There is a fairly modern obsession among some Pastors in certain church circles to add fancy titles and even degrees to themselves, some of said titles being suspect biblically and some of such degrees being bogus or worthless because awarded by institutions that are either non-existent or lacking the status to award any kind of academic degree!
Then what of people like me allowing people to call me Reverend contrary to Scripture some would throw in my face. Well, let’s start clarifying here.
I have never been impressed with being called Rev. Chisholm [technically wrong anyway] and prefer to be styled brother or Pastor Chisholm, but that aside, the text usually cited by some denominations against using the honorific Reverend for pastoral leaders is either Ps. 111.9 or our Lord’s counsel in Mt. 23:8-10. As I usually advise ‘text in light of context’ is critical in interpreting any passage in the Bible.
The word ‘reverend’ in Ps. 111 mistranslates a Hebrew word which really means ‘fearsome/awesome’, completely different from the nuance of reverend as a clergy title. The word does not appear in the text in Mt. 23! Nonetheless, since the text touches on titles of religious leaders in the 1st century of our Lord’s Day it is worthy of exploration.
John Gill (1697-1771) Baptist Pastor and Scholar (same church as Spurgeon but a century earlier) says wisely on Mt. 23:9:
“…our Lord does not mean, by any of these expressions, to set aside all names and titles, of natural and civil distinction among men, but only to reject all such names and titles, as are used to signify an authoritative power over men’s consciences, in matters of faith and obedience; in which, God and Christ are only to be attended to. Christ’s sense is, that he would have his disciples not fond of any titles of honour at all; and much less assume an authority over men, as if they were to depend on them, as the founders of the Christian religion, the authors of its doctrines and ordinances; and to take that honour to themselves, which did not belong to them; nor even choose to be called by such names, as would lead people to entertain too high an opinion of them, and take off of their dependence on God the Father, and himself, as these titles the Scribes and Pharisees loved to be called by, did…”(my emphasis).
So the fact that in context our Lord was denouncing the Scribes and Pharisees is important in understanding the nature and scope of his taboo against the fancy titles mentioned. Common sense alone should make us aware that our Lord would not be outlawing all titles when used generally and minus pride and ostentation like a young one calling his dad father, or a student calling his instructor ‘my teacher’ (the meaning of Rabbi). It’s the 1st century and 21st century use of these titles with pretentious superiority nuances that is being chided.
The first time, a few months ago, I consulted an ophthalmologist in the USA about my blind left eye, he asked me what work I did. I told him I was a retired clergyman The term clergyman was apparently new to him so he asked me about the meaning and I told him I was a retired pastor.
On my 2nd visit he greeted me as Pastor and I felt a need to clarify for him that I was no longer a pastor (since I no longer had a flock) but can still be greeted by the honorific Reverend, since I am an ordained clergyman.
We had a bit of fun on subsequent visits as he greeted me by the one or the other and followed up with “did I get it right this time?” I told him Clinton is easier so he should feel free to just call me by my birth name.
What I am told is that the clergymen who began as pastors but are now Bishops [though some are in charge of only 1 church, odd for a bishop] or Apostles are insulted if addressed simply as pastor! This pride-filled attitude is what our Lord was counselling against.
Re academic titles, know this, no local church can award any kind of academic degree and neither can any institution that is not accredited to do so by the appropriately authorized national, regional or state body. In Jamaica that body is the University Council of Jamaica.
For the Caribbean region which has been guided by British academic protocols, persons with an honourary doctorate (such as I have) are not to be addressed/referred to as Dr. so and so. The degree can be appended after the surname in writing though. The American tradition is different, the maxim seems to be “if you gots it you flaunts it.”
By the way no one can be called professor except by designation of a reputable academic institution. Professor is a very high academic rank, the award sequence being, lecturer, senior lecturer, reader (who has published) then professor!
Degree/diploma mills abound online and if you prize your academic reputation then avoid them for the plagues they are!
Additionally, re British traditions, the academic precedes the honourific. I illustrate with 2 different persons with earned doctorates, well known in Jamaica, Dr. Burchell Taylor, Baptist Clergyman is supposed to be written up as Dr. the Rev. Burchell Taylor not Rev. Dr. Burchell Taylor, and former PNP head Dr. Peter Phillips is supposed to be written up as Dr. the Hon. Peter Phillips not Hon. Dr. Peter Phillips!A few additional pointers in this regard are in part V of my latest book A Controversial Clergyman.