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Religious titles in the churches

Query for the Month

of August 2003

Next up-date: September 1st 2003 (God willing).

Previous "Queries" are available. Click here to access.

Some perpetual questions ....

Is there really an immortal soul?

What does it mean to "be led by the Spirit"?

Do you know the difference between the "love" that is of Christianity
and the "love" that is of the world?
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Matthew 23:

8 But be not you called “Rabbi” [or any other religious title denoting superiority]: for One is your Master, even Christ; and all you are brethren. 9 And call no man your father [in the religious sense] upon the earth: for One is your Father, which is in heaven.

10 Neither be you called “masters”: for One is your Master, even Christ. 11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your [greatest] servant. 12 And whoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

Why do so many churches seem to ignore this command?


To understand why these commands are passed over and openly transgressed today, we need to study history and see why the clergy of old did the same.

But first, according to our normal practice, let’s look at the context of these verses.

Matthew 23:

1 Then spoke Jesus to the multitude, and to His disciples, 2 saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: 3 all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not you after their works: for they say, and do not. 4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, 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 for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, 6 and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi."

[Phylacteries were little boxes containing Scriptures, and were tied to the forehead and left arm as a sign of devotion. In Jesus’ time the Pharisees liked to have big ones to show off even more. Of course, God wanted the principles of the words in their minds, not literal boxes on their bodies! It was the same with the borders of their garments – this border distinguished them as officials of the church. The bigger the border, the higher the position. Today the clergy use collars and uniforms.]

Jesus continued:

8 "But be not you called Rabbi [master]: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all you are brothers and sisters. 9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. 10 Neither be you called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. 11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted."

Here He tells us that the title "Rabbi", or "Master", belongs to Him and that of "Father" belongs to God. The officials of the church have taken the titles to themselves because they believe that so doing makes them more special. But God’s word says,

Exodus 20:7

"You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain."

The reason for this command is given: we are not to swear "by the heaven, for it is the throne of God; nor by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Neither shall you swear by your head, for you can not make one hair white or black." Matthew 5:34-26. All things come from God. We have nothing that we have not received; and, more than this, we have nothing that has not been purchased for us by the death of Christ.

This commandment not only prohibits false oaths and common swearing, but it forbids us to use the name of God in a light or careless manner, without regard to its awful significance. By the thoughtless mention of God in common conversation, by appeals to Him in trivial matters, and by the frequent and thoughtless repetition of His name, we dishonour Him. "Holy and reverend in his name." Psalm 11:9. We should all meditate upon His majesty, His purity and holiness, that our hearts may be impressed with a sense of His exalted character; and His holy name uttered with reverence and solemnity.

It is not men whom we are to exalt and worship; it is God, the only true and living God, to whom our worship and reverence are due. According to the teaching of Jesus, it dishonours God to address ministers as "reverend" or "father". No mortal has any right to attach this title to his own name, or to the name of any other human. It belongs only to God, to distinguish Him from every other being. We dishonour God when we use these words where they do not belong. The Father and the Son alone are to be exalted.

The scribes and Pharisees taught much else that was contrary to the Scriptures. Jesus said, "They bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers." The Pharisees commanded a multitude of regulations, having their foundation in tradition, and unreasonably restricting personal liberty. And certain portions of the law they so explained as to impose upon the people observances which they themselves secretly ignored, and from which, when it served their purpose, they actually claimed exemption.

To make a show of their piety was their constant aim. Nothing was held too sacred to serve this end. To Moses God had said concerning His commandments, "You shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes." Deuteronomy 6:8. These words have a deep meaning. As the word of God is meditated upon and practiced, the whole man will be ennobled in spirit, mind and body. In righteous and merciful dealing, the hands will reveal the principles of God's law. They will be kept clean from bribes, and from all that is corrupt and deceptive. They will be active in works of love and compassion. The eyes, directed toward a noble purpose, will be clear and true. The expressive countenance, the speaking eye, will testify to the blameless character of him who loves and honours the word of God.

But by the Jews of Christ's day all this was undiscerned. The command given to Moses was construed into a direction that the precepts of Scripture should be worn upon the person. They were accordingly written upon strips of parchment, placed in a box and bound in a conspicuous manner about the head and arm. But this did not cause the law of God to take a firmer hold of the mind and heart. These parchments were worn merely as badges, to attract attention. They were thought to give the wearers an air of devotion which would command the reverence of the people.

Jesus struck a blow at this vain pretence.

