Prologue | Table of Contents | Chapter 10

The Pharisees wanted to be seen of men. They enlarged their phylacteries (prayer boxes with scripture verses inside that were worn on their foreheads and left arm) as a show of piety. They also extended the tassels on the borders of their robes, so as to attract the attention of men. They loved to sit at the head-table at feasts and the chief seats in the synagogues. They would blow a trumpet in the market place to draw everyone's attention when they were about to give a coin to a beggar. They enjoyed the greetings they received in the streets, "Rabbi, Rabbi, Father, Master." Rabbi was a title of dignity not unlike many used in Christianity today. It was one of the titles used by the Jews to create a scholastic hierarchy and set their teachers apart as distinct and superior, arising from belief that special imputed power and station belong to the title. Their attitude of superiority, accentuated by their brilliant robes and honorific titles, distinguished them like the magnificent blue/green plumage and long tail feathers of the strutting male peacock. And to this arrogant show of piety our Lord issued the warning:

"For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost places at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But you be not called Rabbi: for one is your Teacher, even Christ; and all you are brothers. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, who is in heaven. Neither be you called masters: for one is your Teacher, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted." (Matthew 23:4-12 KJ2)

Christ's secondary point against hierarchy hangs on one word, brothers.

The Greek word for brother in the above passage is adelphos which means, "the womb" or rather, "from the same womb." It was the greeting of equals. Its English equivalent is sibling. Now if that doesn't speak of equality, what does? Any time one child in a family tries to rise up and command the other children, the fur starts flying. Much tension in the church today is caused by this very thing. The New Living Translation nailed it right on the head when they translated Jesus' words, "Don't ever let anyone call you `Rabbi,' for you have only one teacher, and all of you are on the same level as brothers and sisters" (Matthew 23:8 NLT).

Jesus Washing Feet

The primary reason we should not take to ourselves honorific titles is because they are already taken. Jesus has already filled the positions of Rabbi, Master and Teacher and the title Father belongs to God Himself. Another title that belongs to God is Reverend. It is found only once in the Bible in Psalm 111:9. There is only "One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Ephesians 4:5-6). There is One Head over the one body with each member responding to His wishes (Ephesians 4:15-16). Any attempt to exercise dominion over other Christians supplants the authority of the One. To posture as rabbi, master, father, pastor, priest, bishop, cardinal, or pope is to set yourself in opposition to the One.

The great Christian paradox is this: the pathway to glory leads down in humility and servanthood. Any attempt to climb up even through seemingly "official channels" will meet with the resistance of God. With the rise of the clergy in the late first or early second centuries, churches began to experience His displeasure with a marked decrease of divine life and power. Soren Kierkegaard observed, "When there were no clergy and the Christians were all brothers, God was closer than when clergymen, many clergymen, a powerful ecclesiastical order, came into being" (Provocations). How true! We are all on the same level as brothers and sisters in God's sight. One is Master. All are brothers.

Eberhard Arnold wrote, "There is no lord in this Church community but Christ and Christ alone; there is no leader but the one single Head, who is Jesus Christ. We are all brothers together. We are all members, and we all serve. We are living cells. What governs in this Body through the power of the Holy Spirit is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God" (Lectures and Writings of Eberhard Arnold).

What a lowly title is "brother"! It is a title of anonymity, which stands in stark contrast to the climbing, grasping, "look at me" quest for identity that characterizes much of the western church, wherein all are trying to be the One.

The one who tries to lift himself up, after the manner of the Pharisee, shall be brought low. But he that takes on the mind of Him who humbled himself and took on the form of a servant, shall be exalted, just as Jesus was. Not in this lifetime mind you, but on the other side of the grave. Our earthly sojourn is a time of testing, a time of proving obedience, a time of walking the path that Christ walked. It is a time of being made conformable unto his death. (Philippians 3:10).

Today, the clergy view themselves as superior to others (See Philippians 2:3) thinking more highly of themselves than they should (Romans 12:3). And in direct violation of Jesus' teaching and example, they intimidate through religious titles, theological degrees, vestments and posturing.

The only vestment that Jesus wore was the scarlet robe that the governor's soldiers placed on him after they took Him into the common hall and stripped Him. The only crown that adorned His brow was a crown of thorns shaped and forced on his head by the same Roman hands. For a scepter, they placed a reed in his right hand. And as for kingly adulation, they bowed before him, mocking him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spit upon him, and took the reed, and struck him on the head. This is as close to being an earthly king as Jesus ever got, yet so many who call themselves His servants and ministers strive to be greater than He.

Remember the word that I said to you, "A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. (John 15:20-21 NKJV)

Prologue | Table of Contents | Chapter 10

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