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Sacerdotalism, as discussed here, is the belief in some Christian churches that priests are meant to be mediators between God and humankind. The understanding of this mediation has undergone development over time and especially with the advent of modern historical and biblical studies, as has the understanding of whether Christian sacrifice is meant to impact God or to draw our attention to God working in us..
The current understanding of the role of the priest in the Catholic church depends vitally on the understanding of the sacrifice of Christ which is remembered in the Catholic Mass. A current explanation of Christ's sacrifice by Edward J. Kilmartin, S.J., a theologian at the Pontifical Gregorian University, is as follows. The Son's self-offering response to the love of the Father is realized over Jesus' whole human life, in a way that all humanity learns to better know and love the Father. The Christian participates in the life of faith of Jesus in his various ministries, as response to the Father. At the Eucharist, the Spirit brings to remembrance and binds us to Christ, through the ministry of the priest. All is through the initiative of the Father who demonstrated His love for us by sending the Son.
The Catholic understanding of "No salvation outside the Church" has undergone considerable development, leading to an explanation by the bishops at Vatican II: "Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life".
Protestant denominations reject sacerdotalism. They hold that the New Testament presents only one atoning sacrifice, the Body of Christ offered once for all on the cross by Christ himself, who is both the sinless offering and the sinless priest. The Eucharistic sacrifices of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving are offered by all believers as spiritual priests. The Body of Christ in the Holy Supper is not offered by the ministry to God as a means of sheltering the communicants from the divine wrath, but it is offered by God through the ministry as representatives of the congregation, to individuals, as an assurance of his gracious will to forgive them their sins.
Where in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches salvation is an ongoing process that includes the sacraments, also called a synergy between man and God, in the Evangelical and Protestant churches salvation is in Christ only, obtained by grace through faith alone. This means all Protestants other than obscure sects and very ecumenical churches, entirely reject the belief that saving grace is given through or received through the two sacraments of Protestantism, that is baptism or the eucharist, or by Catholic/Orthodox sacraments such as chrismation and the confessional. Sacerdotalism to Protestants therefore is seen as a heresy, where heresy is defined not by a supposed line of apostolic bishops, or the Pope, but by the authority of scripture and the contradiction of new covenant law. To the Protestants sacerdotalist salvation, wherein grace is received through priests, or in the presence of priests, in any of the sacraments, is the relegation of Christ from Saviour to a semi-Saviour or co-Saviour, where men are brought into salvation. To Protestants works performed by believers are the fruit of salvation, not the root of salvation, thus both obedience in baptism by the believer himself, or the work of the person performing the baptism itself, or the giving or receiving of the eucharist, are of no effect whatsoever in actual salvation, and saving grace is not received through them. To them if the born again experience, also called regeneration, was to come through acts of priestcraft (sacerdotalism) such as chrismation, infant sprinkling, or Orthodox triple baptism, as a person cannot see nor enter the kingdom of God without regeneration (see John 3:3,5), priests would claim the power over eternal life by giving or withholding baptism. For this reason and many others, Protestants believe only in the priesthood of all believers, not in a second priesthood represented by a clergy wielding spiritual power over "the laity".
According to Lutherans, the office of the ministry in Christianity is not part of the priestly system of the Old Testament, rather it is an institution found in the Gospels. For some Lutherans this ministry is not a self-perpetuating group that can be passed on to successors through ordination. Instead, those Lutherans hold that the divinely instituted ministry continues the work of Christ by exercising on behalf of the laity the means of grace, which Christ gave to all Christian believers.. Other Lutherans emphasize the view that the office of the Ministry is a continuation of the priestly work of the Apostles handed down in a succession of ordinations, whether through bishops or presbyters.
- Hahnenberg, Edward P. (2016-11-04). "The Ministerial Priesthood and Liturgical Anamnesis in the Thought of Edward J. Kilmartin, S.J.:". Theological Studies. doi:10.1177/004056390506600202.
- 1 John 4:9; Romans 5:8.
- Lumen Gentium, 14-16.
- Augsburg Confession, Article 21, "Of the Worship of the Saints". trans. Kolb, R., Wengert, T., and Arand, C. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2000.
- Henry Eyster Jacobs, Lutheran Cyclopedia p. 417, "Sarcodotalism"
- Erwin L. Lueker, et al.,Christian Cyclopedia. Concordia Publishing House, 2000.
- Bo Giertz, Christ's Church: her biblical roots, her dramatic history, her saving presence, her glorious future (2010 transl. of Kristi kyrka (1939) by Hans O. Andrae, 7th ed., Verbum, 1991), Chapter 11., ISBN 1608997030.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Sacerdotalism". Encyclopædia Britannica. 23 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 971.
- Augsburg Confession, Article XXIII: Of the Marriage of Priests.
- The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV Of the Mass.
- Sckmalkald Articles, Article II: Of the Mass.