In recent articles, we have surveyed briefly the offices of elder and of deacon. What then of the average person within the pew? What role and responsibility do they have in the life of the Christian community? The rediscovery of and recommitment to the biblical teaching regarding the offices of elder and deacon, as well as minister of the Word and sacraments, is vital to the well-being of the churches. But, so is an understanding and dedication to the office of Christian believer.
R. B. Kuiper wrote, “One of the most significant accomplishments of the Protestant Reformation was that it restored the universal office of believers to the place of honor which it deserves.” For this restoration we may be thankful. Kuiper went on to write, “Protestantism, which once extolled [the universal office of believers], now largely neglects it.”1
The office of Christian believer is a rich spiritual truth that summarizes the identity as well as role of the Christian community. Peter writes, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9, New King James Version).
The Source of the Office of Christian Believer
Christian believers are persons, individually and corporately, who are saved by the person and work of Jesus Christ. In reference to the office of Christian believer, we agree with Abraham Kuyper when he wrote, “To be called to an office simply means to be charged by Jesus, the King, with a definite task.”2 As redemptive king, Jesus Christ charges his followers to engage in certain holy activities.
It is especially the person of the Holy Spirit who equips those who are called to the office of Christian believer. The Holy Spirit accomplishes this initial and continual equipping by spiritually indwelling the soul of the Christian believer, thereby bringing all of the blessed benefits of redemption to impact the life of the Christian. This truth is summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism’s question and answer 53, “What do you believe concerning ‘the Holy Spirit’? First, that the Spirit, with the Father and the Son, is eternal God. Second, that he is given also to me, so that, through true faith, he makes me share in Christ and all his benefits, comforts me, and will remain with me forever.”3 It is the spiritual indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that causes the reality of the office of Christian believer.
The Christian believer is equipped to fulfill his or her office through the initial regenerating and ongoing converting operation of the Holy Spirit. Through this work, the Holy Spirit produces fruit within the life of the Christian and the Christian churches. This fruit includes a variety of gifts, as the apostle Paul states: “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all” (1 Cor. 12:4–6). Paul goes on to make clear that all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are to be used for the “profit of all” (1 Cor. 12:7) and for the “edification of the church” (1 Cor. 14:12).
The Function of the Office of Christian Believer
How the Christian functions within the office of Christian believer has historically been explained in line with a threefold office of prophet, priest, and king.4 This is succinctly expressed within the Heidelberg Catechism’s question and answer 32, “But why are you called a Christian? Because by faith I am a member of Christ and so I share in his anointing. I am anointed to confess his name [prophetic function], to present myself to him as a living sacrifice of thanks [priestly function], to strive with a free conscience against sin and the devil in this life, and afterward to reign with Christ over all creation for eternity [kingly function].” Concerning this confessional statement, Fred Klooster writes, “As answer 32 continues, it indicates that everyone who is a member of Christ and thus shares in his anointing is therefore also anointed as a prophet, priest, and king.”5
As the office of prophet is revealed historically through the Old Testament Scriptures, the main emphasis is placed upon the reception and declaration of the word of the Lord. This is succinctly stated in Deuteronomy 18:18 as it speaks ultimately of Jesus Christ but by inference to the Christian: “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.”
In relationship to the prophetic function, the Christian’s primary task is to confess the person and work of Jesus Christ in line with Scripture’s revelation. This is to be done by proclaiming the Christian gospel (evangelism), defending biblical truth (apologetics), and exposing theological errors (polemics). Both what the Christian says and how the Christian lives are to be displays in the prophetic office of believer. Peter summarizes these two interrelated aspects when he writes, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3:15). This task calls for diligent study and mature knowledge of the Scriptures so we might be similar to Apollos being “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24).
In distinction to the prophet who spoke from God to the people, the Old Testament priest represented the people in the presence of God with sacrifices that foreshadowed the provision for atonement but also the presentation of worship. The aspect of a comprehensive priestly worship in the life of the Christian is emphasized by Paul when he writes, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).
As concerns the priestly function, the Christian’s primary task is to serve the person of Jesus Christ with a life of holy service. In large part, this role calls for a sincere, lifelong fight against sin through a continual exercise of active repentance and conversion including good works of new obedience done out of gratitude. The priestly function of the Christian is most powerfully summarized with the exhortation, “but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet. 1:15–16).
