You don’t need a clerical collar. No black suit or holy water. A procession, though enjoyed by many, is not necessary. Just Christian men, women, boys and girls. Some are seminary trained, others have no college education. A small percentage are physicians while the majority are blue-collar workers. Differences abound—ethnic, cultural, socio-economic—yet all are priests.

It is not everyday Christians think about priesthood. If you have Mormon friends you may hear about it. Or you likely have thoughts on it if you were raised Roman Catholic. Other than conversations in those arenas, the Christian vocabulary is rather sanitized of such language. Should it be?

In this brief series, I want to answer the question, “What must I do to become a priest?” It is an important question and one that should not be estranged simply because of its negative cultural and religious associations. In fact, our Bible has much to say about becoming priests. Before considering that in greater detail, however, let us briefly reflect upon how our environment influences our view of words, which makes reading the Bible dangerous. 

Word Association

Two brief examples are in order. After Jesus’ baptism, Mark writes, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him” (Mark 1:12-13). Along with the clear references to Christ as the Second Adam and as the true Israel, Mark highlights that, like Adam (Gen. 3:24), Jesus was driven into the wilderness.

Since we are so familiar with the introduction to Jesus’ earthly ministry, it is easy to gloss over Mark’s mention of wilderness. Or perhaps we have brought a different concept of wilderness to the table that is not necessarily Mark’s intention. It’s easy for me to do that.

Wilderness for Mark and wilderness for me are two different realities. I grew up in Las Vegas. The days were dry and hot. Tumbleweeds abounded. At one point you could look off into the distance and see only dirt and rocks. Vegas was small, roads were limited. As a child, fun consisted of spending time in the desert—our own wilderness.

My childhood colors the word, and correspondingly the imagery, used in the Holy Bible. When I hear and read that the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, I think—quite simply—of a dry, hot place with rugged terrain. But is it that simple?

According to the Old Testament, the wilderness was a place of danger and testing, death and exclusion, curse and pain (Num. 14:29-30; Deut. 8:2, 15; 28:15). Is it right, therefore, to impose my understanding of wilderness unto Mark’s gospel? If so, I would miss the picture he is painting.

Consider, also, Paul’s imprisonment. In Philippians 1:14, Paul writes, “And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment…” What is your view of prison? If you have any understanding of the detainment system in the United States, your mind is likely bombarded by images of concrete enclosed rooms with thin steel bars facing the hallway. Each room has a small bed with one pillow, a sink and a toilet. But was that the apostle’s circumstances?

You get the point. Proper word association is crucial. Therefore, we must proceed with caution as we read the infallible, inerrant word of God.

The Priesthood

According to scholars, the priesthood of all believers was a much-needed doctrine highlighted during the Reformation era. Passages such as 1 Peter 2:9 and Revelation 5:9 were (and are) critical in understanding this sometimes seldom-mentioned doctrine.

The apostle Peter writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9; italics mine). The apostle John similarly writes, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God…” (Rev. 5:9-10; italics mine).

Whether on earth or in the new heavens and earth, God calls his people priests. Unfortunately however, like the wilderness imagery in Mark’s gospel and the circumstances surrounding Paul’s imprisonment, our understanding of the priesthood can be painted on a different canvas than the pages of Holy Scripture. With over one billion Roman Catholics and Episcopalians in the world and priests serving in the various churches and parishes, perhaps it has been.

Regardless of where you stand, the priesthood is a valuable doctrine. It influences the way we think and behave. Therefore, it is imperative that we come to a biblical understanding of it. By doing so, we are not going to simply focus on what the priesthood is, but on how we become priests.

Until next time, ponder the question, “What must I do to become a priest?” The answer may shock you.