"But all their works they do for to be seen of men . . ." In such plain words the Saviour revealed the selfish ambition that was ever reaching for place and power, displaying a mock humility, while the heart was filled with avarice and envy. When persons were invited to a feast, the guests were seated according to their rank, and those who were given the most honourable place received the first attention and special favours. The Pharisees were ever scheming to secure these honours. This practice Jesus rebuked.

If Christ were on earth today, surrounded by those who demand the title of "Reverend" or "Right Reverend," or "Father" would He not repeat His saying, "Neither be you called masters: for One is your Master, even Christ"? The Scripture declares of God, "Holy and reverend is His name." Psalm 111:9. To what human being is such a title befitting? How little does man reveal of the wisdom and righteousness it indicates! How many of those who assume these titles are misrepresenting the name and character of God! The only title we have the right to use is "sister" or "brother" for we are all brethren, of one family, children of one Father.

Alas, how often have worldly ambition, despotism, and the basest sins been hidden under the embroidered garments of a pretended high and holy office!

The Saviour continued:

"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." Again and again Christ had taught that true greatness is measured by moral worth. In the estimation of heaven, greatness of character consists in living for the welfare of our fellow men, in doing works of love and mercy. James 1:27. Christ the King of glory was a servant to fallen man and took no titles to Himself except that given by God. Hebrews 5:4-5.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites," said Jesus; "for you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for you neither go in yourselves, neither suffer you them that are entering to go in." By perverting the Scriptures, the priests and teachers blinded the minds of those who would otherwise have received a knowledge of Christ's kingdom, and that inward, divine life which is essential to true holiness.

The mystery of the cross explains all other mysteries. In the light that streams from Calvary the attributes of God which in the past had filled us with fear and awe now appear beautiful and attractive. Mercy, tenderness, and parental love are seen to blend with holiness, justice, and power. While we behold the majesty of His throne, high and lifted up, we see His character in its gracious manifestations, and comprehend, as never before, the significance of that endearing title, "Our Father."

Well would it be for the church and the world if the principles that actuated the early Christians were revived in the hearts of God's professed people. There is an alarming indifference in regard to the doctrines which are the pillars of the Christian faith. The opinion is gaining ground, that, after all, these are not of vital importance. This degeneracy is strengthening the hands of the agents of Satan, so that false theories and fatal delusions which the faithful in ages past imperilled their lives to resist and expose, are now regarded with favour by thousands who claim to be followers of Christ.

The early Christians were indeed a peculiar people. Their blameless behaviour and unswerving faith were a continual reproof that disturbed the sinner's peace. Though few in numbers, without wealth, position, or honorary titles, they were a terror to evildoers wherever their character and doctrines were known. Therefore they were hated by the wicked, even as Abel was hated by the ungodly Cain. For the same reason that Cain slew Abel, those who sought to throw off the restraint of the Holy Spirit, wanted to put to death God's people. It was for the same reason that the Jews rejected and crucified the Saviour--because the purity and holiness of His character was a constant rebuke to their selfishness and corruption.

From the days of Christ until now His faithful disciples have excited the hatred and opposition of those who love and follow the ways of sin. We cannot expect anything different in the future.

One final word:

James 2:

1 My brothers and sisters, have not the faith of our LORD Jesus Christ, the LORD of glory, with respect of persons. 2 For if there come to your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel [with the uniform of a clergyman], and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment [civilian clothes]; 3 and you have respect to him that wears the gay clothing [the religious uniform], and say to him, "Sit you here in a good place;" and say to the poor, "Stand you there, or sit here under my footstool:" 4 are you not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges [acceptors] of evil thoughts?

5 Hearken, my beloved brothers and sisters, Has not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He has promised to them that love him? 6 But you have despised the poor.

Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? 7 Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which you are called [Christ-ian]? 8 If you fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself", you do well: 9 but if you have respect to persons, you commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.


"But all their works they do for to be seen of men." This is how Jesus summed it up. The "clergy" have always been tainted with this principle by the very nature of their calling. When men and women separate themselves to be "bosses" in the church then they take the place of God and in their minds see no reason why they cannot bear His name. Commencing with the respect offered to them by those they consider to be the less favoured of the church, it soon progresses to the point where they "demand" the right to superiority. If we bow to this authority then we stand convicted of sin! (James 2:9 above.)


Who wants to add (or subtract!) from these thoughts? I won't argue as I have stated, but I will publish your Scriptures so that we may review all the words of God on the subject.
Next query. To be discussed from September 1st 2003.

Genesis 12:

1 Now the LORD had said to Abram, "Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you: 2 and I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing: 3 and I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you: and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed."

If the LORD’s intended blessing was for the FAMILIES of the earth, where do the nations come from?

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