All Around Us

Gise J. Van Baren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.

‘The Reverend’s’ last stand”

An interesting defence of the title “Reverend” in addressing the minister of the Word is presented in the Calvinist Contact, Sept. 25, 1987, by Rev. Carl D. Tuyl (the periodical explains: “Pastor Carl is a reverend in the First Christian Reformed Church of Kingston, Ontario).

There is among us of late a sort of linguistically reformatory movement which attempts to banish the title “reverend” from ecclesiastical vocabulary. Some grammatically enlightened persons in our midst have discovered that “reverend” is an adjective that requires an accompanying noun. There are always people who regard the purification of life as their calling. Unable to bring about much purification in other areas, they sublimate their efforts in the field of language. 

One could, of course, call the minister “reverend Sir,” which, although grammatically correct, would require a degree of civility which for many is too difficult to achieve. 

So the linguistic purists have cast about For suitable substitutional nomenclature, and have hit upon “pastor,” which has a nice, non-threatening sound to it, especially when used in combination with a given name, such as in “Pastor Gilbert, ” “Pastor Erwell, ” or Pastor Pete.” 

Before the title “‘reverend” joins other noble appellations as “your honour,” and “your worship” in obscurity, I would like to ease my conscience by attempting at least one apology to save the old Familiar adjective, which in my admittedly naive understanding of language could be allowed to stand by itself. . . . 

I would, first of all, like to say that not all language demands grammatical purity. Poetry would probably die a sudden death if it was compelled to adhere to strict rules of grammar. Shakespeare himself starts one of his sonnets with this line: ‘I never saw that you did painting need. . . . .” 

. . . The great linguist and orator Winston Churchill was once reminded by a rather junior member of parliament that sentences ought not to end with a preposition, upon which the Great One replied: “That is something up with which I am not going to put” . . . . 

The grey-haired veteran of the ministry of the gospel, who baptized generations of children, married their parents and hurried their grandparents, and who was respectfully called “reverend” by the latter because of the God he served and represented, must not be called: “‘Pastor Bill. ” There is something derogatory in that, like calling your grandmother Sis. It is in my mind akin to the boorishness of that American journalist who called out to Her Majesty the Queen: “Hey Liz!” Even that canon of linguistic purity. The Oxford English Dictionary mentions instances as far back as the early eighteenth century where the adjective was used by craftsmen of the language without being attached to a noun. 

The ambassador of a country is not called “your excellency” because he or she is such an excellent person, rather because of respect for the country represented in that person. The judge is called “your honour” because of respect for the court, not for his person. The title “reverend” in Presbyterian and Reformed usage does not want to imply any quality in the bearer of that title, but rather it acknowledges with reverence and respect the Almighty in whose name this person speaks from Sunday to Sunday. 

To be sure, to call that person “reverend” is committing a grammatical mistake. Reverend is an adjective that does require a noun to which it can attach itself. The community that does reject the old title, however, lives quite contentedly with many other linguistic monstrosities. “Reverend” simply became the fall guy upon whom all the fervor of linguistic reformation was heaped. 

The title “pastor” is an illegal alien in the Reformed vernacular. It is reminiscent of pre-reformation times when members of the clergy were so called. It is also borrowed from Lutheran usage where the title was not so much parachuted in, as; it was preserved as a venerable relic of earlier times. Or it is copied from circles where worship is exercised with manifestations of hysteria. 

The word has, moreover, a rather one sided connotation: shepherd. There might he a hidden theological motivation in the new term. A shepherd is supposed to lead his flock to green pastures without any effort on the part of the flock itself: When the Dutch speak of a minister as ‘Shepherd” it is never separated from the title “teacher.” Those two terms were inseparable: shepherd and teacher. The newfangled insistence on “pastor” may just be a sub-conscious rejection of the teaching aspect of the ministry. Attendance at the second service, which traditionally is the teaching service, could support that observation. 

With these paragraphs, then, I consider to have acquitted myself of the self appointed duty to protect the title “reverend.” It is probably done in vain, like trying to create appreciation for the second service conducted by “Pastor Jack.”

Well, what do you think?

