Reading theologians’ refer to Alexander Campbell as a “reverend” is somewhat humorous considering that Campbell called such an “the arrogant title.” Alexander Campbell called out the churches who are in the practice of giving titles. This same custom is taught today in the churches of Christ. May Christians act with caution. Could titles like “preacher,” “teacher,” “brother” and, or “minister” become titles of exaltation like “pastor,” “reverend,” and “bishop” have become? May teachers, preachers, and evangelists just remain “servants.”
GREAT is the love for titles in this reformed republican country. All acknowledge that a love for epithets of honor and titular distinction betrays great weakness and folly, however this passion may be associated with intellectual endowments. The English statesman is not more perplexed to find out new subjects of taxation, than the good people of this country to find out and obtain honorable titles. This passion has, like the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life, invaded what is here called ‘the church.‘ Hence every thing, from a state bishop down to a class-leader, is in eager demand in this country. Our ‘benevolent institutions,’ like the different orders of monks, have created scores of titles unknown before. To find a christian professor worth three thousand dollars, without a military, civil, or a religious title, is as difficult as to find a pensioned clergymen a student of the Bible. Whenever we find a man a little elevated above providing for the wants of every day, we are prompted to inquire for his title. There never was a country blessed with so many Generals, Colonels, and Captains, and so few wars and soldiers, as these United States. Never was there a church militant so rich in honorary distinctions, with so few real christians, as the church militant of America.
The world, too, not only bestows ecclesiastical titles, as in the case of religious doctorates, but salutes members of churches by their official name, as commonly as a private in the army addresses his commander by his official designation. At a militia muster in one place, we heard of one citizen introducing to another, Captain A, Deacon B, Major C, and the Rev. D. with as much pertinancy to custom and inclination as ever did a father call his sons by the name which he had given them.
To lower the haughty pretensions of those who claim to themselves a politically patented episcopacy, as well as to put out of countenance the arrogant title of Reverend and to call things by their proper names, we recommended the term ‘bishop‘ as the common scriptural designation of all persons having the oversight of a Christian community. The Presbyterians and Baptists had long ago assumed in their creeds this name or title as a proper designation of the person or persons who had the oversight of a congregation; but from a peculiar fastidiousness of taste permitted the Methodists and Episcopalians to appropriate it to an officer which the Lord Jesus never instituted. In our tongue the term overseer is that corresponding to the obsolete Saxon piscop, or bishop, and the Greek episcopus. But we discover the same abuse of the term is likely to prevail among us, as that which we opposed in others, viz, the application of it in an appropriated sense to persons not sustaining the office of a christian overseer in a christian congregation. For this cause, and to reform from this rage for titular distinctions, we are constrained to regard the term obsolete, and to disclaim the use and acceptation of it. We can no longer in good conscience, apply it to many who are so designated, nor accept it as due to ourselves. A congregation of christians may have, and, as soon as it can, ought to have, its presidents and servants, or overseers and public servants, in the common version called bishops and deacons; but that we should call every leader, preacher, or teacher a president or overseer, is to abuse the scripture style and to flatter the vanity of those who love fine titles as young Misses love fine clothes. For my own part, not sustaining at this time the particular oversight of any one congregation, I cannot consent to the application of the term to myself: and if I did, I know of no reason which should attach to my name the term bishop or overseer always and in all places, more than the term editor or farmer. My name is Alexander Campbell, and by this alone I choose to be known among men. Neither Mr. nor Rev. nor Bishop, accord with my feelings, calling, nor the cause which I plead. I am sometimes doing the work of a farmer, of an editor, of an evangelist, of a teacher, of a mechanic, a merchant, and of a post-master. No official name better than that of a public servant, could designate my various labors, and that carries with it no distinction, and is therefore useless. It will save ink, paper, labor, and time, to designate me by the name by which I expect to be addressed by the angels and by the Saviour and Judge of men; and as there is no other person in this vicinity with whom I can he confounded, there is no necessity for a title or epithet of a any sort whatever.
Some of our acquaintance would, methinks, look very much abashed to he saluted in the great day with the title Reverend, Elder, Bishop, or Deacon, by him who will render to every man according to his works! And how the Doctors of Divinity will hang their heads in the presence of that Paul whom they have so often misquoted, and of that Saviour, whose command, ‘Be not called Rabbi,‘ they have so often contemned; imagination cannot paint, nor ink and paper describe. EDITOR.