Religious Titles

Mike Johnson

Most preachers use some type of religious title. Some call themselves “Reverend.” Priests in Catholicism are called “Father.” One religious organization (the Masons) refer to certain ones in their organization by such titles as “Worshipful Master” or “Most Worshipful Grand Master.” What does the Bible say about the use such religious titles?

First, consider the title “Reverend.” The word “reverend” is actually found only one time in the Bible (KJV). In Psalms 111:9, the Psalmist wrote, “ . . . holy and reverend is his name.” Here the term “reverend” applies to God (note verse 1) and is never applied to man, and man should not be so presumptuous as to take on a title for himself that is only used of God.

Another passage that would certainly pertain to this question is Matthew 23:5-12. This passage presents a pattern for not elevating men with fancy religious titles. Verses 8-12 says, “But be not ye called rabbi: for one is your Master even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your Father upon earth: for one is your father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” The Bible condemns the exalting of men with religious titles. Actually, the New Testament does not even teach a clergy/laity distinction. Preachers, as well as everyone else, should possess humility.

Gospel preachers are referred to in the Bible as “preachers” (I Tim. 2:7, Rom. 10:14); evangelists (II Tim. 4:5); ministers (I Thes. 3:2, Rom. 15:16); servants (Phil. 1:1-2, II Cor. 4:5); workers (II Cor. 6:1) etc. These are not even titles but refer to what the person does.

We do not read in the New Testament of “Reverend Paul,” “Doctor James,” “Father Peter,” or “Master Jude.” How were the preachers in the New Testament addressed? Consider II Peter 3:15 where Paul, an apostle, was simply spoken of as “our beloved brother Paul.” He was never called “Reverend,” nor were any of the other preachers in the New Testament.

People should think about what they are saying when they call a person “Reverend.” Also, preachers who wear this title should be asked to produce a passage to justify their practice (note I Pet. 4:11, II Jn. 9, Rev. 22:18-19).