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When defined by Wikipedia, “A Christian denomination is an identifiable religious body with its own beliefs and practices within Christianity. Divisions… between one group and another are defined by doctrine and church authority. Issues such as the nature of Jesus, the authority of apostolic succession, eschatology, and papal primacy often separate one denomination from another.” Fair enough I thought, there must be what, a couple hundred or so, if you count even the divisions within the Lutheran church, Methodist Church, Baptist Church, and even count the Serbian, Greek, Russian and other Eastern Orthodox Churches separately. After all, with 1.2billion Roman Catholics in the world according to the same source, and many of the world’s people not even Christians, how many other denominations can there be, right? Are you ready for this…the “incomplete” list reports 41,000! How many did you guess? Were you even close?
Since this blog isn’t about the different denominations within Christianity, their differences, which ones I agree with or don’t disagree with, the only reason I point that out is to show that one thing we can see is that in all the differences there are, one thing is for sure, we don’t all call the people who lead our congregations by the same name or give them the same title. Now, duties are an totally different subject, and a thesis could be written on that. (I may consider that for graduate school). For today, though, let’s address the names/titles of the men and women who teach and preach to us from the pulpit. What do you call him/her? Why? Did you ever stop to think that it mattered, or what the origin of that name or title was?
I was raised in a Greek Orthodox family where the priest was called “Father—” followed by his given first name. We later attended an Episcopal church where again, we called the priest “Father—“, but this time it was his surname. In a military chapel I would have “Chaplain—“, later it would be “Brother—” or “Pastor—” (sometimes first, sometime last name). Was the man a priest, pastor, or minister? Did it matter? Did the church have elders or deacons who assisted in the running of the church? If so, what exactly did they do? If not, why did the last church but not this one? Who is my bishop? What do you mean this church doesn’t have one?
Does this sound more confusing than it should be? Well, it is only because, thanks to the beauty of man getting involved in complicating the things God put in place, it certainly is. It may be simpler to do what is best anyway, and look to Scripture, (wow! What a concept!) and see what names and titles are used to define and describe the clergy anointed by God, what their duties are or were, and if we have a call for them now. Also, we will see if we have, in our ingenious ways as humankind, bestowed titles on our clergy that are nothing more than secular.
First, the title of Priest-At first every man was his own priest, and presented his own sacrifices before God. Afterwards that office devolved on the head of the family, as in the cases of Noah (Gen 8:20), Abraham (Gen 12:7; Gen 13:4), Isaac (Gen 26:25), Jacob (Gen 31:54), and Job (Job 1:5). The name first occurs as applied to Melchizedek (Gen 14:18). Although Moses, himself was of the tribe of Levi, he was not called to be a priest himself, but the Levites were called to serve in this Holy order, and it was Aaron, Moses’ brother, who would serve as the first High Priest. One key thing that separates a priest from the other titles of clergy we will examine is that they represented the people before God, and offered the various sacrifices prescribed in the law. This means that the people are not able to communicate directly with God through prayer, or have God commune directly with them, but must have intercession through the priest. As we know from Scripture, we are not only allowed to pray, but instructed to do so.
1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 (KJV)
Pray without ceasing.
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
Matthew 6:5-7 (KJV)
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
The above mentions of prayer are only two which could not be done if a priest were needed to intercede on the behalf of the believer. Therefore, the duties of the priest, while very much a calling and anointing in the Old Testament, have changed. We are now all priests in the Christian church, so to speak, with Jesus as the High Priest
To assume the role, or give the title of priest in the same manner in which it was given in the Old Testament, whereby the member of the clergy is the sole individual with the ability to have communion with God, to forgive sins, to read or interpret Scripture, or to have special powers or authority almost deifies our clergy. Granted, all members of church leadership are called upon to be of a sense of character above reproach, to have knowledge of Scripture which allows us to answer questions, teach and preach truthfully and wisely, and to be able to give counsel when needed, but never should this be done in any way other than the most humble, as a servant of the Most High.
