In Matthew 23:8 – 12 we read, "But don't be called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all of you are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be 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."
When reading these verses, we need to identify the point that Yehoshua was making. If we go off on a tangent and think that He was objecting to particular titles such as Rabbi, Master, and Father, then we have missed the point. These titles were only examples.
We have also missed the point, if we think that He was telling us to not call our earthly father "Father" or "Daddy" or "Papa". One would have to be simple–minded to suppose such a thing. The Bible teaches us to honour our parents. Nor would we make an issue about calling a person "Dr." in recognition of their expertise in a secular body of study, or fail to address a secular judge as "Your Honour" and other secular authorities by the titles that they insist on. The Bible commands us to respect and obey secular authority, though our obedience must stop short at the point where to obey them entails being disobedient to God.
The point that Yehoshua was making in these verses is that we should not address religious leaders by any title except "Brother" or "Sister", if we feel that we need to place a title before their name, and that religious leaders SHOULD NOT ALLOW anyone to call them by any other title.
The reason that Yehoshua warns us to not call spiritual leaders by elevating titles is that it gives the leader more control over us than is emotionally and spiritually healthy. It tends to make one lax about examining a leader's teaching and actions to see how well they line up with the Word of God. Constantly programming one's mind this way to accept their authority generates too much trust. The leader, after all, is only human.
Yehoshua is the only one who deserves our trust implicitly. He is the only one whom it is truly safe to call Teacher, Master, and Father. We should take Him as our example, as we see in John 2:24 & 25 "But Yehoshua did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man."
Our primary commitment should always be to Yehoshua, our Lord and Saviour, and all other obligations should fall in line behind Him. If any other commitments interfere with what He commands us, then we are obliged to please God rather than man.
Some Christians take martial arts classes. If one examines the origins of these disciplines, it is evident that most of them are spiritually based in the demonic. The teacher is addressed as "Sensei", which means "Teacher" or "Master". In this type of discipline, with its spiritual origins, the title helps the teacher gain mental and spiritual control. The teacher usually isn't a Christian. More likely they are Buddhist or engage in some other type of Eastern mysticism. Their influence could lead a Christian student of the martial arts further away from the mind of Christ.
It could be useful to learn how to use leverage and various holds to physically defend oneself, but only if this can be studied without being obliged to call someone by a title that implies spiritual status, or engaging in other practices or mind control techniques that cater to the demonic.
For many years, I was well aware of these verses in Matthew, but I ignored them until Yehoshua convicted me. He told me plainly that I was playing into a system of control by addressing pastors as "Pastor", and that I did it because I wanted their approval. I wanted to be accepted and trusted, and this is one of the hoops that they were making me jump through because it pandered to their ego under the guise of testing to see how well I submitted to their authority.
It is purely motivated by ego for a pastor to insist on being called by a leadership title when Yehoshua taught so plainly that they should not allow people to call them by any title other than "Brother" or "Sister", in recognition of their kinship in the Family of God, which is where they get their authority to teach the Word and give direction. It isn't from theological degrees; there are some men and women with theological degrees teaching in Bible colleges who are not bona fide Christians, and who are seeding future pastors with false doctrine and unbelief. Should we accept their teaching and their direction, just because they have gone to university for years and have gained a degree or a doctorate? Not if what they are teaching does not line up with the Word of God. We have to study the Word for ourselves; we can't put the responsibility for our soul onto others.
The Scripture in Matthew is there for all of us to see. Many leaders have read this Scripture umpteen times, but because they want a level of respect and control that rightfully belongs only to God, it still hasn't dawned on them that this verse is telling them to give up their titles.
Yes, the Bible teaches that we should submit ourselves to spiritual authority, but it also implies that we should submit to that authority only where it does not exceed its prerogatives. Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 3:7, "For yourselves know how you ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you." If a leader does not live up to being a godly example, God's people are not obliged to follow them.
