By Any Other Name?

single roseIn a previous post, I mentioned that I would be open to receiving and answering questions from the web ‘community’. The following is a query from my physical and spiritual father:

Is the word ” Reverend”…irreverent? Where did the word come from and why do some use it in churches and some do not…some ministers like it and some don’t? a Pastor recently told me NOT to call him ‘Dominee’ [dutch for Reverend?] because of its implications meaning ‘domineering’ he says.

First, the origin of Reverend is derived from the word Latin reverendus meaning ‘one who is to be respected.’ (source) This meaning certainly accords with the scripture’s command to “obey those who rule over you, and be submissive” (Hebrews 13:17) and “to recognize those who labor among you… and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake” (1 Thessalonians 5:13).

However, all words change over time and certainly the term ‘Reverend’ does not mean exactly the same thing today as it did back in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries from where it originated. In my understanding, today it simply indicates one who holds an official, pastoral position and so it functions more as a indicator of the office and calling in the church than it does of the character of the man. So, for example, I often sign my name to church correspondence as “Rev. Daniel Kok” to communicate the fact that I am writing something or ‘approving’ of something in an official capacity. It is, then, simply a useful designation without being a scripturally sanctioned title.

I rarely if ever use this title, though, to introduce or speak of myself because of the connotations it might carry, such as worthy of being revered (see Acts 10:26 & Revelation 22:9), or possibly, as per the Dutch example you gave, a misunderstanding of how much I like to rule the church with an iron fist!

But, as you noted, many ministers and churches do not use this ‘address.’ Some will cite Matthew 23:8-10 to forbid the use of any and all titles in the church. However, Rabbi, Teacher and Father are, clearly, titles given in place of our one Rabbi & Teacher (Christ) and Father who is God, as opposed to simply designating someone with a particular responsibility. For the context that our Lord is speaking of is that of pride (vs. 5,6&11,12) not nomenclature.

In addition, some Christians eschew formal titles because  they think their use exalts the clergy over the laity and thus undermines the “priesthood of all believers” (see 1 Peter 2:9). Wishing to avoid all divisions amongst believers they will call themselves “brother so and so” or simply have others call them by their first name. Personally I don’t have a problem with this as long as it does not descend into false humility (Colossians 2:18).

Yet scripture does show us positive examples where titles or designations may be used. Peter, for example, calls those appointed to oversee the church “elders” (1 Peter 5:1ff.) and Paul tells Timothy to appoint “elders” in every city. (Titus 1:5). Paul signs his letters as an apostle (2 Corinthians 1:1) and calls for the elders and overseers of the church to hear him (Acts 20:17). When Paul was taken captive said “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people” (Acts 23:5). All of these titles are used to identify those whom, as we noted above, are worthy of honor for their work’s or calling’s sake.

Furthermore the titles of  ‘Pastor’ ‘Elder’ ‘Deacon’ etc. are not made/created by man but given to us by God in His Word. Yes, these words indicate the servant ‘posture’ of these offices, yet at the same time identify those who have been chosen to serve in an official capacity and who, by the Spirit, possess real authority as representatives of Christ (Acts 20:28).