CALL NO MAN FATHER

By: J. Richard Ballew

Edited by: Metropolitan Archbishop +Joseph Thaddeus, OSB, SSJt., Ph.D. with special note at the end.

(All Scripture references, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the New King James Version.)

Updated - October 2008


[ Apostle1.com's Note, Opinion and Commentary:  The following message comes to us from Monk Michael.  And, knowing this man's staunch stand for research: he does not do just a "search" but does true RESEARCH above and beyond those who claim they research in many instances where their kind of research is, at best, minimal scanning... Yes, Monk Michael is most certainly an advocate of extensive reading and doing what he says he will do, true RESEARCH.   Obviously he has, in the past, done true research on the subject and thus we are inclined to believe his ability is not lost on what he says below and will again do true RESEARCH.... as he says:

...will have to do some research again but, aside from this article being true in the sense of the calling of a priest
 
'father', I believe that the protestant churches used this title as well in the 18th or 19th century. Don't quote me on this without research but it was fundamentalist hatred of all things Catholic that began the preaching against this with the statement of 'call no man father'. ]

From the beginning of Christianity, for the past two thousand years, Orthodox Christian Clergy have been Spiritual Fathers to God’s earthly children. 

There are some who say that in truth, what Jesus was warning us about was not to call hypocrites “Father”. It was a warning not to use the title undeservingly. Not to let any hypocrite stand between you and your Father who is in Heaven. 

The proof is within the Gospels themselves. Since the earliest times of Christianity the title “Father” was used by both the Apostles and even Jesus Himself.

In Luke 16:24 the Rich man cries out; “Father Abraham, have mercy on me.”

St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:15.  "For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ through the gospel."  Is not St. Paul in this statement claiming to be the ‘Spiritual Father’ of the Corinthians? Certainly St. Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus, did not interpret our Lords words to mean only our Heavenly Father was to be called "Father.”

After Jesus states; “Only One is your Father," He Himself proceeded to declare, "And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ." Yet He Himself acknowledged Nicodemus to be a "Teacher of Israel". 

Are the Protestants and those of present day Jews and Judaism-christians therefore saying that the Apostles ignored Jesus? Are they saying our Lord Jesus Christ contradicted Himself and violated his own laws, or could it be that many people are really misinterpreting the Gospels?

Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their gar­ments. 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.' 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. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."—Matthew 23:1-12

Several decades have passed since Bing Crosby donned clerical garb and portrayed on the screen a role which would endear him to many even to this day—Father O'Malley.

Somewhat earlier in our century, one of the great humanitarians of our time, Father Flanagan, founded Boys Town in Nebraska. The home became a nationally known refuge for homeless boys. In many ways, Mother Teresa of India is his contemporary female counterpart in caring for the poor and downtrodden of her adopted land.

But what are we to make of these titles? We admire the work and character of these people, but does not the Bible issue the com­mand to call no man "father"?

Certain statements made by Jesus have often been the basis of great controversy, both inside and outside the Church. His saying, "Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven," {Matthew 23:9} has proven to be no exception.

AT ISSUE IS INTERPRETATION

 

Some Protestant interpreters are sure that Jesus is warning here against addressing Church leaders as "father." They, of course, are interpreting "father" in this Scripture to mean, "spiritual father." Therefore, they refuse to call their clergymen "father," preferring instead such titles as "pastor," "reverend," or perhaps even "brother."

 

At the outset, therefore, let me point out that "spiritual father" is an interpretation of the Lord's statement rather than what He actually said. Mind you, I am not denying the need for interpretation of Scripture. Instead, I am pointing out that the Lord said "father," not "spiritual father."

 

What is at issue here? Simply this: taken at face value, Jesus' warning against calling any man "father" would not only seem to rule out calling a clergyman "father," it would also keep us from using that title for earthly fathers and grandfathers, ancient Church fa­thers, or even city fathers, would it not? For in reality, the Lord's statement, as it appears in the text, is that only one Person is ever to be called "father," namely, our Father who is in heaven.

But is Christ's saying to be taken at face value? If so, several other passages in the Bible are immediately in conflict, including some statements by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. To the church at Corinth he wrote, "For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel,"{1 Corinthians 4:15 (New American Standard Version)}.  Does not Paul claim to be the spiritual father of the Corinthians— "Father Paul," if you please?

