Friday, June 29, 2012

"DON'T CALL ME FATHER"


It happens every day.  You will often hear Catholics respectfully calling their priests “Father” as a title of honor.  But let’s get right to the issue.  Didn’t Jesus forbid us to call anyone by this title when He said, “Call no man Father” (Matthew 23:9)?   Or did He really mean something else?

But we’re not just going to address Catholics today, because members of the Orthodox Church and even some Protestants (Anglicans / Episcopalians) call their priests by this title as well.  If it’s wrong, it’s wrong for all of them.  And it is wrong.  Whether one happens to be a Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant priest, the words of this article’s title should be applied… instead of encouraging  the practice, they should be saying, “Don’t call me Father.”

Let’s look at the context of what Jesus was saying in Matthew chapter 23Speaking of the scribes and Pharisees, He said:

(v. 5)  But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries, and lengthen the tassels of their garments.
(v. 6)  And they love the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
(v. 7)  and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, Rabbi.
(v. 8)  But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.
(v. 9)  And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.
(v. 10)  And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.
(v. 11)  But the greatest among you shall be your servant.
(v. 12)  And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.  (NASV)

Catholics (and others) will often argue that Jesus was really only saying for us not to call someone “Father” if they don’t deserve it, like the scribes and Pharisees.  But Jesus didn’t say, “You can call others ‘Father,’ but not the scribes and Pharisees.”   He didn’t say, “Only call the deserving leaders ‘Father’.”  And He didn’t say, “Call no one ‘Father,’ except for priests.”  No, He said to CALL NO MAN “Father.”  Jesus clearly tells us who is deserving of the title:  No one on earth (v. 9).

But some will object and say, “But He had to be using hyperbole (that is, a figure of speech which uses exaggeration to emphasize a particular point) when He said to call no one “Father,” because other people in the Bible are called ‘fathers’.  So He couldn’t have meant it in an absolute sense.”  

But there is no exaggeration if this passage is taken in its right sense.  And the context bears out this sense… He forbids such terms when used AS FORMAL RELIGIOUS TITLES OF HONOR. 
 
Notice that the scribes and Pharisees craved the attention and approval of men (v. 5).  They loved the honor and devotion of men (v. 6).  And they loved the respectful greetings of men - and Jesus even gives examples of these greetings, which included titles (v. 7-10).  Was Jesus “exaggerating” about the scribes and Pharisees when He said these things, or when He said, “You are all brothers”?  No, not at all.  Again, context is the key.  When He said, “Call no man Father / Teacher / Leader…” He was not denying the role or the function of fathers, teachers or leaders in the church – He simply forbids the use of these terms as personal titles of honor.  

It is ok to refer to someone as a spiritual father, spiritual teacher, spiritual leader, bishop, elder, overseer, pastor, deacon, etc., because these are biblical roles.  But in the New Testament we see no titles like “Father Paul,” “Bishop Titus,” “Reverend John,” “Elder Nathaniel,” “Pastor James,” “Doctor Andrew,” “Monsignor Bartholomew,” or “Holy Father Peter.”  The context of Matthew 23:5-10 is specifically speaking of the scribes’ and Pharisees’ love of flattering religious titles and special attention 

Hyperbole is indeed exaggeration.  But it is certainly not an exaggeration to say that only God is worthy of such titles of honor.  There is nothing confusing or “exaggerated” about this passage – it is very simple and straightforward.  

Understanding the passage in this way places all Christians on the same plane as brothers (v. 8), yet with each having his own function and role in the church.  Yes, there are leaders in the church of Jesus Christ, but there is no “big I” and “little you.”  There should be no elevated religious titles if we are all brothers in Christ.

Once again, we want to make it clear that we acknowledge that the term “father / fathers” is indeed used in many places in the Old and New Testament.  Sometimes, the term simply refers to natural fathers (male parents).  Sometimes it refers to ancestors.  Sometimes it refers to “spiritual” fathers (leaders or founders of the church, for example).  But in the case of Matthew 23, it refers to none of these.

