Applying the General Priesthood Principle
JEHOVAH God, in dealing with the nation of Israel, provided for a priesthood. This priesthood had two functions. One of these was the offering of the various sacrifices on behalf of themselves and the people. The other was the instructing of the people in God’s law, even as we read: “The lips of a priest are the ones that should keep knowledge, and the law is what people should seek from his mouth.”—Lev. 7:37; 16:11, 15; Mal. 2:7.*
This priesthood of the nation of Israel was a special one, not a general priesthood. That is, not all Israelites were priests. Priests were limited to unblemished males of a certain age that were the descendants of Aaron, their first high priest. Only when there were insufficient priests or the priests failed to appreciate their privileges, as in the days of King Hezekiah, did the Levites help in offering sacrifices.—2 Chron. 29:34.
The priesthood of spiritual Israel, however, Jehovah God purposed to be a general one. All footstep followers of Christ Jesus, who upon dedication and baptism were begotten by God’s spirit and called to the heavenly calling, became members of true Christianity’s general priesthood. All such have access to the “holy place,” and serve as sacrificing priests under their High Priest Jesus Christ.—Heb. 10:19-22.
What took place on the very day of Pentecost shows that the priesthood of spiritual Israel is a general one. On that day the holy spirit came upon all the followers of Christ assembled in an upper room in Jerusalem in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy in which God says: “I shall pour out some of my spirit upon every sort of flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy . . . and even upon my men slaves and upon my women slaves I will pour out some of my spirit.”—Acts 2:17, 18; Joel 2:28, 29.
That all anointed followers of Christ are priests is also made clear by the apostle Peter: “You yourselves also as living stones are being built up a spiritual house for the purpose of a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . . . you are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, . . . that you should declare abroad the excellencies’” of Jehovah God.—1 Pet. 2:5, 9.
With the foretold falling away from the true faith the churches of Christendom discarded the principle of the general priesthood. With but few notable, well-meant, but at best only temporary exceptions, these have adopted a special priesthood. After many years of special priesthoods, today there is a movement afoot in Christendom to apply the principle of the general priesthood and have the laity preach and serve, chiefly because of a shortage of priests and ministers, but it is not meeting with success. Why not?
Because of two basic reasons. On the one hand, while speaking of a general priesthood, their leaders mean it only in a very limited sense. They do not at all intend to wipe out all distinction between the clergy and the laity. And on the other hand, there is little enthusiasm and zeal on the part of the laity to share actively in the ministry even to the extent of their opportunities.
Today, however, the principle of the general priesthood does find application among the Christian witnesses of Jehovah. Among them there is no class set apart for sacrificing and teaching even though only a few of them belong to the priestly “remnant” and the great majority belong to the non-priestly “other sheep.” All share in making “disciples of people of all the nations.”—Matt. 28:19, 20; Heb. 13:15.
Among the witnesses of Jehovah any adult, dedicated and baptized male Christian who is qualified may serve in such ministerial capacities as giving public Bible discourses and funeral talks, performing marriages and presiding at the Lord’s evening meal or supper. There is no clergy class. Overseers and their ministerial assistants are merely servants of their fellow Christians. They are not specially ordained and therefore they are such special servants only so long as they have an appointment so to serve.—Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Tim. 3:1-7.
All those upon whom God’s spirit came at Pentecost preached. Since God does not change, it is reasonable to expect the same today. Since among the witnesses of Jehovah all are preachers, we must conclude that God’s holy spirit is also upon them. To help them to become ever more effective ministers, five weekly meetings are conducted by each congregation. Do you take full advantage of these? You will if you would have the principle of the general priesthood apply to you.
For details see The Watchtower, March 1, 1963.