no distinction between clergy and laity. God's clergy (portion or lot) consisted of God's laity (people). Every member of the "laity" was a member of "the clergy" and vice versa. Every person in the divine arrangement was a minister of God. One "entered the ministry" by coming into the Christ. The holy and unblemished church can never be restored until those who love the Lord recapture in the fullest sense the picture of a "priesthood of all believers" free from the taint of a special caste.
The religious world in general has lost the pattern of the corporate worship of the original community of baptized believers. The early church gathered around a table; the modern church sits before a pulpit. The Lord placed the table in the church so it could remember its debt to him; the clergy placed the pulpit in the church to bring it in debt to them. In the early church they all spoke one by one; today all the speaking is done by one. Then the spirit was kindled; now it is quenched. Then they claimed to love each other and talked about Jesus; now they claim to love Jesus and talk about each other. In those days all exerted an effort to exhort; now all must be exhorted to exert an effort.
The primitive disciples did not ask the world to come and get the gospel, they took it to them. They gathered to eat the Lord's Supper, then scattered to preach the Word. Wherever there was a Christian and a sinner, there was a gospel meeting. They announced the glad tidings to masters and mistresses, friends and neighbors. They did it simply but fervently. They told about Jesus, his death and resurrection. They testified of their faith in him. They preached him in chariots along the road, in prison cells, by river brinks, in private homes, in hulls and in synagogues. The whole earth was their auditorium, the thing at hand their pulpit.
Much of the irreverence, formality and cold ritual of these days is the result of a loss of significance of a priesthood of all believers. The sense of individual relationship to God with its attendant responsibilities has disappeared in the modern sectarian strife for supremacy of party. To restore the primitive community of saints a great reformation of thought is essential. This book has been written to help the good and honest heart properly evaluate our present status in the light of God's revelation.
PLAN OF THE BOOK
You will find the book divided into two parts. The first section is a study of the whole subject of priesthood as taught in the Bible. It deals with the reason for religion and the necessity of the priesthood in an approach unto God. It traces the history of priesthood through the Patriarchal, and Jewish dispensations, and points out the culmination of God's ideal in the Christian era which is designated as "the end of the ages."
The second division considers the arguments for a special priesthood to officiate for men "in things pertaining unto God." The case for the clergy can best be presented by that great institution which resulted from its creation, and then did the most to perpetuate and justify it. If the Roman Church cannot successfully defend the right of a special clergy to exist, no other religious organization need assume the task. That church postulates her own right to exist and to command attention of religious seekers upon the very basis of her priesthood. Destroy that foundation and the whole superstructure tumbles in disorder.
Accordingly, we chose what we believe to be the most outstanding presentation of the subject by a modern scholar. Dr. John A. O'Brien, of Notre Dame University, is universally recognized as a scholar, philosopher, and expositor. His reputation as a writer in his particular field is unexcelled. It was our good fortune, during our research, to discover in popular booklet form, his treatise entitled: "The Priesthood-- A Divine Institution." In correspondence with the author we learned that this presentation had subsequently been incorporated as a chapter in a book which was protected by copyright. Dr. O'Brien consented to release the copyright restrictions for inclusion of the material in this book, if I would pay for the privilege of using his treatise. He suggested the sum of twenty-five dollars to be paid by me to Notre Dame. His final letter in the correspondence follows:
Dear Mr. Ketcherside:
Having received no reply to my letter of several years ago, I naturally assumed that the proposition made therein was unacceptable, and hence I am surprised by your letter.
Upon reflecting on the matter and before entering into a definite contract, I would want the assurance that various paragraphs from my writing "The Priesthood: A Divine Institution" are not to be taken out of the context in such a way as to create a misleading impression. It is with the understanding that this is not done that I am granting the requested permission in consideration of the payment of $25 to the University of Notre Dame.
The credit line to be printed should run as follows: From "The Priesthood: A Divine Institution," a chapter in The Faith of Millions John A. O'Brien, Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, Indiana, copyright 1938 by John A. O'Brien.
Looking forward to seeing a copy of your book as soon as it is published, I am,
Sincerely yours, John A. O'Brien
The eminent theologian and Doctor of Philosophy is certainly justified in his request for proper treatment of his manuscript in any attempt at analysis and replication. For that reason we are publishing his article in its entirety, and while we are presenting it in paragraph form to make our refutation meet his arguments more directly, the treatise by Dr. O'Brien will be set in distinctive type so that the interested reader by merely turning a few pages of the book between paragraphs, to the next occurrence of such type face, can read the entire article written to uphold the opinion that the special priesthood is of divine origin.
If it seems that our language is too harsh in this final section of the book, we assure you that it was not meant thus to be. The author entertains a wholesome respect for the sincere religious convictions of every man on earth, regardless of how divergent from his own views they may be. Coupled with that respect is a deep conviction of his own which makes him an implacable foe of every form of clericalism, whether exemplified in the lowliest professional preacher who serves for hire, or the pope who is looked upon as a spiritual father by millions. With such fervent feeling it is to be expected that in condemnation of a system which it is believed robs the saints of their rights and liberties, the language of exposure may sometimes be pointed, pungent and plain.
The reader will observe that we have used the Revised Standard Version of the holy scriptures more than any other version. There are numerous reasons for this, not the least of which is the personal view that this scholarly work is generally superior to most of the commonly used versions. Inasmuch as this version is copyrighted we insert herewith the authorization to use the quotations found in this book.
Dear Mr. Ketcherside:
Thank you for your letter of October 5th and your interest in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
This letter is your authority to use 250 selections from the Revised Standard Version through the text of your book entitled: "The Royal Priesthood." There is, of course, no fee involved, but we would ask you to state that the quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible and used by permission of the copyright owners: The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
Should you require more permissions, kindly let me know.
Yours very truly, THOMAS NELSON & SONS, W. R. McCulley, President
Credits for brief historical quotations will generally be given in conjunction with such quotations in the body of the book. It is extremely difficult after years of study to recall the many sources to which one is indebted for the formulation or crystallization of his own views, but the author desires especially to mention the following: History of Priestcraft in All Ages and Nations, by William Howitt (1833); Christianity Restored by Alexander Campbell (1835); History of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church, by Dr. Augustus Neander (1844); Ministry in the Church of Christ, by David King (1870); The Early Church, by David Duff, M.A., D.D., LL.D. (1891); The Early Days of Christianity, by Frederic W. Farrar, D.D., F.R.S. (1884); The First Age of Christianity, by Ernest F. Scott, D.D. (1926); The Faith and Life of the Early Church, by W. F. Slater, M.A. (1892); Christian Worship in the Primitive Church, by A. B. McDonald, Ph.D. (1934).
It is our sincere hope that this little volume may be a contributing factor in the stimulation of thought among those whose honest hearts make them unwilling to remain in camp halfway between Babylon and Jerusalem. This book is not exhaustive in its treatment of the subject, but suggestive in nature, and is intended to arouse God's children to think for themselves. We can never restore the primitive church until we recapture the spirit which dominated the lives of the early saints, all of whom were impelled by an unconquerable passion to know that truth which makes men free. If we can aid in any degree to a restoration of that liberty and freedom to think, speak and act, which is the divinely given heritage of every Christian, we will be satisfied.