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No Titles, 7/24/16

One of the may areas of confusion in the American church and in churches in the world that were planted by western missionaries is the issue of titles.  It is the way of the world for titles to be associated with one's function in society like when we call the doctor named Jones, "Dr. Jones," or when we call the judge named Lewis "Judge Lewis."  It has long been a well held tradition in American churches for the pastor to be called "Pastor Smith," etc.  And these days there is a great increase of people calling themselves "Apostle Johnson" or "Prophet Williams" or "Evangelist Stevens" etc., turning the Ephesians 4:11 offices of the church into titles.  But what does the bible say about this?  Actually the scripture is very clear that God frowns on this kind of thing and Jesus made no bones in speaking about it. He said that it was the spirit of the pharisee that seeks to elevate itself by using a title and that we were not to do it:

Matthew 23 New King James Version (NKJV)
23 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. 4 For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. 6 They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ 8 But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. 11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

In this passage Jesus specifically names the titles of "Rabbi", "Teacher" and "Father" as titles that we are not to hold to ourselves.  But does it stop there? No, we need to understand that he is not only naming those three titles that were common in that cultural context but he is also illustrating a principle.  The principle he is teaching is that we are not to hold to ourselves titles of any kind.  So does this make every pastor who calls himself "Pastor Smith" a full-blown pharisee? No, but it does indicate that there is the influence of the demonic force called the spirit of the pharisee at work in his life, even if only a little.

Titles and using them lends itself to elitism and that is totally inconsistent with scriptural principle. In the family of God no one is more important than another, indeed those who would seem less important are more honored:

1 Corinthians 12:20-25 New King James Version (NKJV)
20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.

So this well held practice of calling the pastor 'Pastor Smith' is not biblical and is unhealthy, especially when the pastor desires to be addressed that way.  We need to repent of this practice and be more humble.  If the pastor is more mature than someone else then it is his duty to serve them with that maturity not elevate himself over them by holding a title to himself. Careful observation of these issues will show that the most mature spiritual leaders never use a title to in reference to themselves. God will be dealing with these things in the church in the times ahead and we would do very well to beat him to the punch and repent so that he does not have to beat it out of us as Jesus did when he whipped the pharisees in the temple:

John 2:13-17 New King James Version (NKJV)
13 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. 15 When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. 16 And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” 17 Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.”.

So let's dispense with religious elitism and humble ourselves and love one another as brothers, preferring others over ourselves and never elevating ourselves over one another with a title or any other device.  This will promote love and healthy mutual respect among members of the body of Christ and I hope we all want that.  Be blessed.

Steve Pursell, 7/24/16