Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 27, 1958
NUMBER 42, PAGE 3a,13b

From Descriptive Nouns To Titles

Robert C. Welch, Louisville, Kentucky

A common practice, of making titles out of descriptive words found in the Bible, is developing. It has its serious consequences. In some instances it furthers division and denominationalism. In others it develops heretical pride and arrogancy. In every instance the scriptural significance of the term is lost, and a traditional definition is stereotyped. This is true of any word which loses its usage in general language, and finds itself limited to a religious usage. The following proposes to list some of the most outstanding examples.

Baptist is a word which has lost the significance it had in the New Testament. It was a Greek word in general use at the time of the writing of the New Testament. As time went on, and that language became a dead one, the word continued to be used; but was limited to a religious sense. False theories concerning baptism arose; and men began to sprinkle and pour, still calling their practice baptism. A man who baptized was called "the baptist" in the New Testament. This was not a title; but was merely a noun describing his work. Eventually some people who rejected sprinkling and pouring formed a denomination and took the title Baptist. Correctly translated, the word is immerser. The true significance of the word is lost as it is made into a title for the denomination, or for the individuals in the denomination. Otherwise, they could as readily and easily refer to the denomination and themselves as "Immersers."

Church of Christ is swiftly becoming a denominational title. A hard and close race is being run for the exclusive right to the title. Will it belong to a council of denominations? Will it go to the denomination formerly known as Evangelical and Reformed? Will it go to one wing of the Christian Church denomination, who is swinging steadily toward its use as a title? Or, will it go to a denomination swiftly and steadily forming out of some congregations who once disclaimed it as a title; and sought to preach and practice the whole unadulterated gospel? The term church is not a title, as used in the New Testament. It is a translation of a word in the Greek Scriptures which signified a congregation, assembly, or ones called out. The word church is limited to a religious usage, and has lost the real significance of the original word. To some it means a building in which people gather. To most people it signifies a denomination; as they ask to what church one belongs. But who thinks of it as signifying the called out of Christ? who thinks of it as the assembly? or the congregation of Christ? These terms are not limited to religious purposes, and have a real significance. The other is coming to be a title for some denomination with a set traditional religious definition.

Pastor began as a perfectly good word to describe the duty and function of elders in a congregation. It lost its general usage and came to be a religious word only, when it came to be used as a title for those men. Still later, it came to be used as a title for a man who speaks to the congregation. There is no titular office connected with the term speaker, it merely describes what one does. Hence, instead of using such a term, they, in their pride and arrogance, take a title, pastor.

Bishop is another word which has come to a title; but in the translations of the New Testament it merely described the work of the elders of the congregation. In some instances it is translated overseer. This is a word of general usage and has the idea of work rather than of title. The word bishop, however, has lost its general significance and has degenerated into a stale religious word. It is used as a title for church dignitaries. To say that a man is an overseer does not sound as BIG as to say that he is a bishop; but overseer describes the New Testament function, while bishop signifies, to the average mind, church dignity only.

Deacon is a word which has been anglicized from the Greek. It is sometimes translated in the English versions; and when done, the word is servant. One does not think of the word servant as being a title; because it is a common word used to denote the type of work one does. On the other hand, the word deacon is stale as a religious word only; and has come to be used as a title to lend official dignity and pride to certain people in the church rather than to describe their function.

Minister, in like manner, is translated from a word which denoted service rather than a title of arrogant dignity. It is now a title worn by officials of civil government and of dignified preachers in the church. What MINISTER wants to be thought of as a SERVANT? The latter word is not a title, it describes humble relationship; but the former is a title in governmental affairs, and has come to have that signification in religious affairs.

For a correct presentation of the truth, and to keep from developing traditional doctrines, we need to have the Scriptures in live language. The intention of recent versions in the English language has been to give the Scriptures in more modern language. But at times they fail by going back to words which have become limited to a traditional religious significance. Notice a couple of examples. The version of 1900 uses the word bishop in its translation of Acts 20:28, a stale religious word which must yet be defined in living language; but the version of 1611 uses a word, overseer, which continues to be a live word. The version of 1952 seeks to make a title of the word deaconess, and give a dignified office in the church to Phoebe, in Romans 16:1; but the earlier versions already mentioned do not use a word of church tradition, they translate it servant, a word which has a live signification. All people know what a servant is; but they have to 'turn to a religious definition to find what a deaconess is, and, when they do, they are likely to have their thinking colored by the denominational usage of the term.