I shocked a friend once by telling him that I was an undercover catholic priest. I explained that God had called me out of professional ministry to the humbler station of laity, though I maintained my catholic priesthood undercover. I could not get him to believe me, but Scripture suggests that any believer in Christ can make this claim.
9) But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10) In the past, you were not a people, but now are God's people, who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
11) Beloved, I beg you as foreigners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 12) having good behavior among the nations, so in that of which they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they see, glorify God in the day of visitation.
13) Therefore subject yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether to the king, as supreme; 14) or to governors, as sent by him for vengeance on evildoers and for praise to those who do well. 15) For this is the will of God, that by well-doing you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: 16) as free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bondservants of God.I Peter 2:9-16 (WEB)
Peter tells us that every believer is part of a royal priesthood. Under the Old Covenant only the descendants of Aaron were priests. However, under the New Covenant all Jesus’ disciples are priests. Further, this priesthood is royal! This is no paltry office portrayed with special clothing and ceremony. Rather this office is high, undeserved, and bestowed upon us through the precious blood of Christ. Let us live up to it!
Peter also explains that believers have received the title of "God’s people." We are not a divided congregation, but one people possessed by one God, Jesus Christ. The Roman Catholic Church attempted to enforce this unity on the family of Christ by the use of the word ‘catholic,’ which means ‘universal’ with a lower case ‘c.’ This was a noble, but misdirected effort.
No man-made organization will ever be able to put their arms around all Christians universally. Rather, the true ‘catholic’ or universal church is and will always be simply those people everywhere with true faith in Christ. Thus in a very Biblical sense I am a catholic priest, not serving as a professional minister, but as an undercover agent of grace.
That said I will share two observations I have made while in this station. First, Peter urges us in the verse above to have ”good behavior.” One painful lesson I have re-learned is that I am a sinner the same as all my friends, family, and colleagues, but now with no ministry title to hide behind. I get angry. I get impatient. I am tempted to lie and steal. I lust. I am not making excuses or minimizing Peter’s exhortation to pursue holiness. However, I am reminding us that doing right in the world is not going to be easy. We truly need Peter’s exhortation to be good. For example, it is one thing to ask forgiveness from brothers in the Lord when I mess up, but quite another to ask forgiveness from those that may or may not love our Lord. Grace may not be extended. Understand also that I am not saying that those with a ministry title are hiding behind it, but the temptation to hide instead of fulfilling our calling will be there or anywhere.
Another painful lesson I have learned is that most people do not want Christianity preached at street level. Peter reminds us above that there are “foolish men.” There are men that would gladly sit in front of a pulpit Sunday after Sunday. Yet the rest of their week is filled with cursing, drunkenness, adultery, pornography, crude jokes, gambling, godlessness, greed, abortion, and lying. A pastor should not imagine that the happy, godly, and orthodox people he sees at church are happy, godly, or orthodox when away from church. Expose the false religion of these charlatans and you take your life in your hands! Undercover work may be needed to unearth this hypocrisy, but expect suffering in the process.
Remember that Jesus himself revealed his glory only to a few, but otherwise remained undercover in order to submit to crucifixion by Jew and gentile, and thus expose the hypocrisy of us all. So whether you remain a professional minister or laity I invite you to likewise follow Christ as an undercover catholic priest.