Monday, October 2nd, 2006

When I first got into church I enjoyed calling everyone “Brother X” and “Sister X.”  The use of such titles made everyone seem like a family.  Over the years, however, that enjoyment has waned for a couple of reasons.  Now I tend to drop the “brother” bit, and simply call people by their first name.

First, I came to realize that the title–meant to express something beautiful–was being used for ugly purposes. Some view the preface more as an honorary title indicative of personal respect than they do a familial and informal way of referring to one another.  There have been instances in which certain individuals (admittedly always men, always in positions of authority) have berated fellow-believers for not addressing them as “brother X.”  Although this is a minority attitude, the phenomenon did sour my perception of “brother.”

Secondly, the consistent use of the preface seems to keep relationships on too formal of a level.  People we are not particularly close to we call Brother X and Sister X; people we are close to we refer to by their first name.  Why?  Because the preface is too formal.  When the relationship deepens the preface tends to fall out of use naturally.

But doesn’t Scripture use such terminology?  Yes and no.  While the NT commonly uses familial language such as “brother” to refer to fellow-believers in the body of Christ in a generic sense, it only uses “brother” as a personal title for a specific individual on two occasions: Acts 9:17—Ananias called Paul “Brother Saul” (Acts 22:16 recounts same event); Acts 21:20—James called Paul “brother.” (There are 15 additional instances in which specific individuals are named, adding “our brother” or “a brother” (Rom 16:23; I Cor 1:1; 16:12; II Cor 1:1; 2:13; Eph 6:21; Phil 2:25; Col 1:1; 4:7, 9; I Thes 3:2; Phm 1; Heb 13:23; I Pet 5:12; II Pet 3:15; ); however, in every instance “brother” is used as a description, not as a title.)  Compare these two occurrences with the hundreds of others in which people were simply called by their first name.  Calling someone “Brother X” was the exception, not the norm. The opposite is true in most Pentecostal churches.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not opposed to calling people “Brother X,” or referring to fellow-believers as brothers.  I thank God for the appellation!  How many times have we had the luxury of addressing those whose names we have forgotten with the generic, “Hi brother.  How are you?”  What I am opposed to is using the preface as an honorary title, over-using it, or being afraid to address someone without employing it.  There are times in which it is appropriate to call someone “Brother X,” or just plain “brother,” but let’s not forget that the name of our birth certificates does not begin with “brother” or “sister.

Jean Peduzzi-Nelson, associate professor in the department of anatomy and cell biology at Detroit’s Wayne State University School of Medicine, wrote an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (posted online 9-02-06) about the current state of stem cell research. She explored the common arguments for the superiority of embryonic over adult stem cells, and found each lacking in practical or rational force.


Peduzzi-Nelson argues that adult stem cells are not only the only source of fruitful stem cell research at this point in time, but that the successes in adult stem cell research may obviate the practical need for embryonic stem cells. While the entire article is worth the read, one portion in particular is worth quoting here. Regarding the potential of embryonic stem cells to form into any one of the body’s 200+ cells Peduzzi-Nelson writes, “The ‘potential of embryonic stem cells to possibly form every cell type’ in the body is amazing but is of little clinical relevance. As long as a stem/progenitor cell is capable of forming the cell types needed for a particular injury or disease, the capability to form every cell type is a moot point.”<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–> In other words, so long as adult stem cells are able to form the cells we need to treat/cure disease, it is irrelevant how many other types of cells an embryonic stem cell might be able to create. What is needed are useful cells, not unuseful cells.


And by the way, the reason scientists say embryonic stem cells have the potential to morph into any of the body’s more than 200 cell types is because scientists have not been able to coax embryonic stem cells into doing so. While stem cells do so naturally in the normal development process, scientists have not yet discovered how to replicate the process in the lab.

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<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>Jean Peduzzi-Nelson, “Adult cells are behind much of stem cell success so far”; available from; Internet; accessed 25 September 2006.