the weblog of Alan Knox

Dr. Anabaptist

Posted by on Aug 10, 2007 in blog links, church history, office | 5 comments

Dave Black has published his fifth essay about Anabaptists in an article called “What I Have Learned from the Anabaptists (Part 5)“. I think my favorite thing about this article is the introduction from his blog where he says, “Because of your enthusiastic response, I’ve decided to continue it for a few more entries.” I am enjoying this articles and looking forward to more.

In this article, Dr. Black (yes, that was intentional) tackles the question about Christian “titles”. He introduces the topic like this:

If we were to read Matthew 23 and take Jesus’ words at face value, we should come away with the notion that He was not very impressed with all the titles we make so much of today. We should feel that all this talk about “Doctor” and “Reverend” and “Senior Pastor” is somewhat superficial, that titles are merely manmade epithets and quite contrary to the idea of a brotherhood church.

I mentioned this passage and asked a question about titles last December in a blog post called “Do titles matter“. Jesus seemed to think that titles are inappropriate among brothers and sisters. What did the Anabaptists say? Well, Dr. Black says:

When Jesus says, “Do not be called Rabbi,” He means (so I take the Greek), “Do not make people call you Rabbi.” All of this would have been quite acceptable to the Anabaptists. For them, the essence of Christianity was discipleship. All else was subordinated to that. And what is a disciple? A disciple is one who follows Christ (Nachfolge Christi) and not any man, no matter how important or eminent or exalted that man may be in the world’s eyes, or in the church’s. Discipleship for the Anabaptists refers not simply to a life that is spiritually motivated but one that is externally patterned after Christ’s own person and work. It was assumed by the Anabaptists that the life and teaching of Jesus were to be replicated both in principle and in form by His followers. The Lord’s rejection of social strictures, His freedom from cultural entanglements, His humility and lowliness of mind – all these were accepted as normal for all true disciples.

Such beliefs contradicted, of course, the fundamental convictions of more than a thousand years of ecclesiastical history. The Anabaptist faith was a radical departure from that history not least because it clashed with culturally entrenched traditions of the Reformation such as the clergy-laity division. The Anabaptists were content to call each other Brethren, in keeping with Jesus’ teaching. It seems to me, therefore, that if we are to be true to the Scriptures we must abandon the idea that there is any positive value in referring to each other by manmade titles instead of by the term of endearment enjoined upon us by our Lord.

Well, this sounds good, but does the good doctor practice what he preaches? He says:

I do not want people to call me “Doctor Black” because they think I prefer the title or place any weight on academic credentials per se. I don’t. If people choose to use the title “Doctor” because they cannot break with tradition or because they cannot conceive of me as their brother, I understand. But my preference is to be called “Brother Dave” or “Brother Black” (if you feel you must use the last name) or simply “Dave.” Please do not think that this is a mark of modesty on my part. I actually believe, am completely persuaded in fact, that the term “Brother” (or “Sister”) is the highest, most honorable, most glorious title that a follower of Jesus can be given by a fellow Christian (Heb. 2:11-12). It marks the relationship we will all enjoy in eternity when every earthly title will disappear for good.

Okay. I have heard Dr. Black say, “You do not have to call me Dr. Black. Brother Dave or simply Dave is fine with me.” I’ve heard him say this several times. But, I still call him “Dr. Black”. (In fact, counting this sentence, I’ve called him “Dr. Black” six times in this post already. I’ll try to do better, I promise.)

So, why do I prefer to call Brother Dave by his academic title? Is this because I want to be called “Dr. Knox” when (if) I receive my Ph.D.? No. As a matter of fact, whenever someone jokes about calling me “Dr. Knox”, I say, “I prefer ‘Alan’.” If I want to called by my first name, why no do the same for Brother Dave?

I think he pegged me in this post. Tradition. That’s it. I was taught (brought up) to use titles. Every man was a “Mr.” and every woman was a “Mrs.” or “Ms.”

