How come church-members call us “Reverend Femi” but we just call the Lord, “Jesus?”
When I wrote my first book, I sent free copies to many pastors in Lagos. One of those to whom I sent a copy sent it back with “return to sender” written on the package, even though it was addressed to his church office. I thought this was strange until Lucky Polete asked to see the package. When I showed it to him, he said: “No wonder. That is a wrong address.” “What is wrong with it?” I asked. “He is not a pastor. He is a bishop,” Lucky replied. “If you don’t address it correctly, it will not be given to him.”
Vanity of vanities
Peter was an experienced fisherman. Nevertheless, he fished all night and caught nothing. Then Jesus told him to cast his net in the same place that had spelt failure to him. Peter was convinced Jesus did not know what he was talking about. But rather than being unnecessarily argumentative, he decided to oblige. He said to Jesus: “Nevertheless at your word, I will let down the net.” When he did, he was amazed at the amount of fish he caught. Had he known, he would have followed Jesus’ precise instructions and cast down more than one net (Luke 5:4-5).
I also thought Lucky’s idea a bit far-fetched. Why would a bishop return a gift only because it had been mistakenly addressed to him as pastor? So I said to Lucky, “nevertheless at your word, I will change the address to “Bishop.” I did accordingly and instructed my secretary to send the package again to the same address.
Guess what happened? This time, not only did the book get to the man, he wrote me a reply in person, thanking me for it. I started to wonder if it was his assistants who had refused to give him the book the first time because he was addressed as pastor, or whether he had returned it to them himself because he considered it an insult. Judging by Lucky’s position, it is possible that his staff had a standing instruction that nobody was allowed to address him by any other title except that of bishop.
In any case, I understand the bishop is now an archbishop.
I mean no disrespect to the archbishop. I am sure he is far more honourable than me. I have it on good authority that he has certainly touched more lives for good than I have. Nevertheless, I am a little concerned. How can anyone read Jesus’ directive that his disciples must shun titles of honour and reconcile it with the array of titles among the Christian clergy today?
Jesus is particularly scathing about the craze for public recognition and ostentatious titles among religious authorities. He says about them: “Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend’. Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates” (Matthew 23:5-8).
If Jesus cautions that we should not be called “reverend,” how do we suppose he regards all the new titles that have since been added to ascribe even more pomposity to so-called “Men of God?” Now we also have overseers, bishops, deacons, evangelists, cardinals, popes and right-reverends. We even address some today as men of old addressed God. We refer to them as “Monsignor” (French for “My Lord”), “Your Excellency,” “Your Eminence,” “Your Holiness,” “The Holy Father,” “Supreme Pontiff,” and “Vicar of Christ” (which means, imagine it, Vice-Messiah).
How come church-members have to call us “Reverend Femi” but we can just call the Lord, “Jesus?” Why don’t we insist on calling him “Saviour Jesus” or “Messiah Jesus?” How come we pastors insist on all kinds of protocols, but God reveals himself in Christ as a servant of men? (Matthew 20:28). How come men are made to kiss our rings and refer to us obsequiously as “Your Grace,” but the book of Revelation has angels saying to God with familiarity “Thou art worthy, O Lord” instead of the more respectful “You are worthy?” (Reverend 4:11).
The fact is, somewhere along the line, we pastors lost the plot.
The supercilious prison pastor decided to have a word with a prisoner being released on parole. “As you make your way back into society, Kojo, I want you to remember all the sermons you heard while you were here.”
The prisoner replied: “Pastor, no one who has heard you preach would ever want to come back here.”