Confusion With Titles

I'm confused with all the titles in churches, like "Father" and "Mother" and Deacon and Deaconess, Elder, Board Member, Chairman of the Bored, Treasurer, Evangelist and Prophet, and Pastor and "First Lady" and "Doctor," "Reverend," "The Very Rev.," Bishop, District Supervisor, Rector, Pastor and Overseeing Pastor, Apostle, Minister, and on and on? Jan. 2010.

Oh my, you are not alone. I've wanted to answer this question for a long time. Each Christian stream has its own words, and of late its gotten a bit out of hand hasn't it? Some of these are not even biblical services, but terms from secular law, or pure honorifics, not even close to God's word.

We have all experienced trying to have a faith fellowship (faith working through love built on right faith, right doctrine, right morality, right Spirit) relationship with someone who operates out of their title rather than a true partnership. It gets clangy and formalistic real quick.

I'd prefer all of us Christians agree on something, anything, even "Wal-Mart Associate," or better yet, how about "Brother" or "Sister?" That's it! What's old is new again. Brother or Sister- then discover each other's God given and God inspired gifts and perhaps even offices of service (Apostles, Prophets, Pastor-Teachers, Evangelists, Great Miracle workers and so on according to actual scriptural terms per 1Cor,12,28f and Ephesians 4,10ff) as we live out our faith, or faith out our life. This would go a long way toward preventing God's leaders from being put, or putting themselves, on pedestals (a pedestal is a sort of vain and tenuous perch from which to exercise God's authority).

Title-centric churches tend to be big on honorifics and human respect, and jumping through hoops, and often become overly hierarchical and bureaucratic, and denominationally centric or institutionally centric so to speak. They make great effort to model certain "special" folks rather than Christ, and then the rest of us feel like gophers, tempted to covet titles and to come up in the business of their religious world. And so on and on goes the multiplication of titles and pomps, which then tends to a cult like atmosphere at worst, and self righteousness at best.

There's a number of issues here. First, some folks seem to like titles more than they love their God and his people. And some folks like to use titles to curry favor and ingratiate themselves in any human endeavor. Jesus knew this diatic "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" culture, and thus Matthew 23,1-12:

"Then addressing the crowds and his disciples Jesus said, "The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do and observe what they tell you; but not be guided by what they do, since they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not move a finger to move them? Not they! Everything they do is to attract attention, like wearing broader headbands and longer tassels, like wanting to take the place of honor at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues, being greeted respectfully in the market squares and having people call them Rabbi.

v. 8. You however must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi, since you have only one Master, and you are all brothersYou must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor must you allow yourself to be called teachers, for you only have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who raises himself up will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be raised up."

You have been right to trust your first level of discernment, your gut, that says this title game has gotten out of hand.

Each denomination or church group may even use bible terms like "Elders" and "Deacons" and "Pastors", but then these sometimes try and do each other's charisms, in a non bible way. For example, sometimes deacons act like a counsel of elders, when they are adminstrative servants. And elders act like managing Pastors rather than counsellors, and sometimes secular business board members want to be elders, or a little bit of each office. And often us Pastors are left juggling egos and titles, non biblical inputs and councils while the gospel mission tarries. So, you are right- it is very confusing, even when we use biblical terms, let alone when we multiply titles from outside the bible.

Acts 15 has helped me in this area of titles and roles and egos, and flesh flesh flesh. It is about whether non Jews had to be circumcized and attend to the complete Jewish dietary laws to become Christians (No!). A full reading of scripture and here too discloses that our biblical faith does not oppose distinct leadership gifts and offices, even though Jesus wasn't big on titles. But it refuses to exalt any individual leader at the expense of God's headship of the church or the corporate functioning of God's people.

In fact nobody in this passage of Acts regarding this crucial decision had his specific name specifically connected to a specific office. It merely says "The Apostles and Elders met to look into the matter, and after a long discussion, Peter stood up and addressed them." (6-7) Not "the first Apostle Peter" stood up. Nothing of the sort like "the one and only Apostle Paul" did his thing. Nothing about "let's give a warm hand for 'the greatest Elder among Elders, our Pastor James...' "

Paul, the Apostle to the gentiles (Acts 28,28; Gal.2,9; Romans 1,15), and Barnabas, brought the issue to a head by their evangelizing to gentiles, and then back to Jerusalem, the home of the initial church.

Apparently Peter, Apostle to the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 10,6), Jesus' recognized leader of the ordinary course apostles, was granted leave to begin adjudicating-resolving the matter, and offered as his rational his own miraculous testimony about God's will that gentiles be fully and easily welcomed into God's people.

Then Paul, the out of the ordinary course apostle, and Barnabas, having heard Peter, testified to similar signs and wonders among the gentiles (v.12), and they too weighed in. Same assessment as Peter, apparently equally as important as Peter's.

Then James, the pastor-teacher of the local or central Jerusalem Church, decided the matter.

He agreed with their convincing pastoral testimony, even though his church's comfort level in Jerusalem would likely never again be the same as it was before this decision. As the local managing Pastor, he had the final word, and he gave the ruling.

Please note- while James had the final say, this decision was made not in a strictly hierarchical way, as in a western business model way, with James also setting the agenda, and managing his result. No Paul, and to a lesser extent Peter, set the agenda. All the unnamed elders (more apostles likely) had their say. Perhaps a good portion of the "whole church" (cf v22) also had their say. The foremost leaders led as foremost leaders, but all were heard.

And James ruled. "My verdict is, then, that instead of making things more difficult for gentiles who turn to God, we should send them a letter telling them to merely to abstain from anything polluted by idols, from illicit marriages, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has always had his preachers in every town and is read aloud in the synogues every Sabbath." (Acts 15,19-21)

In other words, James knew that the first gentile Christians would get plenty of "Moses", Jewish based teaching, as they learned the faith from their predominantly Jewish brothers and sisters, and thus there was no need to be too strict, and so hinder the rapid and continual spread of the gospel.

Again note that no titles or offices were linked to specific names here at Acts 15. "Peter," "Paul," "Barnabas" and "James"- their simple given names were all that were used. This was enough because these leaders had proven their gifts of prophetic leadership which God himself orchestrated (1Pt.5,5-6).

Psalm 75:6-7; "For promotion cometh neither from the east or the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one and settith up another." (KJ)

So who God raises up to prophetic leadership to address the major questions and priorities of any church, at any time in church history, is God's perogative (1Sam.2,7b, Lk.1,52; see also Dt. 18,5). In the early church it was James, Peter, Paul (and even Barnabas) lifted above the rest.

And this lifting up to prominant leadership had apparently less to do with how many offices each had (Apostle, Prophet, Pastor Teacher, Evangelist, perhaps even Elder, though that is used most often to designate a local groups of leaders in a local church), or any rank between the offices themselves, or any personal rank within each of the many offices, or how many other folks held the same office or offices. God raised them to be His leading voices. And with that, not their titles or even so much by the authority of their offices, they took the lead.

Thanks for your keen question. I hope my answer helps, and that you keep trusting scripture and your gut in this church matter and others. Hopefully there will be two or three of God's servants in your church, who He has also prophetically raised up, that can help you and your family in your faith needs. That's been my experience most everywhere. God will lead you to these very people just as Ananias was led to Paul, and Paul and Barnabas were led to each other, and then Paul to the apostolic longshoremen Jesus first chose. Watch and pray, with eyes that see and ears that hear. God will always lead you. If you want to go deeper into this subject see 1Cor.11,3; Eph.1,22 and 5,21; and 2Pt.1,1. 

Tobin-call me "brother" if you want.