ARE YOU A REVEREND PREACHER?
T. PIERCE BROWN
This article is written primarily to help those of us who are conservative,
and have been brought up with a great deal of respect for the Bible and
the principles of the Restoration Movement to re-examine our viewpoint
constantly, and see how much of our language and teaching is Bible based,
and how much of it is merely repetition — sometimes out of context — of
some good thought, phrase, or slogan of past years.
Most of us, for example, could not tolerate anyone “joining a church,” and
at best would smile condescendingly in a tolerant awareness that anyone
who used the phrase was but a babe in Christ, probably recently converted
from denominationalism. And yet, in its proper context, one would have to
admit that Paul at least attempted to do that, and probably did, after his
efforts as recorded in Acts 9:26, which says, “He assayed to join himself
to the disciples.” Of course this is not the same as the denominational
concept of “joining the church.” But opposing the usual use of the term
because of its odious and unscriptural denominational connotations in any
particular case is one thing, and being opposed to it because “we do not
use that phrase in thechurchofChrist” is something else.
We generally have the same abhorrence for the expression “my church.”
I have no idea how many times I have gently (?) tried to explain, “It is not
MY church; it is the Lord’s church,” when some deluded friend would ask
me about it. Why I could say, “my Lord,” “my family,” “my country” or
“my political party,” but could not say “my church” in exactly the same
sense, I have not been able to explain to the satisfaction of many who ask.
I have even had persons refer to me as “my preacher,” but do not recall
rebuking them for it, although I did not belong to them. I am the Lord’s
preacher, but it did not occur to me to make an issue of it and say, “I am
not YOUR preacher; I am the Lord’s preacher.”
As long as I remember teaching anything, I believe I have taught that the
term “Reverend” should not be applied to the preacher of the gospel
because THE TERM IS USED ONLY ONCE IN THE BIBLE AND IT
THERE APPLIES TO GOD. I agree with a brother Benjamin Franklin
who said, “There is no more reason or gospel for addressing a preacher
differently from other men than there is for a preacher to be attired
differently. If a man is not preacher enough to be known as a preacher,
without the white neckties or the priestly coat, let him pass without being
known.” Not one person in one hundred seems to know the proper the
proper SOCIAL way to use the title, even if were used proper religiously.
For example, a letter should not be addressed to “Rev. John Smith” even
if it were scriptural to call him “Reverend.”
But I am now suggesting that although I am still opposed to the term being
used as it generally is, the primary reason I have given in the past now
seems rather unscriptural and perhaps asinine. The word that was
translated “reverend” in Psa. 111:9 is from the Hebrew “yare,” and from
the Greek (Septuagint) “phoberon.” It could as properly have been
translated “fearful,” “terrible,” or “awful.” In fact, although only once
translated “reverend,” it IS translated “fearful” at least four times, and
“terrible” twenty four in the Authorized version.
Suppose the translators had properly translated it “awful” or “fearful”
in this place, what would have happened to our argument? Of course it
would be just as scriptural for someone to call me “The Terrible Mr.
Brown” or “The Awful Mr. Brown” as it would be to call me “The
Reverend Mr. Brown,” for they all come from the same Hebrew word.
And it would be just as unscriptural. However, the reason is NOT that
“the term is used only once in the Bible and refers only to God” if we
are referring to the original text. That simply is not so.
In Ephesians 4:33, we are told that the wife is to see that she reverence
(fear) her husband. The word is “phobeomai,” with the same basic
meaning as the word in Psalm 111:9. If my wife is to reverence me,
could she properly refer to me as “The Reverenced Pierce Brown”?
I feel sure that I have been referred to as “The Terrible Pierce Brown”
on more than one occasion!
In the light of what I think I know at this moment, it seems to me that
the reason for ministers of Christ (whether preachers or other kinds
of ministers) not to use those titles, whether those titles be “Reverend,”
“Fearful” or “Terrible” is not because the term applies only to God
(for it does not), but because God does not authorize His servants to
set themselves apart by the use of such titles (Matthew 23:8-12).
Reverend Woods, Dreadful Brown, Saint Baxter, Terrible Pack and
Brother Warren are equally out of place when used as TITLES OF
EXALTATION or separation of the “clergy” from the “laity.” But I
do not know how many times I have allowed someone to introduce me
along with the elders and deacons or other members as Mr. Smith,
Mr. Jones and Brother Brown, our Minister. Whether spoken or
written, it was understood that the “B” in “Brother” and the “M” in
“Minister” were both capitalized.
I have even rebuked a radio announcer on the air for referring to me as
“Reverend” after he had been told not to privately two or three times.
But I would never have rebuked him for referring to me as “Brother”
with exactly the same meaning as far as he and about 99% of the
audience were concerned. For he was not my “Brother” in a religious
sense. Do you wonder what I might have said if he had introduced me
as “Saint Brown” (for if the Saints were inCorinth, some might have
been here), or “The Holy Mr. Brown” as 1 Peter1:15suggests I am
supposed to be. David said, “Holy and reverend (awful, terrible) is His
name.” But Peter says I am to be holy as He is holy. Is it possible that
I am to be reverend also, since He who called me is reverend? Is my
wife the only one who is to reverence me?
In my judgment, one of the reasons for some of the defections from The
Faith is that there are those of us who should have had more sense, who
have allowed unsound exegesis to be used to uphold some position
which we have traditionally espoused, and when immature minds have
discovered our unsound foundation on that point, they have “thrown
the baby out with the wash.”
We are aware that in this short article we have not done justice to the
subject of what is wrong with wearing religious titles. That was not our
purpose. Our purpose is simply to help us think a little more deeply
and soundly, and having thought thus, “be able to give an answer to
every person that asks us a reason for the hope that is within us, with
meekness and fear.”