By Paul Koch –
What is a Reverend?
When I sign my name to official documents such as a marriage license, I state my title as a “reverend.” When I go to a conference or have business cards printed, my name usually appears as Rev. Paul Koch. Even when I set up my signature for e-mail correspondence, I put the beloved and expected Rev. at the beginning of my name.
Now, I know that reverend is the title we use for members of the clergy. I know that people have a certain picture of what someone with this title does when they hear or read it. I’m sure a bit of Google research could determine how this became a standardized title for clergy. Most likely, it has its roots in some rice-cake theology of the Presbyterians, but in the end, I don’t much care. This title is wholly inadequate and even misleading as it hits our ears today. Priest, I think, is much worse. Father may be a lot better, but here the clergy encroach upon vocation already established and crucial in the handing on of God’s gifts.
At my previous congregation in Southeast Georgia, I spent a fair bit of time at a delightful little watering hole with the charming title “The Bloody Bucket.” It wasn’t as scary as it sounds. In fact, it was just a great neighborhood bar inhabited by some of the most colorful people you could hope to meet in such a place. Over the years, they accepted me as one of their own, and along with such acceptance came the title that I cherish to this day. When I would wander through the door, one of the patrons or the bartender would shout “preacher” or “Preacher Paul” and crack open a Bud Light and set it on the bar.
Above all else, I believe that the clergy are called to be preachers. Above all else, I believe that it is preaching that defines what it is a pastor is to do. Above all else, I believe that it is preaching that cures the ills (real or imagined) within the church; not bureaucracy, not new rules, not clever slogans, not worship style, not use of multimedia, not testimonials or examples of faithful living but preaching!
Articles 4 and 5 of The Augsburg Confession set it forth beautifully for us:
Furthermore, it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfaction, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness in his sight, as St. Paul says in Romans 3 and 4.
To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe.
The clergy are the stewards of the means through which Holy Spirit works faith in those who hear the Gospel. They then are called to be the preachers of Christ crucified so other will indeed hear and receive the justifying work of God.
On Monday evening, I was in O’Leary’s Tavern (my favorite local watering hole in Ventura, CA) with a good friend, who is about to begin his vicarage (basically an internship for those studying at the seminary). Over a few glasses of Rye, we began talking about what he hoped to learn during the next year. And the conversation turned to becoming a preacher. At this point, I climbed proudly on my soapbox (some of my friends call it a Tourette fueled rant) and began to declare that this is the one thing that always seems to get pushed to the background, while it is the one thing that is most crucial.
Clergy may do a lot of things—things we think of when we hear the title “reverend.” They may act as a CEO or function as a counselor or coach. They might need to know how to organize and motivate volunteers and how to be an effective leader. They may be outstanding academics or morals examples. But as I said at the end of my soapbox speech in the bar the other night, “You are not going to be ordained to be a reverend but a preacher.”