The Priesthood of All Believers
At the time of the Reformation, a two-tier hierarchy of believers was in place. In the upper class were the spiritual elites, such as priests, monks, and nuns. It was believed that they were able to attain perfection, mostly by completing spiritual rituals and ceremonies. In the lower class were the laymen. These were thought of as being spiritually inferior, only being able to perform natural works. Thus “sacred” work, done by the religious professionals, was pleasing to God, while “secular” work, done by those in the pews, was not.
The Origin of the Sacred/Secular Split
This dichotomy was primarily due to Thomas Aquinas’ view of God’s grace and of the nature of man. Aquinas taught that human nature was not fit for a relationship with God. It needed something more—a donum superadditum—a gift that was added on.
In the state of pure nature man needs a power added to his natural power by grace . . . in order to do and to will supernatural good.
Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
Thus, according to Aquinas, man needed this “add on”—this infusion of power—to have fellowship with God. Reason being, man’s nature was inherently defective and incapable of having such fellowship.
But how was man to get this supernatural power? Rome’s answer: Monasticism—a life of self-denial, poverty, pilgrimages, doing penance, obeying Rome, etc—in other words, sacred work.
Donum Superadditum Rejected
The Reformers rightly rejected the doctrine of donum superadditum, as well as the claim that man’s nature is inherently defective. Instead they believed that “. . . God created man good, and after His own image, that is, in righteousness and true holiness; that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal blessedness, to praise and glorify Him.” (Heidelberg Catechism)
The true problem is that man has fallen from his first state, becoming corrupt and alienated from God. Man, therefore, does not need an additive—he needs restoration. This restoration comes not by any work of man, but is a free gift of God (grace), through the work of Christ.
The Sacred/Secular Split Rejected
Along with the rejection of donum superadditum came the rejection of its offspring: the sacred/secular split. In its place the Reformers taught the Biblical doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.
But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light
1 Peter 2:9
Far from Monasticism, which required the rejection of secular work, the Reformers taught that all legitimate work done in faith pleases God. Furthermore, when we are performing that work, we are rendering worship unto the Lord—we are acting in our capacity as priests unto the Most High God. There is, therefore, no spiritual elite, and there certainly is no divide between sacred and secular work.
This is a wonderful thing, that the Savior of the world, and the King above all kings, was not ashamed to labor; yea, and to use no simple an occupation. Here he did sanctify all manner of occupations.
Hugh Latimer, English Puritan and Martyr