In this book, Roger Whittall argues that Luther’s teaching on the common priesthood (the “priesthood of believers”) was a persistent element of Luther’s ecclesiology and closely related to his understanding of the church as the communion of saints. Whittall’s focus is the common priesthood’s activity in the Christian community, moving beyond its contested relationship to the church’s ordained ministry, or the views that limit its appearance to Luther’s early polemical writings. Rather, the common priesthood stands alongside the public ministry. They are equal partners in the church’s mandate to receive and speak God’s word, to respond in prayer, praise, and joyful service of God’s world and all its people. This wide-ranging investigation features later material not often considered in relation to the common priesthood. For Luther “priesthood” was a biblical expression of Christian spiritual life, worship, and service, forming both the personal faith of individual Christians and the corporate nature of the Christian community. Whittall also examines Luther’s use of key biblical texts to link church and priesthood through the themes of unity and community, equality, and participation. Understood in this way, this priesthood still speaks powerfully to the identity and mission of the church today.
Roger Whittall is an honorary postdoctoral associate at the University of Divinity, Melbourne.
Chapter 1: Church and Priesthood in Luther’s First Lectures
Chapter 2: Luther’s Early Ecclesiology, Its Substance and Form
Chapter 3: Luther’s Early Teaching on The Common Priesthood, to 1525
Chapter 4: The Biblical Data for The Common Priesthood
Chapter 5: Luther’s Ecclesiology and the Challenge of Reform, from 1524
Chapter 6: The Response to Rome: Next Instalment
Chapter 7: The Common Priesthood in Luther’s Old Testament Writings, 1524–46
Chapter 8: The Common Priesthood in Luther’s New Testament Preaching, 1522–46
Conclusions: Martin Luther’s Common Priesthood: Its Boundaries and Horizons
Whittall brings a perceptive analytical review of the current scholarly debate and a careful contextual assessment of Luther’s own utterances on the complex of ideas involved in the calling of the baptized as priests who bring the gospel to others. Whittall’s careful chronological tracing of the development of Luther’s views of this calling of the baptized and the church’s public ministry in several literary genres not only illuminates the historical witness of the reformer but also provides resources for encouraging all Christians to take seriously both the role of the shepherds of Christ’s people and believers’ responsibility to witness to Christ in daily life.
Roger Whittall’s fresh approach to Martin Luther and the common priesthood reorients us away from old debates and assumptions and directs us towards its import for Luther’s ecclesiology. With generous analysis, Whittall leads us into Luther’s long engagement with the common priesthood throughout his career in sermons, biblical commentaries, and treatises. This is a significant contribution that will spur further historical research but at the same time poses important questions for those who engage Luther’s legacy theologically.