Throughout the Old Testament age, kings in Israel were tasked to protect and provide for the covenant people of the Lord. They were to protect from the enemies of God and to provide instruction for living according to the covenant obligations. These aspects of kingly rule are expressed in Psalm 45:4–5
And in Your majesty ride prosperously because of truth, humility, and righteousness;
And Your right hand shall teach You awesome things.
Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the King’s enemies;
The peoples fall under You.
In displaying the kingly function, the Christian is to “live in all righteousness under our only Teacher, King, and High Priest, Jesus Christ” and “fight against and overcome sin, the devil, and his whole dominion.”6
Much could and should be written carefully regarding the Christian and the kingdom, but that is beyond the scope of this current article. However, it is helpful to note the common distinction between what has been termed the “already” and “not yet” of the coming of the kingdom. Klooster, again commenting on Heidelberg Catechism question and answer 32, writes, “A Christian is anointed ‘to strive with a good conscience against sin and the devil in this life’ (the ‘already’ sense) and ‘afterward to reign with Christ over all creation for all eternity’ (the ‘not yet’ sense).”7 We would add that it is the experiential awareness of the “already” that helps motivate in the “not yet.”
The Realm of the Office of Christian Believer
The arena in which the Christian is to live out this threefold office in the present can helpfully be described in regards to three realms of life: the domestic, ecclesiastical, and civil.
Within the home and the relationships of the nuclear family, the office of Christian believer in relation to the prophetic function would focus upon the study and conveying of the Word of God. This is in line with the biblical and historical emphasis within the realm of the administration of the covenant of grace of parents imparting spiritual truth to their children. As Christian parents are engaged in covenantal instruction, thereby training the next generation of Christian prophets, they would be simultaneously functioning in their priestly capacity with a holy life of grateful worship. All the while, the mature Christian exercises the kingly function of living in new obedience while engaging in spiritual combat against sin. “A home so begun in the name of the Lord and regulated by His commandments becomes the very foundation of a Christian society and affords a foretaste of the eternal home.”8
Broadening out the realm of the activity of life, the Christian functions, or at least should function, as a prophet, priest, and king through active participation within the local church. The prophetic aspect is realized in the study of God’s Word through the preaching and teaching of the local congregation. The priestly aspect is experienced in the active participation within the worship of God in the corporate gatherings. The kingly aspect is expressed through faithful adherence to the doctrines of Scripture and assisting in the government of the local church.
Moreover, the Reformed understanding of the Christian faith is not one of monastic isolationism or Anabaptist flight from the world, but rather the exercising of this threefold office also though ordinary daily participation within the civil realm. The threefold office of prophet, priest, and king is not simply Sunday adornment that is hung back in the closet during the work week. The threefold office is the essence of the Christian’s spiritual identity. So also in the public arena, the prophetic testimony to the Word of God, the priestly exercise of intercessory prayer, and holiness of life, along with kingly opposition to sin and evil, mark the vibrant life of the mature saint. In all of this, the Christian pilgrim seeks to obey the command of the Lord when he says, “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace” (Jer. 29:7).
In many ways it might be argued that the western churches are confused. On one hand there is the cry, “There is so much to do!” On the other hand is the question, “What should we do?” This seems be the cry and question of exasperation. There are seemingly endless campaigns for activism and seemingly just as endless debates about legitimate spheres for action. Perhaps we are in danger of overcomplicating the simple. In response to the age-old question, “How shall we then live,” maybe it is as simple as living as prophets, priests, and kings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Maybe guidance for the future lies in the example of the past, for “our fathers devoutly spoke of an office of all believers. In Christ’s Church there are not merely a few officials and a mass of idle, unworthy subjects, but every believer has a calling, a task, a vital charge.”9
Rev. Greg Lubbers is currently serving as Minister of the Word and Sacraments at Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) in Pella, IA.
1 R. B. Kuiper, The Glorious Body of Christ: A Scriptural Appreciation of the One Holy Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 129–30.
2 Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1900), 182.
3 Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 53, Liturgical Forms and Prayers of the URCNA, 221.
4 Kuiper, The Glorious Body of Christ, 126–27.
5 Fred H. Klooster, Our Only Comfort: A Comprehensive Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 2001), 370.
6 “Baptism of Infants Form 1,” Liturgical Forms and Prayers of the URCNA, 12.
7 Klooster, Our Only Comfort, 375.
8 “Solemnization of Marriage Form 1,” Liturgical Forms and Prayers of the URCNA, 85.
9 Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, 183.