Most all church of Christ preachers have been called at one time or another “Reverend” or “Rev.” Such religious titles are commonly worn by the “clergy” of the denominations and, judging the churches of Christ to be just another denomination, they refer to gospel preachers just like they refer to the denominational clergy. I refuse to accept the religious titles commonly worn by denominational clergymen.
No New Testament Authority
Though there were many gospel preachers in the first century, not one of them accepted and wore a religious title. I cannot read where Paul was ever called “Reverend Paul,” Peter was ever called “Archbishop Peter,” James was ever called “Pope James,” Timothy was ever called “Pastor Timothy,” or John was ever referred to as “The Right Reverend, Dr. John.” The wearing of religious titles is a practice that arose centuries later. They were never worn with the approval of God by those in the Lord’s church. Consequently, I refuse to go beyond the things which God has revealed that we should do in our worship of Him (2 Jn. 9-11 ff; 1 Cor. 4:6; 1 Pet. 4:11; Rev. 22:18-19).
The Lord Jesus forbade the practice when He said, “But be not you called Rabbi; for one is your Master, even Christ; and all you are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be you called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ” (Matt. 23:8-10).
The wearing of religious titles to elevate one brother above another was soundly condemned by Jesus. The practice is contrary to the spirit of Christianity that “all you are brethren.”
Long ago Job said, “Let me not, I pray you, accept any man’s person, neither let me give flattering titles unto man. For I know not to give flattering titles; in so doing my maker would soon take me away” (Job 32:21-22).
Exalts Men Too Highly
Paul warned us “not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another” (1 Cor. 4:6). Man should not be an object of worship. Peter would not allow Cornelius to bow to him (Acts 10:26); an angel would not allow John to worship him (Rev. 22:9). Man steps outside his proper bounds of his habitation when he allows himself to be worshiped.
When man exalts himself through flattering titles he encourages others to offer praise to him, rather than giving praise to God. In this practice, man sins.
Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees saying that they “love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi. But be not you called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all you are brethren” (Matt. 23:6-8). By “all you are brethren,” Jesus forbade exalting one brother above another (Gal. 3:27-28 f; Jam. 2:14).
New Testament Terms Show What A Man Does
A man is a “doctor” because he doctors the sick; a man is a plumber because he plumbs; a man is a carpenter because he builds. These terms explain what a man does and are not titles. In the same way, the New Testament uses terms to describe what men do. A preacher (1 Tim. 2:7 f; 2 Tim. 1:11) preaches (2 Tim. 4:2). An evangelist (Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:5) evangelizes. (There is no difference in a preacher and an evangelist in the New Testament.) Overseers (Acts 20:28, sometimes translated “bishops”) oversee a local congregation. “Pastors” (Eph. 4:11) tend or shepherd a flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-3). These are not religious titles to exalt one brother over another, but are descriptive terms which tell what a man does.
Conclusion: We will do well to be reminded of the danger of wearing religious titles, even in incipient form, among us. Sometimes men who have academic degrees are advertised as gospel preachers with these titles: “Dr. . .” The term “brother,” which is used in the Bible to refer to a relationship sustained by all Christians, is sometimes reserved only for the preacher. Others are introduced by their names but the preacher is introduced as “Brother.” We must never forget that “all you are brethren” (Matt. 23:8).
The wearing of religious titles is a practice condemned of God. Let us avoid every form of evil (1 Thess. 5:21). Let us resolve to call no man father who is not our fleshly parent, who is neither married nor has children, and who does not teach the gospel which enables children to be begotten of God (1 Cor. 4:15); to call no man reverend who does not revere what God spoke about wearing religious titles (Matt. 23:9); to call no man pastor who does not meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 but usurps to himself the rule over a local congregation; to call no man bishop who oversees a collectivity of churches unknown to God’s word; to call no man cardinal who exalts himself as if he held a chief office in the church; and to call no man pope for God alone is our Father. David reminds us all, “He (God) sent redemption unto his people: He has commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is His name” (Ps 11:9).
Let God alone be exalted among those who profess to serve Him, and let those who desire to serve be contented to be called the servants of God (Acts 16:17)!