Furthermore, he boldly refers to his spiritual ancestry as "our fathers." {1 Corinthians 10:1} And he did address earthly fathers in Colossae in this way: "Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged," {Colossians 3:21}.  It would appear the Apostle Paul certainly did not interpret the Lord Jesus Christ's words to mean only One was to be called "father," that is, the heavenly Father.

In addition to this, when the rich man saw Abraham in heaven with Lazarus in his bossom, and addressed him as "Father Abra­ham," Abraham's response was not, "Do you not realize that only God the Father is to be called 'father'?" Rather, he replied, "Son, remember. . ." {Luke 16:24, 25}.

 

Instances like the above could be multiplied from Scripture to show that a great many people are acknowledged to be "fathers."

OTHER TITLES

But let us not stop here. For after saying only "One is your Father," Jesus proceeded to declare, "And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ," {Matthew 23:10}. Yet He Himself acknowledged Nicodemus to be a "teacher of Israel," {John 3:10}.  And, in the church at Antioch certain men were called "prophets and teachers" {Acts 13:1}.

Then again, the Apostle Paul not only recognized teachers as gifts of God to the Church, {1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11} but he also did not hesitate to call himself "a teacher of the Gentiles," {2 Timothy 1:11}.  Further­more, in this present day, almost all of us have at one time or another called certain people Sunday School teachers. The discussion thus goes far beyond any Protestant-Catholic lines. Therefore, in saying we should call no one "father" and "teacher," except God the Father and Christ Himself, the Lord Jesus appears not to be taking issue with the use of these particular titles in and of themselves. The context of the passage gives us the interpretive key we are looking for.

In this "call no man father" passage, our Lord is contending with certain rabbis of His day who were using these specific titles to accomplish their own ends. And had these same apostate rabbis been using other titles, such as "reverend" and "pastor," Jesus, it seems to me, would have said of these as well, "Call no one reverend or pastor."

WHAT DID THE RABBIS MEAN?

To what ends, therefore, were the rabbis using the titles "father" and "teacher"? The answer revolves around at least two critical areas of leadership: teaching and personal character.

Consider first the teaching of these particular rabbis. They had begun their teaching at the right place, the Law of Moses. Said Jesus,  "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat," {Matthew 23:2}. Moses' Law was the true tradition. God had given it to Israel through Moses. The rabbis' responsibility was to preserve that tradition and faithfully pass it on to the next generation.

 

All too often, however, a rabbi would add his own grain of wisdom to the true tradition, thereby clouding it. Instead of passing down the sacred deposit along with the true interpretations of that deposit, he would add his own private interpretation. In turn his disciples, like their teacher, would, after becom­ing rabbis, do the same thing. (Some things never change, do they!)

The final outcome of all this was a tradition of men that made the true Mosaic tradi­tion of no effect. To these very rabbis Jesus said, "For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men," {Mark 7:8} and again, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition . . . making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down," {Mark 7:9, 13}. The summation of their private in­terpretations did in fact "shut up the kingdom of heaven against men,” {Matthew 23:13}.

JESUS' CASE - FOR TRUE TRADITION

In order to cut through all this tradition of men that had made the Mosaic tradition of no effect, and to bring people back to the truth, Jesus told His disciples, "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi.' "{Matthew 23:8}.  

 

In other words, He was telling them not to use their positions as fathers and teachers as an opportunity to build disciples around their own private opinions. For to do so would only serve to "shut up the kingdom of heaven against men," {Matthew 23:13} .

Instead, with the coming of Christ, these rabbis—and indeed all who would teach God's Word—are to hand down faithfully the true tradition of only one Rabbi: Christ Himself. The Bible, through the pen of the Apostle John, calls this particular tradition "the doctrine of Christ,"{2 John 9} In fact, this is why the specific teaching of the Twelve became known as "the apostles' doctrine," {Acts 2:42}.

Since their time, successive generations of fathers and teachers in the Church have handed down and guarded the apostolic doctrine concerning Christ very carefully, for it represents the true interpretation of Holy Scripture.

This faithfulness to true Christian doctrine, by the way, can especially be seen in the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Church, held between the fourth and eighth centuries.

 

It behooves anyone who claims to be a teacher of Christ's doctrine to be faithful to the apostles' doctrine handed down in those Councils. Otherwise he runs the risk of inserting his own "private interpretation," {2 Peter 1:20}.

