Titles and Appellations

By Larry White
June 24, 2015

   Titles and monikers tend to be a maze of identity concerns in modern religion. It seems that every "Reverend" out there has some sort of special designation. The Bible is more simple in giving titles to the church's leaders, however people have taken descriptions of these leaders' function and turned them into even more titles, which they were not.

   Πρεσβύτερος [presbyteros] is the Greek word for Elder or old man, meaning older in the faith. That is from where the Presbyterians get their name.
   Then you have the word επίσκοπος [epískopos] which is the word  translated Overseer, and is literally epi = over, and skopos = to watch, from which the Episcopalians get their name. Episkopos is also rendered as Bishop in the KJV.
The English speakers struck off the first and last syllables from the Greek word leaving only piskop which, the Saxons slurred into Bishop.
   Then one more word is ποιμήν [poimen] which is Greek for a man who tends and keeps a flock of sheep, Shepherd or pastors, from which the Baptists get their leader's name. This word is only rendered "pastors" once by the KJV in Eph. 4:11 in the plural.

These words all refer to the same men or office these men hold.

1. Elders led the assembly due to their wisdom gained from their age in the faith and hence, their experience. As the writer of Hebrews says, "those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."

2. The Elders were also Overseers in their duty to "watch over" the assembly or flock and protect it. It also carries the idea of their job in more of an administrative capacity - Paul calls it governing. It is where we get the idea expressed in the word SuperVisor - to watch over - a position of authority.

3. The Elders were also called Shepherds in their role in tending,  feeding and caring for the flock, with the idea of sustenance and protection. They led by example, fed and nourished the flock by teaching and protected believers by argumentation, debates and warnings.

All of these are the same men, a plurality because there was never just one. There was always an Eldership, a group of elders in every local congregation. Their qualifications are set forth in 1Tim. 3 and Titus 1.

You can see the names of their functions in Paul's farewell to the Elders at Ephesus in Acts 20:28-31.

Speaking to the Elders he said,

"Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among your own selves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears."

You can see the wise simplicity of Christ's organization of his church in the first verse of Philippians chapter one.

"Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons."

Saints, Bishops and Deacons. God's organizational structure is quite simple. However, greedy and power hungry men did arise as Paul warned and have since turned church leadership into something quite different. Men in the "clergy" being above the rest of the mass of people is not what God intended. You can see this mainly in Catholicism and its several offshoots, viz. Lutherans, Anglicans, and Episcopalians. His assessment of "savage wolves" was right. But the Baptist "Pastor" system can be just as bad.

If you ever see one man ruling over a congregation of believers, turn around and walk out the door. Or, if you don't mind spending the time, you can try to reason with him from the scriptures. But that is the very thing to which he is not listening. So follow God with your feet.

Or even if you see one man dressed differently from everyone else, in robes or funny hats, don't give that man the time of day. Jesus said to never call a man Father (religiously) or even Rabbi, which means Teacher. Not to mention Your Eminence, Reverend, Very Reverend, Most Reverend, Very Most Reverend, Right Reverend, Your Grace, Your Excellency, My Lord, Your All-Holiness, Your Beatitude, or even Mother and Reverend Mother. I might also add that no one in the scriptures is called Pastor so-and-so.

All the members of a congregation are call "the saints" Phil. 1:1, and Peter calls the whole body of Christians a Royal Priesthood (1Pet. 2:9). There are no special saints that are beatified and no special priest who presides over other Christians except one and that is Jesus Christ. We are all saints, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit and we are all priests to God offering up to God spiritual sacrifices. (1Pet. 2:5)

Jesus said that you are all brethren, meaning equal on the earth in the sight of God. (Mt. 23:8) So everyone started calling each other Brother so-and-so. Now even though that is the official title of a Lay person in Catholicism, I think it is fine if you want to call each other that out of respect. But even that, it seems, is slowly going the way of modern, casual familiarity. The apostle Paul referred to "a brother" or "the brethren", (read the book of Philemon for usage). Paul's usage there is not a title which is the way we tend to use it. When he said Brother, he meant the family tie we have, you and I. 

I've been called Mr. White all my life, by teachers and by practically every adult around me as a child, even by my closest friends. I don't know why. Maybe it was because I didn't say much. "Even a fool who holds his peace is considered wise" (Prov. 17:28), so maybe they were showing respect? Not!  I always felt put down by it.  As an American, I never addressed my siblings as Brother Steve, or Sister Mabel. That would seem quite stiff. Obviously we don't use titles in a family, except for Mom and Dad. Some still use Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia.☺ But it seems that people tend to drop those titles when they love each other deeply or at least turn them into diminutives like Auntie or Gramps. Age difference I suppose is the main reason for titles in families. But in the church it's a different matter. 

I started out in a fine congregation of brethren who called each other Brother so-and-so out of a loving respect and honor for each other. But even then I noticed that it kind of kept everyone at a formal or official arms length from me. I noticed that those who were more intimate friends just used their first names and dropped the more formal, Brother. I also noticed that the large group of young people we had did not use it, but rather called the Elders by their first names, however, just as respectfully. So I tend to refrain from using it as a title. But if I want to recall with you our deep relationship in Christ and in the Father's house, I'll call you Brother or Sister, and it's not a title when I say it - it's more of an appellation that defines who you really are and our true relationship.


More Articles