Now, we are not denying that there are some with titles in the church who are still humble.  But they are still disobedient to Matthew 23:7-10.  Sooner or later, the enemy will capitalize on this and will either cause the title-bearer to fall because of pride (Proverbs 16:18), or he will cause others to stumble because of him.

Why should we not call someone “Father”?  Simple… because it usually goes to his head!  That’s the nature of man.  Ministries and church offices or positions are gifts from God, not something we earn.  But personal spiritual titles tend to puff us up.

Whatever happened to, “I must decrease and He must increase” (John 3:30)?  It’s got to be pretty hard to “decrease” when you allow people to call you “Father,” “Doctor,” or “Reverend.”

Let us ask a serious question:  If you thought that there was any remote possibility that a title in front of your name offends God, even if only slightly, would you be willing to drop your title?  If your answer is yes, then by all means, get rid of it.  This would go a long way toward avoiding the type of inflated egos that Jesus was speaking of.

If your answer is no, why not?  Why demand to keep your title?  God knows your work and the level of your faithfulness.  If you can’t be content with losing a title, that’s just more proof that you don’t deserve any title.

Whether a “priest” is Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, he is not my father in any sense of the word.  These groups may try hard to deny it, but the concept of priests using the title “Father” seems to be EXACTLY the type of thing that Jesus was condemning.  Those using these types of religious, self-exalting titles of themselves need to repent.

By the way, not only should we not call priests “Father,” but these groups that we just mentioned all have a more serious problem:  there is no ministerial priesthood in the New Testament.  See here:

11 comments:

  1. I would be very interested in knowing more about your background. I ask because your summation has grave errors. For one, it is widely accepted among Biblical scholars that the prohibition of calling others "Father" lies not in the title itself, but what that title means—and in what Jesus meant. Calling a priest "Father" is not like calling a priest "God," "Messiah," "Savior," etc. We cannot regard a priest as our messiah, savior, or God. But, we can regard a priest as a father of his parish. I see no evidence in the Bible to suggest that Jesus would have had a problem using the term “Father” in an appropriate manner.

    Are you also suggesting that referring to your own father as "Father" is prohibited? Jesus’ teachings, as well as other Biblical teachings, clearly indicate that there are physical and spiritual fathers, priests being the latter. We are instructed not to view any man on earth as equivalent to our Father in heaven, and Jesus’ prohibition was against inaccurately attributing fatherhood to undeserving subjects (and yes, an understanding of both hyperbole and context are important here). Inasmuch, our fathers are still our fathers, and our priests can still be regarded as fathers, as well. To deny the use of "father" all around would be to deny the use of father in many, many other places in the both the Old and New Testaments (i.e., Gen. 45:8, Job 29:16, Is. 22:20–21, 2 Kgs. 2:12, Acts 7:2, Romans 9:10, among others).

    As far as “teachers” and the "ministerial priesthood" in the NT, you are also mistaken. One cannot deny that the apostles were the basis for the succession of the Christian priesthood (the 12 foundations in Revelation, for instance). There is ample evidence for apostolic, ministerial succession in the New Testament. This is clearly conveyed in passages such as: "For this I was appointed a preacher and apostle . . . a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth" (1 Tim. 2:7); or "For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher" (2 Tim. 1:11). Not only do we see that Christ clearly appointed Paul as a teacher (which seems to contradict how you define “teacher” in your interpretation of Jesus’ teaching regarding fathers and teachers), he held an actual office as a teacher: "God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers" (1 Cor. 12:28). When the apostles began dying (whether by martyrdom or natural causes), their offices were filled with new apostles, bishops, priests, and teachers. If you read beyond the New Testament-- something every Christian should do, as the NT itself wasn’t even written until 3-4 decades after Christ’s death—you will see that early, first century Christians recognized the roles of their elders, the apostolic bishops and their successors. I recommend reading early Christian teachers such as Polycarp, Ignatius, Clement (all apostolic and within the first century following Jesus’ death and resurrection), as well as John of Damascus, Eusebius, Tertullian, Augustine, and others. If you look outside Church writings, you will also find evidence of early Christianity’s structure: the works of Josephus and Tacitus, for example.

