Titles In The Body Of Christ

This blog is a place where apostles, prophets and other interested parties co-labor in equipping the saints for the work of ministry. Our view is that all believers are called as ministers of reconciliation through the new covenant, which was initiated by our high priest and chief apostle; Jesus Christ.

I’ve been thinking for a while about the different titles we use in the body of Christ. Most of us know someone who is referred to as ‘minister’, ‘pastor’, ‘prophet’ ‘apostle’ or some other title. If you’re prone to using a title, please bear with me as I walk through this discussion. It’s not my intent to offend you.

Some of us use a title as a practical means to let others know what type of ministry we function in. Some use a title regularly, while others rarely use one outside of direct ministry. Some insist on being referred to by a title, while others are uncomfortable being called by one.

This week I did a Facebook survey on titles used in the church. The responses were varied and interesting. Many Christians are opposed to the use of titles, while others see them as indispensable. Some believe they create problems and others think we’d have chaos without them. Some point to a need for structure and order, which they believe is enhanced by the use of titles. Some see titles as an artificial construct designed to create hierarchies of power, a caste system, and a separation between professional ministers and laity, which denies the priesthood of all believers.

Some point out that titles are mentioned in the New Testament and as such, they’re use is authorized. Others see these same terms not as formal titles, but as a description of how we function in the anointing of God.

Finally, some worry about the motives at work in the hearts of those who take titles, suggesting that insecurity, pride and a desire for power and recognition are the real reasons they’re used.

Like most subjects that are hotly debated, there are valid arguments on both sides. To shed some light on the matter, I’d like to take a look at how Jesus approached the subject of titles.

When Jesus walked the streets of Israel, he took for himself the strange name, “son of man”. Although he could have taken a more dignified title, like “Son of God” or “Messiah”, he chose not to. He was content to call himself by the same odd name God gave to Ezekiel. In doing so, he deliberately kept the greater part of his identity a secret. The speculation surrounding his identity provided a forum for some of the most profound moments of his ministry.

His identity was nearly always revealed as a result of a personal encounter arranged by the Father. After Jesus revealed the secrets of her life, the Samaritan woman turned to him and said, “Sir, I perceive you to be a prophet”. Later she would learn that he was in fact the long –awaited Messiah. After a similar encounter, Thomas fell at his feet, confessing him to be “My Lord and my God.”

Jesus would at times ask his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” The follow-up question required them to say who they thought he was. It took direct revelation from God before Peter finally got it. As much as he concealed his identity, once it was revealed, it became the foundation upon which Christ would build his ecclesia. Most of the pseudo – Christian cults have one common error; they don’t understand the real identity of Jesus.

Jesus knew his identity, but he always relied on others to reveal it unless someone asked him directly. This didn’t please the religious leaders who chided him saying, “How long will you keep us guessing? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” During his trial, Pilate asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” In both cases, Jesus didn’t deny his identity but affirmed who he was.

Knowing that so much confusion would ensue over his identity, isn’t it strange that Jesus didn’t more plainly declare who he was? Why didn’t he use any of the titles at his disposal?

Explaining his reluctance to openly tell people who he was, he said, “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is false. But there is another who bears witness of me and I know his witness is true.” (John 5:31- 32) Jesus explicitly taught that we aren’t to bear witness to our own ministry.

No where was the identity of Jesus more clearly revealed than at his baptism, where the Father, the Spirit and John all confirmed his identity. Nowhere was the humility of Christ more evident than in his reliance on them to make his identity known. It’s interesting that the majority of Satan’s plan of attack in the wilderness was to question his identity, immediately after it had been verified.

The model Jesus established for us was one of humble submission to the will of the Father and reliance on the testimony of others to reveal his identity. If we’re looking for an example on how to handle titles and our identity, we need look no further. Jesus received the testimony of who he was and never questioned it thereafter. But he didn’t loudly proclaim to everyone who he was. He had an inner confidence that allowed him to quietly go about his Father’s business.

Several years ago, I had a dream in which God revealed the fivefold calling I was to function in. In the dream, three men in the same calling handed me a scroll they had signed, testifying to the fact that I was called to the same calling they were. God had secretly revealed to me my calling. It wasn’t done publicly and he’s never asked me to make it known publicly. But since then he has revealed it to a number of other people.

Most of them have become friends and ministry partners as a result of God’s revelation. In one meeting, a friend put me on the spot asking, “Who are you, in God’s eyes?” I felt uncomfortable telling him. I was new to the calling and wasn’t sure I could walk it out, nor was I sure I wanted to. But God told him about my calling and since then he’s been a great source of encouragement. It happened that he had likewise received a new calling he was struggling in, which God revealed to me. Neither one of us liked using the titles, but together we grew to walk in them in more confidently and obediently.

Every now and then a complete stranger will declare my calling to me and give me a prophetic word about what God has planned for my life. I cherish these few but rich moments when God reveals his secrets through men and women whose hearts are listening to him. Personally, I think we greatly underestimate the willingness of God to speak to others about who we are as ambassadors of his kingdom.

I’m not against people who use titles. If God has asked you to use one, by all means do so. Guard your heart against pride and don’t let the title go to your head. If you don’t use a title – remember that pride doesn’t need a title in which to take root. We can all become a victim to it. True humility agrees with God’s assessment of our calling; neither denying who we are when asked nor thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to.

Titles can be useful in some practical ways, but the more I learn about the kingdom of God, the less it looks like the practical world around me. Men tend to value pragmatism – if it works, we generally approve of it, regardless of whether or not it reflects the kingdom.

I know there are those who believe that having a title will grant them access to ministry, but this is not true. Ministry opportunities aren't granted (at least not genuine ones) because we have a title. They're granted because we've established relationships and God has opened a door. None of that requires a title and because some Christians are put off or intimidated by titles, it may actually work against us.

As for me, God hasn't asked me to use a title yet, so I don’t use one. But He could give me a dream tonight that would change all of that.

A wise woman once said, “Whatever he tells you – do it.”



sue wilke said...

I never felt comfortable with titles. Even though I heard HIM tell me, I still feel simply blessed to just know HE loves me, little old me. Sitting in the corner of HIS room watching HIM is fine by me.