Rev. Stewart is a minister of the Protestant Reformed Churches, presently working in Northern Ireland. This editorial was originally published in the Covenant Reformed News (October 2002, vol. 9, issue 6).
Several readers have inquired about the propriety of using the title “Reverend” of ministers. One cited Psalm 111:9, which says of God: “holy and reverend is his name.” There are two reasons why this verse cannot be used against calling ministers “Reverend.” First, if “Reverend” cannot be applied to man in any sense, neither can “holy,” for the text says, “holy and reverend is his name.” But we know that Christians are frequently called saints (lit. “holy ones”) in the Bible (e.g. Col. 1:2). Second, the Hebrew word translated “reverend” is used of people (rightly) fearing a man: “all the people greatly feared [revered] the Lord and Samuel” (I Sam. 12:18; cf. Prov. 24:21).
Another reader asks, “Does the title ‘Rev.’ mean a revered person or a reverent person?” Although a minister must be reverent (i.e. “show reverence” to God), the title “Reverend” indicates that he is a revered person, one “deserving reverence” of man.
The Scriptures tell us that the ascended Christ gives pastors and teachers to His church (Eph. 4:11; Jer. 3:15) as His ambassadors (II Cor. 5:20), to be His watchmen (Eze. 3:17) and angels (i.e. messengers) of God (Rev. 2:1). These men are ordained (I Tim. 4:14) to this special “office” (I Tim. 3:1). Under Christ, ministers (and ruling elders) administer the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 16:19; 18:18). Think of the importance of the office of minister! For “how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14).
Thus a faithful minister is worthy of reverence. We must not only “obey” and “submit” to (teaching and ruling) elders (Heb. 13:17), but we must also “hold such in reputation” (Phil. 2:29), reckon them “worthy of double honor” (I Tim. 5:17) and “esteem them very highly in love” (I Thess. 5:13).
This points us to the foundational truth that God has created a world in which those in places of authority in family, church, state and business are to be honored (cf. the fifth commandment). Children, wives, citizens and employees are to reverence their parents, husbands, civil rulers and employers respectively (Heb. 12:9; Eph. 5:33; Rom. 13:7; I Peter 2:18). Thus we give people their titles: Father, Prof., your Majesty, Prime Minister, Sir, Detective Inspector, Dr., etc. In a similar way, we believe it entirely appropriate to refer to the minister of God’s Word as “Reverend.” This is fitting since Scripture teaches that the Triune God has appointed ministers (and ruling elders and deacons) in his church and that these men must be “esteem[ed]…very highly in love for their work’s sake” (I Thess. 5:13). And remember, in honoring church officebearers, we honor Christ, the head of the church.