    If you are suggesting titles are the problem, not positions, then why do you care? Do you have any evidence to suggest that a title would offend God when used appropriately? How can you presume to know what offends God, especially when taking his Son’s words out of context? When we meet God, our titles won’t matter—a good priest will readily impart to you this same sentiment. Sure, we could forego using any titles in our earthly lives, but why? Jesus’ teachings were so much more complex than the oversimplified mush to which you’ve boiled them down.

    ReplyDelete
  2. (Part 1 of 2)

    Hello Anonymous,

    Thanks for writing.

    You asked about my background. Well, I am certainly no scholar (in the strictest sense), if that’s what you’re asking. But let’s take a look at my “grave errors.”

    You said:

    “Calling a priest ‘Father’ is not like calling a priest ‘God,’ ‘Messiah,’ ‘Savior,’ etc. We cannot regard a priest as our messiah, savior, or God. But, we can regard a priest as a father of his parish.”

    I seriously doubt that any of the Pharisees (even as pompous as they were) believed that they were “equivalent to our Father.” After all, they reviled Jesus when He implied that He was equal with the Father (John 5:17-18; 10:30-31). So this wasn’t the issue with them. I see no reason to believe that Jesus condemned them for this reason. That’s not what Jesus’ prohibition was about. So, I don’t think your argument here is valid.

    And it is not about who is DESERVING of these titles, either, since Jesus shows us that NO ONE on earth is deserving of them (Matthew 23:9). This was already addressed in the article.

    You said:

    “I see no evidence in the Bible to suggest that Jesus would have had a problem using the term ‘Father’ in an appropriate manner.”

    But that’s just begging the question. You’d have to demonstrate the existence of an “appropriate” way to use a spiritual title of honor (for humans) in the first place. But we have no New Testament examples of this. The closest thing we have is “Father Abraham” (Luke 16:24, 27, 30), but this title was used in an “ancestral” sense. If this was acceptable as a formal, spiritual title, we’d see the apostles calling each other “Father Peter,” “Father John,” “Father Bartholomew”, etc. But of course, we don't.

    You said:

    “Are you also suggesting that referring to your own father as "Father" is prohibited? Jesus’ teachings, as well as other Biblical teachings, clearly indicate that there are physical and spiritual fathers, priests being the latter… To deny the use of ‘father’ all around would be to deny the use of father in many, many other places in both the Old and New Testaments…”

    I specifically and purposely dealt with this point in the article JUST SO THIS WOULDN’T HAPPEN… just so no one would claim that I was denying the use of the term in other ways. I clearly addressed this and acknowledged that the Bible refers to biological / physical fathers, spiritual fathers, and ancestral fathers. But these were not what Jesus was addressing in Matthew chapter 23. He was addressing formal, spiritual titles that put them on a higher level than others (which the context makes clear).

    Apparently, you have not read the whole article, else you would not be misrepresenting me like this. Or is your misrepresentation intentional?


    ReplyDelete
  3. (Part 2 of 2)

    You said:

    “As far as ‘teachers’ and the ‘ministerial priesthood’ in the NT, you are also mistaken… Not only do we see that Christ clearly appointed Paul as a teacher (which seems to contradict how you define ‘teacher’ in your interpretation of Jesus’ teaching regarding fathers and teachers), he held an actual office as a teacher…”

    You are misrepresenting me once again. I denied that there is a New Testament “ministerial priesthood,” but I never denied the role of New Testament teachers, as you suggest.

    You said:

    “If you are suggesting titles are the problem, not positions, then why do you care?”

    Because if it’s wrong, it should be addressed. We should always care if someone teaches or promotes false doctrine or sin.

    You said:

    “Do you have any evidence to suggest that a title would offend God when used appropriately?”

