By Connie W. Adams
Jesus addressed the multitudes and his disciples in Matthew 23 and aimed some of his strongest words at the religious leaders of his time. He said that as long as the scribes and Pharisees taught what the law of Moses said, they should give heed to the law in spite of the fact that these teachers did not always practice what they preached. “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” (v. 4). He said they love “the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues” (v. 6). They loved to be greeted in public places as “Rabbi, Rabbi.” Jesus said not to do that “for one is your Master even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, 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” (vv. 8-12).
There is much to learn here that should never be forgotten. It is not wrong to study the will of God so as to teach it to others. The teacher bears a great responsibility according to James 3:1-2. It is not wrong for a student to appreciate the preparation and skill of his teacher. “Honor to whom honor” is a clear scriptural principle (Rom. 13:7).
But there is a problem when the student descends to a fawning adulation for the teacher and when the teacher comes to expect and to love such attention. For many years some of our brethren have suffered from an inferiority complex. They have gazed with eager eyes at the “Doctors” of theology of the denominational world. Some of this has generated a hunger for men of distinction among us. During the years leading up to the institutional division there was an increasing amount of deference shown to the “Doctors” among the brethren. I saw newspaper advertisements that “Doctor” so and so of such and such a school would speak in some great “campaign.” A thirst for denominational status was being satisfied.
When Pat Hardeman returned from the University of Illinois to teach at Florida College, his wife annoyed some of the staff when she would call and ask to speak to “Dr. Hardeman.” On a lecture program in the late 1950s, Hardeman defended calling men “Doctor” who had earned their degree. C.R. Nichol followed him that day and referred to the interesting things “brother Hardeman” said. Then he stopped and corrected himself and said “Excuse me, Doctor Hardeman.” That was all he said and it brought a chuckle from the crowd.
It takes a long time and much work for one to earn a Ph.D. Such an effort is honorable. I can understand why schools need to attract teachers who have attained these degrees. What concerns me is the fact that some brethren unrelated to the schools (except as supporters) want to identify certain brethren by titles when they are outside the academic environment. I attended a social function where a teacher from Florida College was the guest speaker. He was introduced by a local brother as “Doctor” so and so. I am sure the teacher did not request this or even desire it. Shall we introduce those who attained an M.A. as “Master” thus and so? If one has a B.A., shall we refer to him as “Bachelor” so and so?
Is it not so that among brethren in the Lord, there is no greater honor than to be known simply as that — a brother in the Lord? I don’t mean to make a title out of “brother” either. I mean simply to denote a spiritual bond, little brother (with a small b) and not big Brother (with a big B).
It has always been hard for schools to maintain a balance between academic credentials and soundness in the faith. Because a professor is needed for a certain department who has a Ph.D., there is a great need to be sure that this degreed professor is sound in the faith and has both feet rooted in the word of God. His influence will be far reaching in the lives of his students. When such men leave the school environment to teach and preach among brethren in the Lord, let them be treated with the same respect as any other preacher or teacher of the word of Life, but no more than that. As far as I know that is the attitude of the men I know who have earned their doctoral degrees. All brethren need to be taught to respect this principle.
Indeed, is there a “Doctor” in the house of the Lord? Or are we all brethren, simply servants of the one Lord?
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