Jesus says don't call any man "Father." Why?

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Preface

I was a Roman Catholic for more than 40 years and after I left the church I naturally migrated toward the Episcopalians. You know the story there. They've elevated a homosexual to the position of bishop in America and that has caused at least a temporary split with their "archbishop" or "presiding bishop" in England (Canterbury). Because so many bishops in the Episcopal church support this ordination, I didn't hang around.

In addition, they (Episcopalians/ some Anglicans) continue to flirt dangerously with the Roman Catholic Church and some of their "breakaway" "conservative" parishes are seeking to be more Roman Catholic than ever. Some have even publicly expressed the desire to be reunited with the Roman Catholic Church. I'm sure the pope appreciates this, but most Episcopalians have no idea what's happening,

One subtle indication of this movement toward Rome is the practice of Episcopalians and Anglicans calling their priests "Father" and even "Mother" since the Episcopalians have allowed women priests and bishops for several years now.

Not long ago, such titles would have been very much frowned upon and avoided in America, where the usual means of addressing an Episcopal priest was to use the title "Mister."

Yes, I know it just a natural habit for some of us to call priests "father." I certainly grew up doing so and in most cases it is quite innocent. So why does it make any earthly difference? Only because Christ told us it does. He clearly tells us he doesn't want us to use the word "father" as a spiritual title and wants us to reserve that title for His Father in heaven. In fact, Christ notes that there are several titles he wishes us to avoid using on a spiritual basis.

However, these days, even those Episcopal churches that claim to be "low church" or less ritualistic call their pastor "Father." I wrote the following letter to a Reformed Episcopal priest who teaches his seminarians that the use of such titles is okay... 

Rev. Dr. XXXX,

With all due respect, you tell me you have no problem calling ministers "father" and cite three verses (1 Cor.4:15, 1 Tim.1:2 and Titus 1:4) that are clear analogies which don't directly impact the issue at all. The Roman Catholic apologists use those verses. They also ignore Matthew 23 where Christ addresses the matter quite directly.

In that chapter Jesus tells us not to do as the Pharisees do. The Pharisees were among the spiritual leaders of Christ's time so we should apply what he is about to say to our spiritual leaders.

Then Jesus tells them that one of the things the Pharisees do that he doesn't want us to do is to allow ourselves to be publicly and spiritually honored by permitting men to address us as Rabbi or “Teacher” as well as “Father” and “Master.” Christ clearly tells us that we are to consider these terms a means of spiritual self-exaltation that he does not want us to practice.

Jesus is warning us of the danger of these titles not because they are anything of themselves (legalism) but because of our weakness for self-exaltation. He's warning us to steer clear of them because they could be a temptation for the sin of pride and even idolatry because he wishes to reserve certain spiritual titles.

Christ is also very clear how he wishes us to view ourselves and our relationship to him. He twice calls himself “Master” and specifically tells us that we are all to view ourselves as brothers--thus "brother" Jim.

When he tells us to call “no one on earth your Father,” He's driving home the point that believers are truly born again spiritually of only one Father, God the Father. He's telling us we need to respect that fact by avoiding these titles when it comes to those who minister to us spiritually.

Yes, he may even be using a bit of hyperbole--some extreme examples to drive the point home, but the point is clear: Avoid such public titles--especially for spiritual leaders, they're not good for the ministers or the people, they blur the truth of our relationship to God and to each other, they are a temptation toward the sin of pride. They can result in self-exaltation and even a subtle type idolatry. 

A clear example of the "headed for idolatry variety" the phrase that is commonly used to identified pope: "HOLY FATHER."  Surely that's a title that none of us would doubt should be reserved for God the Father alone.

The context of all of this is so specific to the Pharisees and thus all who would call themselves or could view themselves as “spiritual fathers.” Therefore ministers, more than any others, should take his words as a warning.

Surely you would at least agree with me that to ignore Matthew 23 on this matter of titles and rely instead on passing biblical analogies is out of the question?

I know there are many more biblical details that more directly impact the Gospel and would be more important for discussion but as one who has been called "Father" himself, I know this subject is terribly important for ministers and those they serve. 

Still, I realize that, because of public acceptance and interpretation, many will continue to allow this. No one should be publicly rebuked for the use of these titles--just a kind mention made by the priest, in private, sometime--even framed as a personal preference-- should suffice. Again, I realize there are much more weighty matters but this is such a common and public error that it really needs to be addressed. - Bro. Jim

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