The Priesthood of All Believers in Ecclesiological Development

In his analysis, sociologist John S. Knox identifies five factors that have contributed to the emergence of individualism in religion. These include Charles Taylor’s emphasis on personal relevance, Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead’s focus on subjective experience, Robert Bellah’s criticism of institutionalism, Philip Hammond’s devaluation of community, and Bryan Wilson’s advocacy of individualistic religious authority. Tom Greggs connects this rise of individualism to a problem unique to Protestants in defining what a church is. Instead of seeing itself as a community, the Protestant ecclesiological impulse is individual. Gregg Allison has observed a lack of prolegomena in ecclesiological development as one of the reasons this trajectory has drifted and is in need of an ontological foundation to correct.
To correct this and push back against the rise of individualism, it is necessary to claim again the priesthood of all believers. Though Timothy George observes how the priesthood of all believers has been misunderstood as the “right of private judgment” in understanding Scripture, properly articulating this doctrine can contribute to ecclesiological prolegomena. Therefore, a positive construction of the priesthood of all believers and its relation to ecclesiology is necessary. Far from individualism, the priesthood of all believers leads to a collective identity.
Winthrop Hudson accused Edgar Young Mullins of perpetuating the inclination towards individualism as his argument against episcopacies went too far in the opposite direction. Mullins’ ecclesiological development was based on soul competency instead of the priesthood of all believers, an equal but opposite error of episcopacies. The priesthood of all believers, as recovered in the Reformation, does not lead to individualism. Soul competency, as put forth by Mullins, does not lead to a collective identity. The path forward is found in ecclesiological development rooted in a right understanding of the priesthood of all believers.
Fitting within an ontological method of ecclesiology while aiming to fill the lacunae Gregg Allison notes of ecclesiologies lacking prolegomena, I will argue the priesthood of all believers should be an explicit part of ecclesiological development to show that the nature of the church is a collective whole not individualistic.
Uche Anizor and Hank Voss have presented a positive construction of the priesthood of all believers. My proposal aligns with the trajectory they have established, while also extending the scope of their argument to encompass the sphere of ecclesiological development. Connecting the priesthood of all believers to ecclesiological development, as I aim to do, pushes back against the individualism in religion observed by John S. Knox.

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