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What is sacerdotalism?

Question: "What is sacerdotalism?"

Sacerdotalism is the belief that priests are essential mediators between God and man. The word sacerdotal comes from the Latin word for “priest” and literally means “to make sacred.” Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican forms of worship are sacerdotal.

Sacerdotalism teaches that the priesthood is a special class of churchman and is a necessary part of worship. People cannot approach God on their own, but must come through a priest, whether it is for confessing sin, taking communion, or receiving grace. Any divine blessing conferred upon an individual comes through the Church; that is, through the Church’s ordained priesthood.

The Old Testament law placed the Jews under a sacerdotal system. Aaron and his sons were divinely selected to be the first priests to minister to Israel (Exodus 28:1). The priestly duties included offering sacrifices for the atonement of sin (Hebrews 5:1); representing the nation before God (Exodus 28:9-12); and teaching the people God’s Word (Ezekiel 44:23).

The Old Testament priesthood was a picture of the future ministry of Christ, who fulfills all that the Levitical priesthood anticipated. The book of Hebrews, especially chapters 5-10, presents Jesus Christ as the perfect High Priest and the fulfillment of the Old Testament law. In Christ, the entire legalistic system of sacrifice and ritual, including the priesthood, is made obsolete (Romans 10:4).

The New Testament does not support a sacerdotal system of worship. As Martin Luther points out in The Private Mass and Consecration of Priests, the Holy Spirit has “in the New Testament diligently prevented the name sacerdos, priest or cleric, from being given even to an apostle or to various other offices.” In other words, the Bible never uses the word priest in relation to church leadership; rather, the Bible teaches the universal priesthood of all believers.

When Jesus offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for sin, God tore the veil in the temple in two, indicating open access to His presence through the body of Christ (Hebrews 10:19-20). Jesus now occupies the office of eternal High Priest, making constant intercession for His people (Hebrews 7:24-25).

Sacerdotalism insulates people from God, erecting human barriers where the New Testament places none. The Scripture is clear that “there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). Biblically speaking, every believer is a priest “offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

Recommended Resource: Reasoning from the Scriptures with Catholics by Ron Rhodes

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