    No, but the evidence here in Matthew 23 suggests that ANY formal, spiritual title of honor that places you above others would indeed offend God. However, a title like “brother” seems to be appropriate (v. 8).

    You said:

    “How can you presume to know what offends God…”

    We can know what offends God by studying His Word. Isn’t this part of the reason that you read Scripture? To know what pleases Him and what offends Him?


    “…especially when taking his Son’s words out of context?”


    Out of context? The context here is clearly the scribes’ and Pharisees’ love of special attention and their love of flattering, self-exalting spiritual titles of honor.
    You implied that context is on your side. Ok, then please show me how this context supports your argument.


    “Sure, we could forego using any titles in our earthly lives, but why?”


    An honest look at the context of Matthew 23:5-12 should be enough to convince most people… and the fact that there are no such titles used in the New Testament.


    “Jesus’ teachings were so much more complex than the oversimplified mush to which you’ve boiled them down.”


    Complex? If this is true, then why did Jesus appeal mostly to the poor, lowly and uneducated? Are you suggesting that only scholars can understand Him? This type of “hierarchy mentality” is exactly what occasioned these words of Jesus (in Matthew 23:5-12) in the first place.


    ReplyDelete
  4. Russell: I am too not a scholar like you mentioned yourself. In your bio, you said you just wanted to share some things God shared with you. I think you have to right to your beliefs, are you sure it was God talking to you, but I prefer to believe what Apostles shared with their successors who shared with their successors on and on for over 2,000 years both in the written and oral tradition. But as most like to throw out Bible verses I will leave you with one too. In, 1 John 2: 13-14, he addresses men in his congregations as "fathers". I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. 14I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. This was written probably around 85-100 AD and is an Apostle. He was calling somebody Father. Is he saying Jesus lied or did he understand what Jesus was actually saying. Oh wait, I forgot , God shared with you the truth on this anti-Catholic teaching.

    God Bless and I pray you "Come Home" to the fullness of the Church that Jesus started.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Mike,

      How can you "prefer to believe what Apostles shared with their successors who shared with their successors on and on for over 2,000 years both in the written and oral tradition" when there is no historical or New Testament evidence of the apostles passing on any sort of authority to anyone,the Catholic "oral tradition" often contradicts Scripture, and the Catholic Church has even contradicted herself in teaching? If the teachings of the Catholic Church and Scripture combined form the infallible source of truth, then which source do we actually follow since they contradict each other? Who would suggest anyone to return to a religion as confusing as yours? I am glad that Russell studied the Scriptures and found the truth ( you should to)!

      1 John 2: 13-14 offers you no help whatsoever Mike.
      this passage is not talking about “fathers” in any of the senses that they listed.

      a. Biological fathers.

      b. Ancestral fathers.

      c. Founding fathers.

      d. fathers in the faith

      This passage discusses religious elitism and the sin in so calling someone by the religious title of Rabbi, Teacher, Father, Master (Matthew 23:5-10). Russell very clearly explained this in the article.

      We need not deal with your pitiful sarcasm Mike.

      Like I have said multiple times already, a customary reading of the New Testament will prove that the Catholic Church does not have its origin in the teachings of Jesus Christ or the apostles. Russell, the ability to read is all you need to refute the false claims made by Mike Peterson.

      We do not need to convert back to a religion that repeatedly contradicts biblical teaching.

      Jesse










      Delete
    2. Nice try Russell,

      Yes, I know that Matthew 23:9 seems to condemn calling us "Father", but you are not able to understand the Bible like I do. In this passage, Jesus is teaching that God the Father alone is ultimately the source of all authority. But he is not speaking absolutely, because if so, that would eliminate even biological fathers, the title ‘Church Fathers,’ the founding fathers of a country or organization, and so on.

      On another one of your articles, De Maria very clearly refuted Jesse on the topic(although he would disagree). Let me re quote the discussion:

      “But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,

      Jesus, using the Pharisees as examples, admonishes the crowd against self pride. He says, the Pharisees are proud and love to draw attention to themselves. Don't be like them.

