[Originally headed up “Use of the title ‘Reverend’ by Baptist ministers”, this article was written by Brian Smith (Principal Emeritus, Carey Baptist College), April 1999. As far as we (Carey Centre for Lifelong Learning) are aware, New Zealand Baptists have no later document or discussion about this issue.]
In a number of Christian denominations the title “Reverend” (Rev.) is used to denote a minister. Not unnaturally the question is sometimes asked as to what the situation is with Baptist pastors [now referred to by the Baptist Union as “Baptist Leaders” including pastoral leaders, ecumenical chaplains, and missional leaders]. In this regard the following points should be noted.
- In Matthew 23.8-10 Jesus expressly forbids the use of the titles Rabbi, Father, and Teacher among his disciples. This alone should make us very cautious about the use of the title “Reverend”.
- The denominations that use the title “Rev.” do so on the basis of a theology of ordination. Ordination is based on the concept that there are “orders” within the church. When a person is “ordained” he or she becomes a member of the order of clergy over against the mass of ordinary members who form the laity.
A New Testament theology of the church can have nothing to do with the idea of “orders”. While we recognise the setting apart of people for special ministry we do not think in terms of “ordination”. Since the title “Reverend” is one of the symbols of ordination, its use by Baptist pastors becomes extremely questionable. It makes a theological statement that we don’t believe.
- The Baptist Union of Churches does not control the use of the title “Rev.” in any way, nor does it have any policy regarding its use. Use of the title is purely a matter of custom and personal preference.
In the past a tradition grew up where the graduates of Carey Baptist College or those accredited by the Union used the title “Rev.”, while other Baptist ministers designated themselves “Pastor”. Now with the new  system of “Registration” rather than “Accreditation” it is not clear what customary usage might develop.
What is clear, however, is that we should avoid any impression that there is some class distinction among ministers. This can be achieved by getting rid of the idea that some are qualified to use the title “Rev.” while others are not.
- Within the setting of your own congregation and the wider Baptist family of churches the use of the title “Rev.” should be discontinued. (Can you imagine Jesus using it?)
- However, as so often we are stuck with the history of the church. Other denominations with a theology of ordination do use the title, with the result that “Rev.” before a name is commonly seen by the wider community as declaring “this person is a proper minister”. Thus when Grandma dies, people with little church involvement want her buried by a “Rev.”. They want to honour Grandma and this includes having a properly qualified person preside at her funeral. Because of the community recognition of the title “Rev.” its use may be helpful on occasion when it is necessary to establish your bona fides, for example in hospital visitation. In this matter you will need to decide for yourself what usage is appropriate.