I have been thinking a lot lately about the clergy/laity distinction so prevalent today in churches in the United States, and how the distinction acts to undermine the priesthood of all believers. This past Sunday, I was struck by the number of times that the “professional clergy” (the two “pastors”) at the worship service I attended referred to each other by the title Pastor followed by first name. Maybe I was simply sensitive to the subject, having been thinking recently about the whole clergy/laity distinction, but it struck me as odd, even vain in some way. I really struggled to understand why they continually referred to each other using Pastor in front of their names. What was the purpose? If they had simply referred to each other by first names, the assembly would have clearly understood to whom they were referring.
During the sermon, I must confess, I was so focused on the continual use of titles that I took my phone out, launched the Logos application on it, and studied Matthew Chapter 23. Matthew Chapter 23 was the New Testament passage that immediately came to mind. In this passage Jesus criticizes the religious leaders/elite saying:
…and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:6–12, ESV)
In this passage it seemed pretty clear to me that Jesus was highlighting the danger caused by the love of positions and titles. Love of title; the vanity of attempting to set oneself apart from other brothers and sisters; self-exaltation is not something He wants from His followers.
In commenting on this passage Leon Morris writes:
Specifically he says that they should not be called “Rabbi,” a title that sets the holder off from lesser mortals. Jesus’ followers did not have teachers that ranked with the Jewish rabbis, and they must not act as though there were outstanding people among them to whom they must give heed. “One is your teacher,” Jesus says, and that has its implications for all his followers. It does not mean, of course, that none of them can ever learn from any of the others. The very fact that the books of the New Testament were ever written is testimony to the fact that some Christians were able to teach others. And, of course, in every age there have been some Christians who have been able to give instruction to others. It must always be the case that some will know more than others and that they will have the duty of passing their knowledge on to others. Jesus is saying that among his followers there is to be no such system as that among the Jews, with the “great ones” expounding the law authoritatively and the rank and file permanently occupying an inferior place. Christians have but one teacher, and they must not expect that in due course others will emerge who will eclipse him and establish their own ways of understanding what God wills for his people. There is and can be only one Jesus. The corollary of this is that “you are all brothers.” Brothers are equal, and they cannot be arranged in a hierarchy. Over against Jesus they all hold inferior rank, and none of them is in a position to lord it over the others.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 576.
It seems to me that Morris strikes at the heart when he writes: “Jesus is saying that among his followers there is to be no such system as that among the Jews, with the “great ones” expounding the law authoritatively and the rank and file permanently occupying an inferior place.” Yet isn’t this exactly what the Pastor/congregation divide/distinction has created in the body of Christ: Pastors (“great ones”) expounding Scripture each week with the congregation (“the rank and file”) permanently occupying an inferior place as simple spectators?
I am very interested in reading others thoughts on the use of titles in the Church, specifically the use of the title pastor. So please comment, please share your thoughts.