T. Pierce Brown

It also may be true that “Consistency is a paste jewel that only cheap men cherish” if one is thinking of the value to being consistent even when wrong. One should neither be ashamed or afraid of changing (being inconsistent with his former views) when and if he discovers that his former position was wrong. In this article, I want to deal with a different aspect of the subject.

How often have you been nearby or involved in a conversation that went something like this: “I want you to meet my elders, Mr. White, Mr. Green and Mr. Black, my deacons, Mr. Redd and Mr. Bleu, and The Minister, Brother Brown?”  “TheChurchofChristdoes not believe in having a `clergy’ and `laity’, but we are just all the same.” “I am aChurchofChrist, and we do not believe in denominations, but always call Bible things by Bible names.” “We do not call our preacher `Reverend’ because that term is used only once in the Bible and it refers to God, and to him alone.” “We do not refer to `your church’ or `my church’ for the church belongs to Christ, so it is named `The Church of Christ’.”

Let us consider some things suggested by the above sentences. In the first place, if it is correct to refer to “my elders,” why is it not correct to refer to “my church?” Does “my country” mean that I think I own the country? Or does “my family” mean that I own the family, or that I am just a part of it? I am not implying that I think it is proper to refer to the Lord’s church as “my church” in many contexts. Any kind of situation where it would be implied that “my church” and “your church” are simply different religious organizations indicating that personal preference is the key to the difference would be improper.  I even think there may be situations where it would not be appropriate to refer to the “elders” as “pastors,” for the possibility of being misunderstood (in case you were not in position of explaining your Biblical usage in contradistinction to the denominational usage) might be greater than the value of showing off your knowledge that “pastor” and “elder” are both terms that often refer to the same person in the New Testament.

But I am suggesting that it is possible to “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” and make invalid arguments that are inconsistent with themselves and our actions. Even the statement made by many preachers, “The Baptist Church teaches–(whatever), but theChurchofChristteaches (different)” implies at least two things that are wrong: 1. That the Baptist church and thechurchofChristare two similar and valid religious organizations and 2. That “ChurchofChristdoctrine” is a valid or biblical concept. There are outstanding preachers whose names are “household words” in the brotherhood, who have written about what “The Church of Christ” believes and teaches. Not only does this suggest that “The Church of Christ” is a religious organization that has evolved, or at least has, a body of doctrines that can be properly called “ChurchofChristdoctrine,” but it has led some to scoffingly ask, “Which Church of Christ teaches that, for you are as divided as any other denomination?”

In the second place, what do you suppose is in the mind of a person who thinks of “his elders” as “Mister,” but “his preacher” as “Brother?” It matters little that he protests that there is no “clergy” nor “laity,” when his thinking, speaking and acting show that he conceives of them on a different plane, with The Minister on one level and all others on another.

In the third place, when a person says, “I am aChurchofChrist” (or even more reprehensibly), “I am aChurchofChrister,” and then says, “I do not believe in denominations,” we could well say as someone did to Peter, “Thy speech bewrayeth thee” (Matthew 26:73). Many persons connected with the church do not even know what a denomination is, but feel sure that it something besides “The Church of Christ” church. Most of us probably are aware of someone who belongs to some denomination that thinks it proper to call it a “non-denominational” church.

Probably the statement most widely used by almost everyone in the “brotherhood” is the one mentioned above concerning the use of “Reverend.” In the first place, the verse in Psalm 111:9 that says, “Holy and reverend is his name,” says “Holy is his name” in exactly the same sense that “Reverend is his name.” The Hebrew word “quadosh,” translated “holy” is equivalent to the Greek word, “hagios,” which is used in such passages as 1 Peter 1:15, “As him who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy.” If it is wrong for a man to be called something just because it applied in the Bible to God, then we could not be called “holy.” “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (1 Peter1:21).

The word “reverend” in Psalm 111:9 has the same root meaning as “reverence” in Ephesians 5:33, “Let the wife see that she reverence her husband.”

The thing that is wrong is not that a man is reverenced, respected, or recognized as a part of a “holy calling.” The thing that is wrong is that the preacher is given a title “Holy,” “Reverend,” “Brother,” “Father,” but others who are fathers, or brothers, or are to be reverenced and respected are called something else. A man who is a father in some sense may be called a father in that sense without violating the prohibition of Jesus in Matthew 23:9, for many persons in the Bible called others “father” without doing so in the sense he prohibited.

The main thing I am trying to emphasize here is that the principle Jesus was teaching when he prohibited calling persons “Rabbi” or “Father” may be violated just as much by designating a preacher as “Brother,” while others are given the more common title, “Mister.” I would oppose being called “Holy Brown,” not because “the term applies to God and to him alone,” for it does not! The term translated “reverend” is “yare” and is translated “terrible” twenty four times, “dreadful” 5 times, etc. One might wonder what would have happened if the King James Version had translated the expression, “Holy and dreadful is his name.”

I would oppose being called “Dreadful Brown” also, but not because the term is used of God and him alone! I would oppose it partly because if I am “Dreadful Brown,” I have no exclusive right to the title any more than I have to “Holy Brown,” or “Saint Brown.” Many an “ordinary” Christian has as much right to the title “dreadful” as I! If you are a Christian, you are holy and a saint (positionally) and should be actually. That is, you are “set apart for God’s use” in his purpose, and should be “set apart for God’s use” in practice.

The thing wrong with the title, “Reverend” is not that it is applied to God and him alone. Any title, whether it be “Reverend” or “The Minister,” or “Holy” that places one higher than another in a religious hierarchy is wrong. Even the term, “The Preacher,” or “The Teacher” if it is used to signify some special glory for the “office,” rather than to signify the work he does is wrong. In John 11:28, Martha says to Mary, “The Teacher is here, and calleth thee.” It is not appropriate for the exalted title “The Teacher,” which was used in speaking of our Lord, to be applied to one of his followers to signify some special glory of the “office” of teacher. But I may be called “a teacher” or “a minister” if I teach or serve, without violating the teaching of our Lord. But it is improper to say, “The term `teacher’ should not be applied to me because it is used in speaking of the Lord.”

Anyway, my plea in this article is for us to be as consistent as possible in our teaching and practice, and to be Biblical as possible in our exegesis.

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