“Ministers of God’s Word” have a real problem these days.

Their problem is that they don’t know what to call themselves as they move among their fellowmen in twentieth century American society. The title “Reverend” seems so awkward. Besides, any high school graduate (or most any high school graduate) can tell you that the word reverend is an adjective, and that it is usually used with rhetorical impropriety when applied to a Minister of God’s Word.

Then there is the usual denominational confusion; for the Lutherans the preacher is a “pastor”; for the Roman Catholics the spiritual leader is a “father,” For some of the less affluent religious groups the man up front is a “brother”; for the Presbyterians the senior male resident of the manse is a “minister.” And for some more old-fashioned Christian Reformed people the man in the pulpit is a “dominie,” unless he has been to the Free University of Amsterdam or some other institution of advanced theological study and may use the magic title, doctor.

In all of this the up-to-date, up-to-snuff “Protestant” man of the cloth often reacts variously. Who hasn’t heard of that “very good guy” on who-knows-how-many television shows, the very normal, natural army or marine chaplain known to every red-blooded fighting man as “Father Mike”? Then there are the “Pastor Bob” and “Brother John” types.

And now I’m hearing of a new breed, and for these men I have respect. They don’t stop half-way. They want nothing more to do with “clericalism” in any sense whatsoever. “I’m Dick Smith…” That is identification enough for them when introducing themselves to someone new to their acquaintance. No more “fear of the dominie” in catechism classes for them—especially the young people are urged to become blessedly familiar with their under-shepherd. “Just call me Dick…”

This doesn’t really solve many problems, of course, and it might create a few more disturbing than the existing practice. Problems won’t be solved here either, unless we get back to the Scriptures and develop a sound view of office. TIle real question is not, “Is the seminary-trained, ecclesiastically employed preacher more important than anyone else?” He isn’t (Matt. 23:11).

The question is this: Is a pastor in the congregation as a teaching elder a “Minister of the Word of God”? Does he have a specific, Biblically-defined authority which determines the significance of his words and work? Is his ministry to be considered “an offer of help,” or a demonstration of the majesty and authority of our Lord Jesus Christ?

If we can get straight on this kind of question, we needn’t worry much about which title to employ, because then we’ll be most impressed with him who is at the Father’s right hand, and with his followers, whom he privileges to hold the greatest of all offices, the office of believer.



This month the political liberals will again do obeisance to one of their patron saints, Thomas Jefferson. Were Jefferson living, there might be serious question concerning his willingness to accept the adulations of this group.

Political liberalism would deficit-spend us into a variety of utopias with little thought of the massive debt which is passed on to posterity. Jefferson once said, “No generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its existence.” The liberals reply that they are spending for the benefit of succeeding generations. Jefferson replies with respect to things “perpetual” that, “In all these cases the legislature of the day could authorize such appropriations and establishments for their own time, but no longer” (Letters to James Madison, September 6, 1789).

Jefferson would be even less inclined to sympathize with the liberal tendency towards centralization and enhancement of executive power. He brought his deference for the legislative branch to the point of diffidence. He refused to bring his message to Congress personally for fear that his personality might carry farther than the message. He encouraged government on the local level as the proper locale for the development of the needed “natural aristocracy” in political affairs (Letters to John Adams).

Perhaps Jefferson would reach a measure of rapport with today’s political liberals in his approach to ethics, since he said, “Nature has constituted utility to man, the standard and test of virtue.” But even here, the social planners of the “Great Society” find their more direct descent from the Instrumentalism of John Dewey. It is not difficult to recognize today’s political liberal in the exposition of Instrumentalism by Eliseo Vivas of the philosophy department of Ohio State University. He writes, “The systematic double-dealing that this view makes possible (whether in practice it is operative is, again, another question) is abysmal. It is a philosophy that claims to be based on a concern for human welfare, a concern it considers to be its monopoly. It insists that it is the human situation, the actual case, that must be looked at, not the rules one must be concerned with: Sunday was made for man, not man for Sunday; and so rules also. But since a rule implicitly or explicitly will always be found guiding conduct, when a philosophy advises distrust of rules, it substitutes the rule of the will in their place” (The Moral and the Eternal Life, Gateway Edition, p. 23).