Original Research

The priesthood of believers: The forgotten legacy of the reformation

Wim A. Dreyer
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 76, No 4 | a6021 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v76i4.6021 | © 2020 Wim A. Dreyer | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 April 2020 | Published: 19 October 2020

About the author(s)

Wim A. Dreyer, Department of Systematic and Historical Theology, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa; and, Centre for Reformed Theology, Hervormde Teologiese Kollege, Pretoria, South Africa

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This contribution revisits the priesthood of believers. It is placed within the current discourse on relevant ecclesiologies and ecclesial praxis for 21st-century reformed churches. Luther placed much emphasis on the priesthood of believers in his rejection of the Roman Catholic differentiation between ordained clergy and laity. This was taken up by Calvin, but not to the same extent as Luther. The limited attention given to the priesthood of believers in reformed ecclesiologies, confessions and church orders is challenged in the current discourse on ecclesiology, especially by theologians working in the field of missional ecclesiology. Much emphasis is placed on the role of the ‘ordinary’ church member in terms of ministry. It is proposed that a continued reformation of the church would inter alia imply a renewed appreciation of the priesthood of believers. The shift in ecclesiology must be visible in reformed church polity and church orders. The interrelatedness of ecclesiology, church polity, church order and ecclesial praxis makes this unavoidable. A church order should not be regarded as an immutable historical document with everlasting authority, but rather as an instrument that could facilitate change and ecclesial praxis in the spirit of ecclesia semper reformanda. As such, church polity could even be regarded as a ‘practical ecclesiology’. Recent changes to the Church Order of the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk van Afrika are used as a case study and to illustrate the point.

Contribution: The primary contribution of this manuscript contributes to the historical and systematic analysis of the concept ‘priesthood of all believers’, as well as its relevance to the current discourse on missional ecclesiology. It falls within the scope of HTS Theological Studies in terms of original theological research.


reformed church polity; ecclesiology; priesthood of believers; Luther; Calvin; Van Ruler; Kraemer; Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk van Afrika


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