Rescuing verses . . . “Do not call anyone on earth your father” (Matthew 23:9)

© by The Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D., 2017

In my denomination, even though we are Protestant, the tendency is for parishioners to call the pastors “father”.  Sometimes the verse above is quoted against saying “father” to pastors. Sometimes they say that is Roman Catholic. I can dispatch the last objection quickly. Roman Catholics also believe in the Trinity; does that make it wrong?

Now for saying the word “father” to pastors allegedly being wrong. First, consider the other verses connected with Matthew 23:9:

“But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matt. 23:8-10 NKJ)

Second, notice that if it wrong to say “father”, then also we must not call anyone “teacher”. Should we address our human fathers as “male parental unit”? Or, how about this version of the Fifth Commandment: “Honor your male ‘parental being’ and your mother.” The idea in context is that such people should not want personal glory in the position of authority. They are in authority to serve, not to be served. Notice how the Lord Jesus characterized such people:

“They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues,  greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men,’Rabbi, Rabbi.'” (Matt. 23:6-7 NKJ)

Third, the problem is not with the word itself, but with wanting personal recognition and self-glory. Notice what the Apostle Paul said about being a spiritual father:

“I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” (1 Cor. 4:14-15 NKJ)

Paul stated that he only was their father in the gospel, for he had “begotten” them.

Finally, in 1-2 Timothy and Titus, Paul referred to Timothy and Titus as a “true son in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2); “a beloved son” (2 Tim. 1:2); “to Titus, a true son in our common faith” (Titus 1:4).

Thus, we conclude that saying “father” is not the problem; indeed, it is encouraged by Paul. Rather, the word “father” was being misused, lording it over others, and seeking vainglory, but when one uses his gifts for the good of the church, not seeking vainglory, he is blessed. AMEN