      And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.

      They are self-important and have big egoes that they love to have stroked.

      But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ;

      He says, don't be called Teacher because I am your Teacher.

      and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father,

      And don't be overly proud about being a father, because God is Father of all.

      which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.”

      And don't claim for yourself any lordship or power, because I am your God and Master of all.

      2) This passage is not talking about “fathers” in any of the following senses:

      a. Biological fathers.

      b. Ancestral fathers.

      c. Founding fathers.

      d. Fathers in the faith.

      Yes, it is. It is a teaching that all authority comes from God. Therefore, don't misuse it. And don't be prideful about it because God exalts the humble but humbles the proud.

      3) This passage is NOT talking about God as our authority.

      Yes, it is. It explicitly says that God is our Father and that Jesus Christ is our Master.

      4) This passage discusses religious elitism and the sin in so calling someone by the religious title of Rabbi, Teacher, Father, Master.
      Examples: "High teacher!", "Hello Rabbi!", and "Father Jim."

      It condemns all pride. You want to read into it your bias against the Catholic Church. But we see in the Scripture that the Apostles consider themselves our Fathers in the faith. So, it is obvious that they understood Jesus to be speaking in metaphorical terms.


      You really shouldn't be reading the Bible anyway. And while we are talking about it, what else do you want me to teach you about what the Bible says?


      We Catholic priests cannot teach all our false doctrines that contradict the Bible unless we convince you that you can't understand the Bible unless the priest helps you.

      Delete
  5. Hello Anonymous,

    Isn’t it ironic that you are attempting to warn us of the sin of pride, yet you tell me things like:

    “… but you are not able to understand the Bible like I do.”

    And:

    “You really shouldn't be reading the Bible anyway. And while we are talking about it, what else do you want me to teach you about what the Bible says?”

    Does this attitude not fit perfectly with Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:1-12?

    In your last sentence, you said:

    “We Catholic priests cannot teach all our false doctrines that contradict the Bible unless we convince you that you can't understand the Bible unless the priest helps you.”

    Perhaps you were speaking “tongue in cheek,” or intending to be sarcastic, but this statement is pretty much the truth! If you were not being facetious or using sarcasm, then this is quite an admission coming from a Catholic priest!

    I believe that the above article is accurate, and an honest look at the CONTEXT of Matthew 23 should remove any doubt concerning its meaning.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Russell,

    Let me say that I believe that you did an excellent and fair job of interpreting scripture. You actually went beyond what is needed. I grew up Catholic and their theological errors go well beyond exalting some member of their institution over others, but I am going to stay on point. Zodhiates Word Study of the original greek word first states that this is used toward "older men in general as a sign of respect." We're discussing 1 John 2:13-14. The context is verse 12,14 " I write to you little children…I write to young men." In between those verses is the verse in question where men are addressed as father. The Apostle John is addressing people in general according to their age and responsibilities( biological fathers).

    Even so, if your detractors found an instance in the New Testament where the Apostles actually taught the readers to address spiritual leaders with proper titles, than that could be used as an example of a precept. We know for certain that the Apostles and other agents of God sinned and made errors. In Galatians 2:11-21 the Apostle Paul takes the Apostle Peter to task for refusing to eat with Gentiles in front of Jews out of fear of what the Jews might think of him.

    Here is my final point: When in doubt error on the side of not offending God rather than offending men.

    In Christ,

    Stanley

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi Stanley,

    Excellent point!

    And thanks for your comments and encouragement. I do appreciate it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Russell,

    I tried to pull a debate with lay Roman Catholic apologist De Maria on this issue awhile back:

    http://washedsanctifiedandjustified.blogspot.com/2014/11/what-does-bible-say-about-pope.html

    Any thoughts?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent responses to De Maria, Jesse. I don’t think you could have said it any better or any plainer. If De Maria doesn’t grasp the concept by now, then he is just refusing to see the simple truth.

      Good work!

      Delete