Perspicuity, Community, and Diversity. One of the most cherished truths of Protestant Reformation is the understanding of the priesthood of all believers. In the time of the Reformation, theologians like Martin Luther were pushing back on the idea that the priests of the Roman Catholic Church were the spiritual professionals necessary for the people of God to understand Scripture. He wrote:
It is pure invention that pope, bishops, priests and monks are to be called the “spiritual estate;” princes, lords, artisans, and farmers the “temporal estate.” [On the contrary] . . . all Christians are truly of the “spiritual estate,” and there is among them no difference at all but that of office. (1)
Luther implies that all believers have the Holy Spirit working within them. Because of this, there are not “regular Christians” and “super Christians.” All Christians are regenerated by the Holy Spirit who helps them understand the Bible. This is what Paul means when he writes, “Now we have . . . received . . . the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). There are two implications from this that I want to consider.
1. Christians Can Understand The Bible, So We Don’t Need A Professional Priesthood
This was central to the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers were pointing out a forgotten truth that Scripture plainly teaches: There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). Christians do not need priests to intercede between us and God. Nor do we need priests to tell us what the Bible means.
One of Luther’s most controversial acts was to widely distribute Bibles to lay people. It seems hard for us to think of that as controversial. But at the time it was argued that the people would not be able to understand the Bibles—that should be left to the priests to explain. What came out of this debate was the term perspicuity, which simply means that the big picture meaning of the Bible is clear to Christians. Christians reject the idea that only a few Christians can understand the main points of the Bible. Which leads to our second point.
2. Christians Can Understand the Bible, So We Need Each Other
It is precisely because all Christians can understand the Bible that the gift of community is so valuable. Because all Christians can understand the Bible, we all have insights and perspectives we can share with each other. Just like Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail when there is no counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”
Just because the Bible is clear doesn’t mean you understand everything that can possibly be understood. You can read it and understand true things, but you are not God and will grow in understanding. Many counselors can help you grow in understanding.
This is where diversity comes in as well. Whether it’s stage of life, nationality, or ethnicity, many things inform how we read our Bibles. They cause us to ask different questions or appreciate different emphases. If you have friends and church members who are not like you in some respect, you may be surprised how studying the Bible with them can help you understand things you may have overlooked.
Just because we don’t need a priest does not mean we don’t need the saints around us. Community, especially a diverse community, is one of the best gifts God has given to help us understand His word. May He give us confidence in Scripture and the humility to learn from the saints around us.
1. Luther, “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation,” in Luther’s Works, 44:129.
- Praise God for His Word. May He help us to treasure it that we would not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11).
- Ask God for friends who are not like you who can help enrich your understanding of God’s word.
- Pray for humility to recognize that we are not omni-competent on the things of God.