It is a common assumption today that every minister ought to be addressed as “reverend.” Fortunately, though, many ministers are rejecting the use of this title, recognizing that it is unauthorized by the Bible, contrary to the Bible doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, and divisive to the cause of Christ.
The word “reverend” comes from the Latin word reverendus, meaning “worthy of respect.” The dictionary defines it as “a title of respect often used with the name of a clergyman.” “Reverend” is found only one time in the King James Version of the Bible. An unknown psalmist wrote, “He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name” (Psalm 111:9). The application of the term is to God, not a man. The word is used frequently in the original languages of the Bible, but it is always applied to God, and never to man. Since the practice of using the title “reverend” is so popular today, it may be surprising to remember that neither Jesus nor any of the disciples ever used this or any other man-made title. There is never any mention of “Reverend Paul,” or the “Right Reverend John,” or the “Reverend Mr. Peter.” The use of titles such as “reverend” by the humble servants of Christ would have been contrary to their attitude of service to Christ.
Paul said, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14). In other words, Paul was saying that he would glory in nothing but the cross of Christ. He demonstrated his humble attitude toward serving Christ many times in his letters. Paul was well educated and could have claimed human titles, but he chose to give all of these up for Christ (see Philippians 3:1-7). He began some letters with the words, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.” Many times he simply referred to himself as “a servant” or “a bondservant.” The desire to use man-made religious titles such as “reverend” comes from a desire for exaltation. We must remember the words of Christ: “Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).
The use of titles such as “reverend” helps to perpetuate a wrong concept of the nature of those who serve Christ. Peter referred to all Christians, not just a select clergy, as “an holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5). The clergy/laity division of our religious world is a man-made division. Though some, because of special training and a special desire to serve God may serve as ministers or preachers [not titles but descriptive terms of service], and may be called ministers [servants], in actuality every Christian is a minister, or servant, when he serves God. We need to reestablish the concept of the priesthood of all believers in service to Christ. Jesus warned, “Be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren” (Matthew 23:8).
By Bob Prichard
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