The Conservatives’ Alternatives

The “conservatives” in the Christian Reformed Church increasingly face the question: What can be done to stem the tide of “liberalism” which is sweeping their churches? Dr. Lester De Koster, in The Outlook, Nov. 1987, presents not only the problem, but his own proposed solutions. The proposals present a tone of desperation. Some solution, no matter how radical, must be sought. While I would not want to discourage the “conservatives” in their battle for the faith once delivered to the saints, a word of caution ought to be uttered. Dr. L. De Koster himself, when editor of the Banner, years ago warned (though in a different connection) of the impossibility of mixing oil and water. Still, his solution below appears to be doing just that: having a mix of water and oil within the walls of one denomination.

Lester De Koster writes:

There is anxiety in the Christian Reformed Church. 

Some attach theirs to women in office; others to various speculations on the Calvin campus; still others to boondoggling at synods and Establishment manipulation of the denomination to serve its own hobbies. There is also a general concern that preaching is at low ebb, with commitment to the Forms of Unity steadily eroding. 

These anxieties surface in predictable ways. Some few congregations have opted out; others talk of it. A rather large number of members have identified with the Committee of the Concerned, and a number of churches have been represented at meetings in the Lansing, Illinois, Lynwood Church to share frustrations. 

But, as other denominational experiences suggest, there is little hope for the restoration of; a lost theological unity among us. Between the “Bible prohibits women in church office” interpretation of the Word, and the Bible does not prohibit women in church office” there is no middle ground. “Did God say?” offers but two exclusive alternatives: Yes or No. While something like, “You take your interpretation and I’ll take mine” opens the way to the loss of biblical authority altogether. 

For many believers the road to ultimate schism portends a forbidding journey. 

Some lack the initiative or the energy or sense of the imperative even to contemplate a denominational split. Their more ardent fellows are as Frustrated with them as with the Establishment. 

Others have an instinctive distaste for rending the Body of Christ so long as it retains some evidence of life. Perhaps the on-going presence of boards and agencies is some assurance that not all is in jeopardy. The ecclesiastical machinery functions, and the steadily increasing demands for quota support suggest that at least some things are afoot.

But what then? De Koster presents the option of local churches insisting upon the pure preaching of the Word in their midst. Trouble is, the Seminary (Calvin) of the “Establishment” is in control of the liberals. And one can attain the pulpit in the C.R.C. only through Calvin Seminary (at least one year of training there). So, what hope is there for obtaining proper preaching and proper preachers from that institution? Then the churches ought to take graduates, say, from MARS (Mid-America Reformed Seminary), examine them, and install them in office (contrary to the rules of the Church Order). De Koster considers, also, some of the problems of such action.

But, Establishment repercussions? Threats, even? 

Probably. 

Especially some who might wink at the Church Order and synodical decisions as suits their own convenience could present themselves as aghast at your “violation” of “God’s” order. Classes and synods may be lined up against you. But faced with the loss of your quota payments, the Establishment will find ways to re-think the matter, Dare them, and if they cut you off, use the money to hire another pastor of your choosing. 

But let a Few courageous congregations exercise their right—and it indeed is their right!—to fill their pulpits according to conscience, and the denomination will settle into a more amiable atmosphere than has prevailed for a long time. Live and let live! We have found room for all sorts of “congregationalism” under our tent so far; room will appear for this variety too! 

But some congregations might follow this lead and at once call and ordain women as their ministers? 

Probably so. But is it not entirely predictable that some synod will soon endorse that anyway—and synods thereafter will be deaf to petitions for correction of the error? Don’t be too surprised if; after the pulpit is synodically opened to women, the Establishment mind looks to making a “team” ministry mandatory. It’s happened in other once-orthodox bodies . . . .

Much as I do admire Dr. De Koster’s way with words, even when so sharp and cutting, the article does convey a tone of desperation. The proposal as presented can ultimately only end in anarchy within the denomination—when everyone does what is right in his own eyes. Is that not a prescription for disaster? What will happen to a generation of children which grows up within that denomination? Who will instruct them in its grade schools, high schools, and college? It does not take a great deal of imagination to know that within a brief time, most will go along with the “Establishment”. If things are as bad as De Koster presents them, then the solution to the problems these face should be very clear.