 

While it is true that all teachers of Christ's doctrine must begin at the right place, namely, the Holy Scriptures, it is also true that they should give the correct and true interpretation of Holy Scripture as passed down by holy and godly teachers and fathers of the Church, es­pecially in the Seven Councils.

 

Why are the Seven Ecumenical Councils so important? Because they point out what the Church universally held to be the true teach­ing concerning the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity. They are faithful to what the Holy Scriptures teach concerning the one true Rabbi and Teacher, Jesus Christ. Teachers and fathers who teach private inter­pretations contrary to the doctrine of Christ as taught in the Seven Ecumenical Councils should not, I believe, be recognized as true teachers and fathers.

 

THE RABBIS AND PERSONAL CHARACTER

 

A second critical area of rabbinic leader­ship with which Jesus was concerned was personal character. He had detected a major flaw in the character of the scribes and Phari­sees, a sin that might be called self-exaltation. They were using their position as fathers and teachers among God's people to exalt themselves. They wanted to be sure they received appropriate recognition. In light of this lack of character, Jesus said, "But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted," {Matthew 23:11, 12}.

 

Their self-exalting spirit had manifested itself in several ways. First, in hypocrisy: "for they say," said Jesus, "and do not do," {Matthew 23:3}. All talk and no walk. Their talk was cheap because it was totally contradicted by their behavior. In pretense they would make long prayers, but in behavior devour widows' houses, {Matthew 23:14}.

They would make oaths, swearing by the gold of the temple rather than by the temple that sanctified the gold, thereby revealing their secret love of money, {Matthew 23:16, 17}.  Although they paid tithes of mint, anise, and cummin, which they should have done gladly, they neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith, {Matthew 23:23}.

Because they were hypocrites in these and numerous other ways, the Lord summed up His critique by saying, "Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness," {Matthew 23:28}.  Plainly, their "insides" did not match their "outsides" because they were filled up with a self-exalting and self-serving spirit.

 

A second manifestation of their self-exalting spirit was the noticeable lack of ac­tual service on their part. "For," said Jesus, "they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they them­selves will not move them with one of their fingers," {Matthew 23:4}.

 

No dirt was to be found under their finger­nails. They were simply a group of lazy leaders who wanted to be served rather than to serve. No wonder, then, Jesus said not to be like them, for from God's standpoint, "he who is greatest among you shall be your servant," {Matthew 23:11}. A third manifestation of their self-exalting spirit was self-love, demonstrated by a desire to be seen by men {Matthew 23:5}, by their love for the best seats at the feasts and in the syna­gogues {Matthew 23:6}, and by their love of greetings in the marketplaces, being called by men, "Rabbi, Rabbi," {Matthew 23:7}.

This self-love was a clear transgression of the Mosaic Law, which they professed to be keeping. For Moses' entire law could be summed up in the two great commandments, the greatest of which is, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind," {Matthew 22:37}. The second greatest is, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," {Matthew 22:39}.

Thus, these fathers and teachers were not leading their people into the love of God and neighbor. Quite to the contrary, they were exhibiting a self-exalting, self-serving spirit, filled up with a love for self.

THE VERDICT OF CHRIST

In the face of the stench and shame of the apostasy of these religious leaders, therefore, Jesus commanded His disciples, "Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven," {Matthew 23:9}.  While Father Abraham by his faithfulness deserved the title, as did others of Israel's greats in history, these men had forfeited their role as fathers. They were to cease and desist in their use of the term and, in turn, bow to God Himself as the fountainhead of all fatherhood.

And in issuing His warning, Jesus addresses us today with the greatest of all commandments, pointing the fathers and teachers in His Church and those they lead to a primacy of love for God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, and to a love for one's neighbor.

AND WHAT ARE WE TO DO?

From the beginning of Church history, as was true throughout Israel, those anointed by God for service were called by certain names: "prophet," "teacher" (rabbi in Israel), and "father." In that same spirit, other titles have emerged, such as "reverend," "pastor," "professor" (teacher), or "brother" (for some evangelical pastors and Catholic monks). These designations speak of both warmth and dignity. 

Just as in our family units there is one who with love is called "father," so in God's house­hold we have honored and will continue to honor those who have brought us to the new birth through our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, what better term for them than "father"?

