By Gary Amirault
Once traditions are set, they are nearly impossible to remove. It appears this is especially true in religion, including Christianity. Of course, it is always the other denominations who have fallen into that error, not us. Right? For example, Protestants can’t understand why Roman Catholics so blatantly violate the Scriptures by calling their priests “father” in the light of the fact that Jesus plainly told us not to. (Matt. 23:9)
Years ago, I was attending a particular church that came to the scriptural conclusion that the church-at-large had thrown out a major part of the leadership God placed into the body of Christ to bring it to maturity. They concluded there was nothing in scripture that stated the apostle and prophet would be removed from the body of Christ during the “church” age. They pointed out there were over two dozen people in the New Testament who functioned in the capacity of an apostle. Besides the original twelve, Paul was an apostle (1Tim 2:7 and elsewhere). Matthias was an apostle (Acts 1:26). Barnabus was an apostle (Act 14:14). Andronicus and Junias (a woman’s name) were both apostles (Rm 16:7). James, the Lord’s brother was an apostle (1Cor 9:5; Gal 1:19). Silas/Silvanus and Timothy were apostles (1Thess. 1:1-2; 2:6). For a list of those who were considered apostles in the New Testament see these verses in the Greek. Many translations have not consistently translated apostolos as apostle. The following people were also considered functioning in the role of apostle in the Greek New Testament: Apollos, Epaphroditus, Titus, two unnamed apostles in 2 Cor. 8:23, Judas, Erastus, Tychicus, Peter, Andrew, James brother of John, John, Phillip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James son of Alphaeus and Mary, Judas son of James (not Iscariot), Judas Iscariot, Simon the Zealot, and Jesus.
After this church concluded that apostles and prophets are still to be in church government today, they joined a federation of churches that came under an apostolic-prophetic “covering.” We were advised that just as we called the local leader of the church by the Ephesians 4:11 “title,” so should we also call the other offices by their titles as well. So now, besides “Pastor” Jim, we had “Apostle” Chuck, “Prophet Gene”, and so on. I had no problem personally with the teaching that all those functions in Ephesians 4:11 should still be in operation in the body of Christ today. It seemed to me rather strange that Paul would list five important “gifts of men (and women)” for the equipping of the saints only to remove the two top positions within a few years of establishing them in crucial roles for maturing the body of Christ. After all, the church didn’t stop growing a few years after coming into existence. When these five functions are likened to a (helping) hand, the thumb and index finger have been removed from most traditional church governments. That could explain why we presently have over 30,000 denominations in the earth today. We’ve gotten confused because we have cut off the most important governmental and visionary roles in the body - the apostle and prophet. While I saw that perhaps most denominations have gone into error by removing those functions from their governmental structures, I did and do have a problem with turning those functional gifts of men and women into titles. I couldn’t find precedence for that in the Scriptures. And I think the greatest majority of Christians that I know would probably concur.
This issue, however, presented a bigger problem for me than I thought. I didn’t see any example in Scripture that an apostle should demand to be given that title in greeting or documentation. I felt extremely uncomfortable calling this new church leader “apostle” Chuck, and I didn’t. But neither did I find anything in Scripture to suggest a church leader should use the word “pastor” as a title either! Even worse, nowhere in Scripture did I find anything even remotely suggesting that the “pastor” would be the main player in local church life. How did this come about? Well, that’s another story – a long one! For now, let’s just stay on the subject of the title of the main player in church government.
The word “pastor” doesn’t occur in the New Testament (KJV, NIV, NASK, NRSB) at all. Shocked? I was. The word “pastors” occurs ONCE in the N.T. in Ephesians 4:11 and NOT as a title.
In order to do prison ministry, one must be ordained or closely affiliated with a recognized religious body. So I got my ordination papers to get me into prisons. The card they gave me put the title “Rev.” in front of my name. I felt uncomfortable about that. Why, you might ask? Well, the word “reverend” occurs in the Bible only one time:
“He has sent redemption unto His people; He hath commanded His covenant forever: holy and reverend is His name.” (Psalm 111:9, KJV)
It took a little arm-twisting to get them to remove the word “Rev.” from before my name on the official card. They said that the state recognized that as an official title. Well, it might be official to the American government, but I don’t think the Holy Angels of the Lord would appreciate my taking a word that appears only once in the KJV as a word describing our Father’s name and using it as a title to describe me!
Traditions die hard, especially religious traditions. It was the traditions of men that prevented them from seeing their Messiah when He appeared in the first century. After His departure, God judged Israel, leadership and people, and tore their traditions to threads. Read “Wars of the Jews” by Josephus, the Jewish historian, and see what God does to a people called by His name who leave Him to follow the traditions of men. Why is God so adamantly against these traditions?
“Thus you have made the commandments of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well, did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matt. 15:6-9, NKJV)
The answer? They draw people away from the Living God. After dealing with Israel for 1600 years, God raised up the Roman army to destroy the Mosaic system corrupted by thousands of traditions which made the word of God of no effect. Over a million Jews were killed. Over 100,000 Jews were sold into slavery. The temple, the priesthood, the covenant, the city of Jerusalem and the people all were decimated. (See Matt. chapters 23, 24, 25.)
For 2,000 years, the institutional church has added thousands upon thousands of “traditions of men” to the foundation of the teachings of the Jesus and His apostles and prophets. It has removed many doctrines contained in the scriptures. If the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD is God’s judgment upon Israel for abandoning its Maker, what can we expect for the church?
I don’t expect this brief “Bible Matters” study will change many people’s religious habits. I doubt many pastors will step down from a position and title not found in Scriptures. And most of the readers of this article will go on calling their church leader “Pastor Dave,” or “Pastor Mike” or whatever. Like I said, traditions die hard. Just remember what they do. (Matt 15:6-9) And remember what God does to them … in the fullness of time. Remember Jerusalem in 70AD.
Bible Matters is the intellectual property of Tentmaker Ministries. Permission to copy or pass on through electronic format is given provided nothing is changed in the text and that authorship and address remain attached. They may NOT be sold.
For those interested in viewing or participating in a discussion board on the topic of what church life should be like according to the New Covenant, visit: