I Don’t Call my Brother “Mr. Shields”
A gentleman and a lady recently called me – from two different states – as they had discovered this website. They called me “Mr. Shields”. About the 2nd time they did, I had to stop and follow my Master’s command in Matthew 23 and said, “My name’s Philip. Since I’m a brother, I’m Philip, not “Mr. Shields”. We don’t call brothers or sisters by their last name”.There was a long pause, then a delighted chuckle.
It was not something they were used to. But it’s happening more and more as ministers understand we don’t need and shouldn't use titles – according to Jesus’ own words. Believe it or not, this has a lot to do with the humble days of Unleavened Bread.
One of the encouraging changes I see happening more and more is that the elders in the church of God churches are becoming more comfortable with being called by their first name and heeding our Master’s admonition to live and behave as brothers and sisters, members of one holy family. It was long assumed that ministers should be called “Mr.” followed by their last name. This was supposed to be a sign of respect for their position and authority. There has been too much focus on position, power, rank and authority. I’ve fallen for that in the past as well but it has been something I've had to bitterly repent of. Ministers sat at “head tables”. They made clear they had power, they were in charge. I did too, in the past. There was a focus on titles. The “higher” one went in rank and glory, the more pride was reflected in their titles. They weren’t just a pastor now – but a senior pastor, or a Director, or a Presiding something or rather.
This is not of God. It is of the way Satan does things in his kingdom. Jesus says so. He says PAGAN rulers crave authority and honor and titles and use their power to become benefactors. So in our church organizations we fell for that too and sought the pleasure of the pastors so there’d be some benefit. As a “benefactor”, perhaps they would let us give sermonettes, or lead songs, or have some power somehow. Pastors became benefactors (Luke 22:25), just as Master said.
So let’s get back to this matter of using “Mr.” in reference to a pastor or ordained minister. When referring to my physical brother, or saying hello to my brother or sister, I would never say, “Hi, Mr. Shields” – no, I use his first name or my sister’s first name. If he were the president of the United States and I was in a formal public meeting, I probably in that circumstance refer to him as “Mr. President”, but still privately, and in any other situation, I’d just use his first name.
The Apostles were known simply as Peter, John, Paul. We have no record I can find that shows brethren referring to them as “master Paul” or “Master Peter” (the real root of the title “Mister”).
Here’s what our King of kings says in reference to the religious leaders of his day.
They love the best places at feasts [the “head table”], the best seats in the synagogues [front row seats at services], 7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi.' 8 But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. 11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Our Savior says we have one master – Him. We have one spiritual Father, our heavenly Father. So when speaking to a Catholic priest, I might say “sir” but I would not call him “Father…”. No way. I must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). When people say “the Pope” – they are saying “the Father” –for the term “Pope” derives from “Papa”. In Italy, when he appears to a crowd, everyone screams in adulation, “Viva il Papa” to someone they see as being the living “Vicar of Christ” – the son of God vicariously. The original Peter would have had nothing to do with that, I’m sure, and most of us have proven to our own satisfaction at least, that he was never “the first pope” anyway.
In the same way, “holy and reverend is HIS name” (Psalm 111:9 KJV) and so our ministers should not go by or use the title “Reverend” either. For that matter, we are all holy if we have His Holy Spirit. That is what “saint” means – “holy one”. We are the holy ones of God because of HIS indwelling presence.
In the same way, I will not refer to leaders as “rabbi” either. Rabbi means “my great one”. It is pronounced “rah-bee” in Hebrew. The word comes from “Rav”, meaning “master” and came to be understood as “teacher” – as in teacher of Torah. Yeshua used it in context of “teacher”. Yeshua (Jesus) himself was called Rabbi on many occasions, for He indeed was a teacher sent from God, our master, and our great one. Of all the brethren, He was the only one who was called “Rabbi”, or “Lord/Master”. I don’t think we’ll find the disciples calling HIM “Jesus” when speaking to Him directly. When writing about Him, they wrote “Jesus said.. or Jesus did…”. But remember, He was God who had become flesh (John 1:14) and had been God with God the Father (John 1:1-3).
The rest of us are brothers and sisters. Respect does not come from a title. Respect comes from admiring and acknowledging who and what a person is like and respecting ALL people, regardless of job title or rank. Rather than focusing on being someone great, we focus on great service to one another, as a servant. Even the phrase “servant leadership” has often morphed into something that is described as serving, but still with the focus on being in charge, being the leader. We developed a “rank and file” mentality vs. the elite ministers. We copied the fallen church, who separated the family of brothers and sisters into priests and laity. No – this is not to be so in the Body of Christ.
Yes, we have elders. Yes we have teachers. God put some teachers and leaders into His Body for the perfecting of the saints. We honor and respect them, but we should equally honor and respect an old widow or a new convert or anyone who lives and breathes. We are all members of the body of Christ. We are all the holy sanctuary of His Holy Spirit.
As our Passover Lamb was preparing his mindset for the coming crucifixion, the disciples were still arguing about rank, who would be the greatest. Yeshua had to remind them – this shall not be among you. He said, “Don’t be like the pagan rulers who focus on rank, title, power and glory” (Luke 22:24-30) but rather focus on being a great servant to one another. It is interesting that title, power and glory are the things Satan offered the Christ: “If you bow down to me, all these kingdoms, all this glory, honor, authority and power I can give to you” (Luke 4:5-7). TRUE honor and glory and power come from God, and in HIS kingdom, and we are even taught to pray, “For THINE is the kingdom, the power (authority) and the glory forever, Amen.” True praise and glory and respect will come from God and through God. We don’t need titles here on earth. After teaching them to get off the rank and title kick, he then offers them power and glory done the right way (Luke 22:29-30). Read it for yourself.
The positions in the church are for function, not for power and title. We all have different functions (Romans 12:4-5), but we’re part of one body, the same body. HIS body, not ours. HE’s the head. He’s the Leader. It’s HIS church, HIS body. We are followers of Him.
So as we prepare to eat the flat humble bread of the Passover and days of Unleavened Bread, let’s remember the lesson. Let’s get rid of the puffy, swollen, proud and self-centered titles we have bestowed on ourselves and our leaders – and remember Master’s words: “you are brethren, you’re all part of my family. We don’t focus on title here in God’s family. We focus on serving and on loving and on being together as one.”
So I don’t call my brother “Mr”. If you see me as your brother, I am Philip. That’s all. Nothing more.