While the church is responsible for the spiritual oversight of its members, and by church we mean the congregation of members in a collective sense, this does not exhaust the responsibilities of the disciple of Christ. Baptists believe that the NT teaches two other areas of responsibility that apply directly to the individual rather than to the church. The first of these is often called the priesthood of the believer and the second is the principle of soul liberty.
The apostle Paul made it clear that every believer has the privilege of direct access to the Father when he wrote, “there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). This access has been made possible by Jesus Christ, who is declared to be “a merciful and faithful High Priest” (Heb. 2:17) and “a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens” (Heb. 4:14). And the author of Hebrews further declares that Jesus “became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest” (Heb. 5:9-10). Believers, then, have a High Priest who has obtained forgiveness for his people by offering an acceptable sacrifice to God, that is, Himself, by which he saves eternally those who believe on him. The nature of Christ’s sacrifice is such that no other sacrifice is necessary, nor indeed can one even be offered on behalf of the sinner. To establish a priestly system or to treat the Lord’s supper as a sacrifice which secures grace for the penitent is to suggest that the death of Christ was insufficient to save sinners, in effect, it is to commit blasphemy. By virtue of the blood of Christ, every believer has been granted direct access to the Father and is qualified as a priest. Of course, this does not mean that Christians are able to offer forgiveness of sins to others – only the blood of Christ can do that – but we are able to offer other sacrifices, such as intercessory prayer (1 Tim. 2:1-2), ministry for the good of others (Phil. 2:17), sharing the gospel (Rom. 15:16), generous and sacrificial giving (Phil. 4:15-19; Heb. 13:16), and offering praise to God (Heb. 13:15).
In addition to the priestly privilege of access to the Father, every believer has the responsibility to understand and obey God’s requirements for himself or herself. This means that every Christian must read and study the Scriptures in order to understand what God expects him to believe and to do. Believers must learn how to study the Bible and put together its truths in a consistent and orderly way, and so the church must be committed to equip its members to study and understand Scripture for themselves (Eph. 4:11-16). It is not enough for one to be a member of a Bible-believing church, or to rely solely on the knowledge and interpretive skills of a pastor or teaching. As author Kevin Bauder has written, “No one can understand the Bible for a believer. No one can obey God for a believer. All believers must understand and obey the Bible for themselves.” In all this we must remember the admonition of Paul, who said, “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). Baptists believe that every Christian has been given the right to enter boldly into God‘s presence and the responsibility to answer directly to God for his obedience.