[By Alexander Campbell, with words emphasized in bold by Scott Shifferd Jr.]
The religious theatre of public actors is crowded. To find suitable names to designate them all would be a desideratum. We have Ministers, Divines, Clergymen, Elders, Bishops, Preachers, Teachers, Priests, Deans, Prebendaries, Deacons, Arch-Bishops, Arch-Deacons, Cardinals, Popes, Friars, Priors, Abbots, Local Preachers, Circuit Preachers, Presiding Elders, Missionaries, Class Leaders, Licentiates, cum multis aliis. I do not know what to do with them all. I would call them all by scriptural names if I could find them. But it is very difficult to find scriptural names for unscriptural things.
I have rummaged the inspired books to find some scriptural names for them all, or some general names, under which, with some sort of affinity, we might hope to class them. But this is also a difficult task. I find the following are the nearest approach I can make: Deacons, Bishops, Preachers, Evangelists, Antichrists. This last term is a sort of summum, genus for a large majority of them. The term preacher will hardly apply to any of them, in its scriptural import. Christian mothers who make known to their children the glad tidings, or the facts concerning the Saviour, are the most worthy of this name of any persons now on earth. Evangelists will not strictly apply to any, in its primitive usage. Though the printers of the history of Jesus Christ, and those who proclaim the ancient gospel, in the capacity of public speakers, may, of all others, deserve to inherit this name with the most reasonable pretensions. Elders will apply to old men, only, whether they are official or unofficial members of society. Overseers or Bishops will apply to all, and to note but those who have the presidency or oversight of one congregation. Deacons, to those males who are the public servants of the whole congregation. Deaconesses, to those female public servants, who officiate amongst the females. Teacher, is a generic term which will apply to all men in the capacity of public instructers. As for the others, I cannot classify them. The word antichrist covers a goodly number of them: and it is not worth the labor to tell which of them may escape the enrollment. They who have more leisure may amuse themselves with such speculations.
The officers of the christian congregations found in the New Institution were overseers and public servants, or bishops and deacons. – Every well ordered congregation was supplied with these. They had one, or more, male and female deacons, who served the congregations in performing such service or ministry to the male and female members of their respective communicates, as circumstances required; but all these official duties were confined to one single congregation. Such a thing as a bishop, over two, three, or four congregations, was as unknown, unheard of, and unthought of in the primitive and ancient order of things in the christian communities, as a husband with two, three, or four living wives. There is just as much reason and scripture for one pope and twelve cardinals, as for one bishop and four congregations.
A bitter sweet or a sweet bitter is not more incongruous than a young elder, or to see a young stripling addressed as an elder. It is not long since I saw, in a newspaper, such an annunciation as this: “Elder A.B. will preach at such a place at such an hour.” But the satire was, that elder A.B. was not twenty-three years old. Another equally incongruous was, that “bishop W.T. will lecture in the court house on the first Sunday of July.” The humor was that Bishop W.T. had no diocess, nor cure, nor see, nor congregation, nor oversight on this side of the moon. Now what shall we do with these anomalies? I answer, call no man a bishop or overseer, who has not a flock or an oversight; call no man a deacon who is not the public servant of a community; call those who proclaim the ancient gospel evangelists.
This, upon the whole, is the least exceptionable name for them. It does in its etymology, just express the proclamation of the glad tidings; and if it did not import any thing more, it cannot now. The ancients called those who wrote as well as those who spoke the facts constituting the gospel history, by this name. Besides, the office of evangelist, as a proclaimer of the gospel, was always contingent. He was needed only in some places, and at some times, and was not a permanent officer of the christian church. His office now answers to that of the prophets of old. The prophets as extemporaneous and occasional teachers became necessary. When, then, any congregation has a brother well qualified to proclaim the gospel, and when there is, in the vicinity, a people in need of such a service, let the person so sent by them, be called an evangelist. Perhaps the present distress requires such persons as much as any former period. But when christian congregations over the country, and walk in the instituted order of the new constitution, such persons will not be necessary, any more than a standing army in time of peace.
But when we speak of the armies of sects, how shall we denominate them? Let us call them all teachers of their respective tenets; such as teacher of Methodism, teacher of Presbyterianism; or Independent teachers, Baptist teachers, Methodist teachers, &c. This is not at all disrespectful nor incongruous. In addressing letters, or in publishing the names and offices of persons, in order to save time, paper, and ink, let us use the following abbreviations: Bp. for bishop, Dn. for Deacon, Et. for Evangelist.
Distinctions of this sort are only necessary for discrimination from persons of similar names in the same vicinities. There is a great love in the American people for titles. So strong is this passion that many retain the title of an office, which, perhaps, they only filled a year or two, all their lives. How many captains, majors, colonels, generals, esquires have we who have become obsolete. Christians cannot, consistently with their profession, desire the official name without the work. If a man, says Paul, desire the office of a bishop, he desires a good work. The work then and not the name or title engrosses the ambition of the christian.
In the common intercourse of life, it is requisite that we give all their dues. Even where honor is due, the debt ought to be paid. Paul thought it no incongruity with the christian apostleship to call a Pagan governor “Most noble Felix.” This very term, Luke, the amiable physician, and evangelist, applies to a christian brother of high political standing, “most excellent Theophilus.” We ought to address all men wearing official titles, when we address them publicly, by the title which designate their standing among men. There is a squeamishness of conscience, or a fastidiousness of taste, which some men, and some sectaries exhibit about giving any official names or titles to men of high rank or standing. This proceeds more from pride than from humility, and more from the intimation of some eccentric genius than from the examples of either patriarchs, prophets, saints, or martyrs in the age of God’s Revelations. Let us then endeavor to call things by their proper names; and render to all men their dues.