In Hebrews 13:7, the Bible says, "Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation." We are to consider the direction that the leader is going. If he or she is headed for a cliff, we better not follow them over its brink. We need to stand back, point out their error, and warn them of where it will take them.
Leaders who want to control, rather than serve the people, assist each other in maintaining the system by referring to other pastors as "Pastor" or "Bishop" when speaking of them to the flock. They make a bit of a show by tone of voice and facial expression to indicate that they have great respect for the other person's ministry and place in the Body of Christ. They generally don't do this when speaking face–to–face with another pastor whom they consider their peer. They just talk to them like they are a regular person rather than a demi–god. The use of the titles programs the flock and the lower–ranking leaders to fawn over the higher officials and obey them unquestioningly, which controllers find quite gratifying.
Church officials in that type of system also tend to resist correction, unless it comes from someone whom they consider their peer or their superior, which demonstrates arrogance. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that a person has to be on the same level as another before they can clearly discern error or speak a word of protest against it. As a matter of fact, Paul, though he was not one of the original twelve disciples, and also was a much younger man than the person he was irked with, vigorously berated Simon Peter for his hypocrisy regarding Gentile believers. (Galatians 2: 11 & 12)
If a person feels obliged to call someone by a title, Yehoshua made provision for it, by saying that we are all brethren. We can call each other by a prefix that acknowledges that we are all equally part of the Family of God. I think that it is admirable that one of the most courageous Christians of our time, one who routinely smuggled Bibles past the Iron Curtain, is popularly known only as "Brother Andrew".
Generally, I don't feel a need to use a prefix before a brother's or sister's name any more than I feel obliged to call my earthly brothers and sisters "Brother John" or "Sister Pat". That's silly. We all know we belong in the family. But in the case of my spiritual family, I sometimes call someone who is old enough to be my parent by that prefix, if I sense that they are not comfortable being addressed with only their given name by someone who is much younger. I rejoice to be in association with a Christian minister who is nearly 100 years old, and he is totally okay with much younger people addressing him by only his given name. I admire and respect him, and like him all the more because he is a comfortable person to be around.
After I got the revelation that I was doing the pleaser/controller thing by calling pastors by the titles they insisted on, and stopped doing it, I noticed that it irked some of the leaders to be called only by their first names. My response to their irritation – get over it. Repent of your pride. Read Matthew 23:8 – 12 and obey it. Don't let anyone call you by an elevating title. Those who exalt themselves will be abased.
Obeying that Scripture includes putting "Reverend" in front of your name, or for women to allow themselves to be called "Mama" in recognition of their spiritual maturity, or being called "Dr.", which is equivalent to being called "Teacher", if your degree is in Theology. Theology is a spiritual, not a secular discipline.
This applies also to Christian psychologists who promote the Scriptures. It makes them a spiritual leader. In the Book of Judges, the Bible records Deborah's name as just Deborah; it doesn't call her Dr. Deborah, nor does it call any other follower of God by anything but their given name, unless they were a king or a queen. Let's take our cue from the Bible and just drop this ungodly business of spiritual titles.
It is probably a good idea to avoid psychologists who are not comfortable with being addressed by their given names. I have received counselling from both Christian and secular psychologists, all of whom were excellent, who introduced themselves by their given names and were comfortable being addressed by them. One of the reasons they were such excellent counsellors is that they adopted an assisting stance that was respectful and empowering, rather than a condescending one that put me in a subordinate position.
If people want to show honour to their leaders, they should do it in a way that does not dishonour the Anointed Lord Yehoshua by ignoring His admonitions. Buy them a gift, support their ministry financially, pray for them, cooperate with them in the work of the Kingdom, take good teaching to your heart and practice it, and speak respectfully to leaders (the same as we should to everybody), but not in a way that flatters the ego. Doing so does them a disservice; it doesn't help the leader keep a clear head and a pure heart.
Your word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
Copyright © 2010, Lanny Townsend
Page modified by Lanny Townsend on October 27, 2012
Scripture references on this website are closely paraphrased from e–Sword's King James Bible.