SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT RELIGIOUS TITLES

Among those who profess to believe in Jesus, it is quite common to see the use of religious titles for those who serve in some special capacity, perhaps as a preacher or some other leader. Jesus had some things to say about such a practice.

In one instance during the last week of His life, the Christ “spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples” (Matthew 23:1). Consider this analysis of the first portion of His message to that audience:

  • –  Do not act like the scribes and Pharisees (23:1-4).
  • –  The scribes and Pharisees love to be seen and

    honored by other humans (23:5-7).

  • –  Condemnation of religious titles (23:8-10)
  • –  The need to be humble servants (23:11,12)

    Whatever one’s personal opinions might be about religious titles, we need to acknowledge the authority of Jesus and be willing to submit to His will in this and all other matters. You agree with that, correct? Here is what the Master said in this regard: “But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father, for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled . . .” (Matthew 23:8-11).

    Q: Jesus said to call no one “father.” Does that mean it is wrong in every case to refer to a human as

one’s “father?” No. The Bible speaks about “human fathers” who discipline their children (Hebrews 12:9) and have the duty of raising their kids in the way of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Paul described himself as a father to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:15). Why? Because he had taught them the gospel. He was not, however, elevating himself and calling himself “Father Paul” as a religious title.

Q: Jesus said not to be called “teachers” because He is our teacher. Does this mean that it would be wrong in each instance to call a person “a teacher” on the earth? No. In the church at Antioch, there were teachers (Acts 13:1). They were so designated by divine authority, because it was the Christ who gave the role of teachers in the church (Ephesians 4:11).

Q: What was it, then, that Jesus was condemning

with those words that are recorded in Matthew 23:8- 10? The word “Rabbi” means teacher (23:7), and some of the scribes and Pharisees loved to be greeted in such a fashion. Among the Jews, the word “Rabbi” had come to be more than a designation for the role that one played. They used it as a title of honor. In reality, Jesus is our Rabbi/Teacher. What Jesus was condemning was the use of religious titles by which some were elevated above others. The widespread use of religious titles today among the professed followers of Jesus has no biblical precedent or authority. Despite its popularity, it is a man-made practice, and humanly-devised doctrines and actions do not have the Lord’s approval (Matthew 15:9,13).

Q: In the New Testament, what is one called who gives himself to the preaching of the gospel? He is referred to as a (gospel) “preacher” (1 Timothy 2:7) or “evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). Note, however, that the words “preacher” and “evangelist” are not titles, but rather describe the work that a brother is doing.

Q: What about the title “Reverend,” is that scriptural? No. There is not one bit of evidence in the Bible that a preacher of God’s gospel should be identified as “Reverend.” We are obligated to speak as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11); calling a preacher “Reverend” fails to do that because such a title is unauthorized and unfindable in the Bible. Those who call themselves or other preachers in their religious group “Reverend” are violating Jesus instruction not to use religious titles (Matthew 23:8- 10).

Q: What other religious titles are used among those who claim to be Christian groups? “Pope” (goes beyond the doctrine and authority of the Christ, 2 John 9); “Father” (violates Matthew 23:9); “Cardinal” (not found in the Bible); “Sister,” that is, nuns who are not allowed to marry – while the Bible speaks of sisters in the Lord (James 2:15), you will never find anything in the Scriptures which indicates that anyone should use “Sister” as a religious title.

Let us learn to be humble servants (Matthew 23:11,12). As we do that, we will have no desire to “crown” ourselves with religious titles, nor will we in any fashion condone the use of religious titles, period.

— Roger D. Campbell

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