Jesus warned against calling men "father" or "teacher" in order that the leadership of His holy nation would remain pure. Whether bishop, father, teacher, deacon, or pastor, all leaders must remain faithful to the true doctrine of Christ and manifest a personal character befitting godly humility, a humility that leads the Church into the love of God the Holy Trinity and of one's neighbor.

A priest is not "Mr." --- If you see a man who you know is a Judge in a local civil or criminal Court, you normally greet him with either "Your Honor" or "Judge (his name)" and you certainly don't, when you see your "Doctor" call him "Mr. (his name)" you call him DOCTOR "HIS NAME" ... and when you who are Protestant see your Pastor or Minister you obviously follow and practice that which is common among you which is to either call him "Pastor" or "Brother" or by his first name.  Even though you may be Protestant, never - EVER - call a priest by his first name or "Mr." for you do the Lord Our God and Savior, Jesus Christ a great degree of not only dis-service but you also blaspheme the Holy Spirit as it bespeaks of your unwillingness to believe that PRIESTS or BISHOPS can ever be the MESSENGERS of God as provided by the HOLY SPIRIT!  Thus, when you are at work in your various offices (be they Private Companies or Civil government agencies) and you know the man standing before you is PRIEST... you should not and must not call him "Mr."  and don't use the weak argument that, "I am required to separate Church from State" because that is a falsehood since most Judges, even in the Superior and Federal Courts, etc. show respect to the Priest (either as DOCTOR, Reverend, or Pastor, etc.)  ... Get thee behind me Satan... should be your motto and show respect regardless of who you are and where you work as well as on the streets... Priests came before the Protestant Churches ever split from the Roman Jurisdiction of the Catholic Church (not the Catholic Church) for Rome is not the seat of the whole of Catholicism whatsoever.  For indeed it was the Roman Jurisdiction of the Catholic church who had split from, or Schismed from, that which today is known and called ORTHODOX Catholic.  The greatest offenders of this understanding who blaspheme the Holy Spirit by their actions and words are those belonging to Jehovah's Witness groups, Pentecostals, Church of Christ, Mormonism (so-called "Church of Latter Day Saints), etc.  Even Jerry Falwell and many other national television's so-called 'evangelists' (Cultic Pentecostal and Assemblies of God ministers) respected priests and those who are Orthodox and Catholic (East and West).  Why can't you?

We are not against people (faithful) of the different denominations of Protestantism, Mormonism, and those of the many and numerous cults, so much as we are against the heresies (false teachings) which abound in them as promulgated by their Ministers and Pastors.  The people (faithful) are sheep only who are following the self-interpretation of their Ministers and Pastors without forethought or true spiritual guidance; much the same as the Muslims of the Satanic religion of Islam do as their Imams are, in their instance, equivalent to the "Cultic" Ministers, and Pastors of many Protestant groups.  They, the people, can be excused (up to a point) but those who lead those "sheep" are the true blasphemers!

As recent as October 2008 one of our Metropolitan Archbishops was treated to a quasi Pentecostal/Assemblies of God/and other cultic group visitor who goes to only those cultic churches for his messages... from God... even to the degree of taking himself off his - life and death - medications for an incurable disease because, "God told me so" he has said.  Having been near death numerous times and back again because he was talked into re-taking his medications; he told our Vladyka (Spiritual Father) that this very article "Call no Man Father" had errors in it and proceeded to say what they were.  So, the information was corrected as regards Lazarus calling Abraham "Father".  Yet, says the man... "We still should call no man 'father' because Jesus (he says... Yeshua) says so in scripture.  He missed the whole point which brings up the fact that indeed we should "...leave them alone; they are blind guides.  And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit." (Matthew 15:14) in reference to the spiritually blind!  For if a man is spiritually awake, he will see and hear.  But if he is blind, he will be blinded in his spirit and hear nothing true but only that which is false that comes from the Great Deceiver himself, Satan, the Evil One, Lucifer who is known as the Angel of Light before he was thrown out of Heaven. And he has been continually appearing as an angel of light, often appearing as a holy one to the degree of getting many to 'speak in tongues' which is another subject for they blaspheme the holy spirit of God while worshipping the un-holy spirit of Satan!

May the Lord have mercy on all of us who lead a flock, regardless of the title we are given.

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