In Christendom such titles as "reverend" or "Lord" etc. are universally used. One defending this, has said that "one of the most crying sins of the age is the lack of respect and reverence for God's preachers, and so the taking of a title is justified for the purpose of official identification." However, will the taking of a title produce such respect? How could it, when there are so very many of those who boast that "official recognition" live lives of worldly selfseeking and often of downright ungodliness and wickedness? For such to boast a title does not improve respect for them but it certainly lowers the very meaning of the word "reverend". The Pharisees of our Lord's day took a special place and weakened their authority by the shameful lives most of them lived, for which our Lord rebuked them so sharply. A title does not make a man respected if his life is commonplace or evil; but an absence of a title does not in any wise hinder people from recognizing the moral and spiritual worth of the true servant of Christ; or from honoring and respecting such an one. It is still to be true that "by their fruits ye shall know them."
And, as to "official identification", where in the New Testament is there the slightest hint of officialdom? Christianity knows nothing whatever of the official class, though professing, worldly religionism makes so much of this. Elders and deacons, as a group in each local church, were given a particular position, but nowhere is an individual believer set above his brethren. There is no such thing in Scripture as a special class among believers. One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren- all on the same level. Every believer is a priest- I Pet. 2:5- and only one is over them, Jesus Christ as our great High priest. There is no such thing as human ordination. To countenance it is in principle unfaithfulness to God, for if He gives a believer a gift, he is surely unfaithful to Him when he goes to any man, or body of men, for his or their authorization or approval.
One writer goes so far as to say that "to disapprove of the taking of titles is pharasaical hypercriticism of others in a 'little' thing." Is it a "little thing to take a title and thus set oneself above the Lord Jesus Himself, who, though chief of all, became last of all and least of all? I fail to grasp such a contention.
In insisting on the evil of taking a title, one is fully conscious of the fact that many godly servants of Christ do accept this official distinction without, on their part, any superior attitude or conceit. They accept it in good faith. But what makes this so difficult to understand is the fact that the same title is taken by tens of thousands of modernistic apostates who deny every vital truth of the Christian faith; it is taken by every Romish priest; many of whom know nothing experientially of saving faith; it is taken by myriads who are turned out of religious schools as so-called ministers and who yet have never been saved at all.
Why should a true believer in Christ ally himself with this vast crowd of unbelievers or apostates by taking the same title? Does not the Word of God plainly tell believers not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers.
But let's forget about these reasons and arguments, and hear what God says to us through His Word. God's Word is the humble saint's only and all-sufficient authority.
Needless to say, the New Testament. by precept and example; in its teaching and in the whole tenor of its truth, condemns the taking of titles. No one set a more potent example in this regard than our blessed Lord Himself. Read Phil. 2:510 and remember that "He made Himself of no reputation", but walked in the path of lowly humility. When He spoke He did not demand a hearing because of Who He was or because of a title He took, but solely because He spoke the truth. John 8:26: "If I say the truth, why do ye not believe Me?" When He stood in the synagogue or elsewhere, He was in men's eyes only a poor carpenter's son, accredited by no school or set of men, nor recognized by a title.
In His direct teaching, in Matt. 23, He said that both the taking and giving of titles is wrong. "Be not ye called Rabbi, for One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth, for One is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters, for One is your Master, even Christ"Matt. 23:8-10. "Rabbis" forbids titles among the Jews; "father" among the Catholics; "master, or teacher," among the professing Church. Instead of being somebody "he that is greatest among you shall be your servant, and whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted"- Matt. 23:11-12.
The whole tenor of the New Testament is of the same kind. In the book of Acts there is not a semblance of official recognition. The great apostle Paul spoke of himself so often as the "bondslave" of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist said "He must increase, but I must decrease."- John 3:30. He only claimed to be a "voice".
Hear the words of our Lord Jesus:
"Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven"- Matt. 18:4. Do you ever think of addressing a child as "reverend?"
"But it shall not be so among you, but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister, and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant"- Matt. 20:26-27. See also Mark 9:33-37; and Luke 9:46-48.
And our holy Lord Himself said: "I receive not honor from men"- John 5:41. If He didn't; then how should we?
Now let us listen to one who perhaps, from the human point of view, was worthy of honor more than any man that ever lived. Let us listen to Paul as he speaks by the power of -the Holy Spirit:
"Who then is Paul and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man. I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then, neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase"- I Cor. 3-5-7.
"And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes, that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. For who maketh thee to differ from another, and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now, if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it? Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us; and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you. For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death, for we are made a spectacle unto the world, (no recognition by the world here, is there?) and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honorable but we are despised. Even unto this present hour we both hunger and thirst and are naked and are buffeted and have no certain dwelling place. And labor, working with our own hands, being reviled we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it. Being defamed, we entreat; we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day."- I Cor. 4:6-13.
"Do we begin again to commend ourselves (by title for instance), or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation from you?"- 2 Cor. 3:1.
"But in all things approving ourselves, as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses"2 Cor. 6:4.
"As unknown, and yet well known." 2 Cor. 6:9. Of our Lord it is said that "the world knew Him not"- I John 3: 1, and hence it does not know us either. The world knew our Lord by His mighty deeds which He did; by the powerful truths He preached, by the holy life He lived (and the world is to know us also by what we do and are); not by the title we take.
"Not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth"- I Cor. 10:18.
If one wants recognition from the world, then there is good reason to take the title of "reverend" or some other title; but then, since when is the Christian to seek this world's approval or recognition? He is, of course, to show himself approved unto God- 2 Tim. 2:15. If men approve of him also, well and good, but if they don't it matters not at all. The servant of Christ's whole ambition is to "live unto Him Who died for us"- 2 Cor. 4:15.
Paul wrote to Timothy: "Let no man despise thy youth. He did not say "despise thy title, did he? Often when some young preacher, barely out of seminary, tells you he is Rev. so and so, you can't help despising the title if such as he have a right to it, while at the same time, you pity the holder of it. But not let one despise your youth (and they won't) when your life is an example to the believers, in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in purity"- I Tim. 4:12.
Servants of Christ are not to be known by the title they may carry, which often means less than nothing (depending on who carries it) but by the ministry they bring and the life they live, as we read in I Thess. 5:12-13: "And we beseech you, brethren, to know them (by their title?) no, but as they labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly, for their work's sake. "
So . . . Reverend? Not if you want to walk in the way of the Lord, of His apostles and of many godly, humble servants of Christ since. And above all, not if you want to be obedient to the teaching and the tenor of the Word of God.
-August Van Ryn