One of the most distinctive features of early Protestantism is its strongly democratizing outlook. The riches of the Christian faith were not to be restricted to those who spoke Latin – the language of the academy and church. As a matter of principle, religious resources were to be presented in a language understood by ordinary people – in other words, the vernacular. Most Protestants attached especial importance to three such resources: the Bible; the liturgy; and the sermon. For Luther and other early Protestant reformers, all believers had a right to have access to the Bible, to worship, and to Christian education – and that meant that these resources had to be made accessible to them, by delivering them in a language they could understand.
This theme of spiritual democratization is also evident in Luther’s doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers.” There was no basis, Luther argued, for asserting that the clergy were superior to the laity, as if they were some kind of spiritual elite, or that their ordina- tion conferred upon them some special “indelible character.” The clergy are merely laity who have been recognized by other laity within the community of the church as having special gifts, and are authorized by their colleagues to exercise a pastoral or teaching min- istry among them. The authority to make such decisions thus rests with all Christians, not with an autocratic elite or putative spiritual aristocracy.
Luther develops this point using a civil analogy: the clergy are “office-holders,” who are elected by the laity as their representatives, teachers, and leaders. There is no fundamental difference between clergy and laity in terms of their status; the difference lies entirely in the former being elected to the “office” of a priest. All believers already have this status, on account of their baptism. This election to office is reversible; those who are thus chosen can be de-selected if the occasion demands it.