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.