I am going to talk to Bro. Dave (I’m practicing) about this. I am unlearning some of my tradition. It will not be easy for me. By the way, I do not think this is an issue for Dave Black at all. He has never said anything to me after I’ve called him “Dr. Black”.

But, honestly, this was not the point of Dave’s article (see, I’m still practicing). His point is that we should not ask people, encourage people, nor expect people to call us by any title other than “Brother” or “Sister”. As he pointed out, Hebrews 2:11-12 tells us that Jesus is not ashamed to call us “Brother” (or “Sister”). Why would we want any other title? If an academic institution imparts the title of “Doctor” upon you, how can that ever compare to being called a child of God and a brother to Jesus Christ?

Brother Dave (it’s getting easier, and more natural) ends his article with these lines:

I am well aware that some readers will think this is simplistic, even comical. But I must repeatedly insist that this is the biblical pattern, and it is plain. But it is a Rubicon. You will either cross it or you won’t.

Hopefully, if someone desires to follow Jesus Christ as his disciple, they will consider this to be a very important issue. Jesus did speak to it. So, what are you going to do about this? If someone calls you by a title (“Doctor”, “Pastor”, “Reverend”), are you willing to ask them not to, and gently explain why? They may not think it is important, but Jesus did.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 8-11-2007

    I agree with Dave wholeheartedly. I think that when (if) I become a Dr. I will do the same. I think the whole titles thing has just caused so much strife and division in the Body of Christ. Great post.

  2. 8-11-2007


    Thank you for pointing your readers to brother Black’s writings. I found your blog via his writings.

    Centuries ago, when my wife and I were in college, the destruction of relationalship was made very evident by the college principal who threatened dire consequences on anyone who used his first name.

    In the same college,the scene was like this: a lecturer came into the room full of seated students, most who were older than he,”Good morning class”.

    “Good morning Mr……”

    “CLASS!! When I enter the room I expect everyone to stand! I’m leaving the room, and will re-enter!”

    That was the first time I was tempted to lead a revolt.

    During the time of being the elder (pastor) of four churches, I internally cringed whenever anyone called me “Pastor”. I found that telling people to use my given name broke down many of the barriers of communication and relationship.

    There is no Biblical evidence, but plenty of flim-flam, for the titles we use today.

  3. 8-11-2007


    I had not thought about titles causing strife and division, but I understand what you mean.

    Aussie John,

    I always enjoy your personal stories. Thank you for sharing this one with us.


  4. 8-28-2011

    Thanks for the post, and I appreciated reading all the comments. I would throw in the mix the title of “brother” or “sister”. What I mean by title is
    “______ ” .
    A title before a name.

    Examples are: “Dr. Bary”, “Reverend Sam”, Lord Jesus”, “Elder Johnny”, “Brother Handice”, “Sister Sally”, etc.

    Maybe it’s not a big deal….but at least I’m interested. If the translations of Scripture I’m aware translate well, then Paul often wrote “Paul, an apostle…” but he never wrote “Apostle Paul”. I think this is for reasons that have already been discussed here, but also I’m interested if there is any Scriptural precedent for saying “Sister Hilda” at all. Please chime in.

    I know that to me being called “Brother Grant” just seems weird. HOWEVER, I love LOVE love to be called “brother”, or introduced as “Grant, my brother” or “Grant, a brother”. I guess to possibly back-up this weird feeling I have towards it, I do not refer to my blood brother as “Brother Andy” or my blood sister as “Sister Kimi”. I refer to them or call them by their first name, last name, first & last name, or, most commonly, “(my) bro/sis”.

    The only titles (as I am using the word here) in Scripture I’m aware of is in relation to God OR in relation to a person in worldly political position.

    Does that make sense? I hope so because I’d love to get some thoughts on this from anyone.

  5. 8-28-2011


    Yes, the terms “brother” and “sister” can be used as titles in cases where there are very little family relationship involved. I wrote a post about this at one point.