Elder– A word still used in churches today, but rarely in the context of the first century church, and elder, as explained in Paul’s epistles. Listed almost hand in hand with Bishops, the biggest difference is not duty, but seniority. Elders were to be the spiritual leaders of the church, with not all necessarily having the same spiritual gifts. For example. Elder John may be a wonderful Bible teacher, Elder Franklin may be an excellent expositor, Elder Stephen a caring counselor, and Elder Jim able to discern Scripture. Of these, due to the spiritual maturity, Elder Stephen may be elected Bishop over the church, or “Senior Elder”. It may even be that there are several churches in the church family, and now “Bishop Stephen” is Bishop over all of them. (I, for example, was elected Bishop over the churches of Grace & Truth Ministries last year).
Deacons-Anglicized form of the Greek word diaconos, meaning a “runner,” “messenger,” “servant.” For a long period a feeling of mutual jealousy had existed between the “Hebrews,” or Jews proper, who spoke the sacred language of Palestine, and the “Hellenists,” or Jews of the Grecian speech, who had adopted the Grecian language, and read the Septuagint version of the Bible instead of the Hebrew. This jealousy early appeared in the Christian community. It was alleged by the Hellenists that their widows were overlooked in the daily distribution of alms. In essence, they were responsible for many of the fiscal duties of the temple, and now the church. One way to compare or contrast the duties of a deacon with that of an elder would be to assume that a church was considering implementing a new Bible study program. The elders would be the ones to consider and pray about the spiritual content of the material. Is it Scripturally correct and accurate? Does it fit the doctrines of the church? Is there any deviation from the teachings of the church, or worse, any heresy in it? The deacons, on the other hand, are likely to be the ones to asses the financial feasibility of purchasing the new materials, how many copies can or must be purchased, and from what source.
Special directions as to the qualifications for and the duties of deacons will be found in Acts 6 and 1 Tim 3:8-12 From the analogy of the synagogue, and from the scanty notices in the New Testament, we may think of the deacons or “young men” at Jerusalem as preparing the rooms for meetings, distributing alms, maintaining order at the meetings, baptizing new converts, distributing the elements at the Lord’s Supper, although these are not always adhered to in all churches today.
So, what does this do to answer our questions about names and titles for all clergy today? Do you call the person who leads your worship “pastor”, “minister”, “Father”, “Brother”, or some other name? As you can see, none of these names are even mentioned as titles to be used in the new testament, and the use of them in any way is interesting at best in the Bible. The word “pastor”, which means to shepherd or lead in a protective or guiding manner, certainly would describe the duties of the lead clergy of the Christian church today, but never appears in the Bible as a noun or verb. The word “minister”, which can be a verb, when describing the act of performing an act of ministering to someone, or as a noun when defining the person, is found over eighty times in the Bible, but never as a title in the New Testament Church. An example of both is easily found in Exodus where we also see an Old Testament reference to elders, generally the older, wiser members of the congregation:Exodus 24:13-14 (KJV)
13 And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua: and Moses went up into the mount of God.
14 And he said unto the elders, Tarry ye here for us, until we come again unto you: and, behold, Aaron and Hur are with you: if any man have any matters to do, let him come unto them. (Notice that this is a reference to “his minister”, not Joshua, with a title of “Minister”).
Exodus 28:1 (KJV)
1 And take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons. (that he may minister unto me…the act of ministering to the leader. Note how it takes place to the leader of the people, including the priest).
We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. If your church uses “Brother Johnson” to a leader, and it is also the man who is charged with leading the church in worship weekly, don’t think that this author is saying that this is not scriptural. If you refer to him as “Reverend”, and someone says, “Nobody is reverend but God, Himself”, I am not going to say that is wrong for either of you. The truth is, my own business card says, “Reverend James M. Dakis Founder/Director Living Sacrifice Ministries” People call me everything from “Pastor Jim”, “Pastor Dakis”, “Bishop Jim”, “Reverend Dakis”, “Brother Jim”, and just plain, “Jim”. My only issue is when we start awarding titles and names to people which imply a position above that of other men, and a holy status which gives the indication that some kind of power or authority has been granted that God never intended.
After all, we may all be created in His image, but we are all sinners saved by His grace, and in that, we are all the same.