Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Why do Catholics call priests “Father” when the Bible clearly says “Call no man Father”?

Jesus said in the Bible "Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.” (Mat 23:9 NAB). Why do Catholics call their pastors “Father” then?

First, let’s figure out if Jesus was being literal or figurative when he said this. Do you call your male parent “Father”, “Dad”, or any other name that implies paternal headship? If you do, you’re going against what Jesus said; if he’s speaking literally. So I don’t think anyone who makes this accusation really believes that he was being literal. Beyond that, Jesus himself says “Father Abraham” twice in Lk 16:24 and 30. Paul says he has become our father through the gospel in 1 Cor 4:15. Paul refers to "Father Issac" in Romans 9:10. So either none of these guys realized Jesus was being literal (including Jesus) or he was speaking figuratively.

An interesting thing in the Bible is a little thing called context. What was the context that Jesus said this in? Jesus was chewing out the Pharases for being proud and seeking honor for themselves at every opportunity. The Father comment was one of a string of visible signs of the Pharases' authority. He also said call no one “teacher”, why doesn’t anyone bring this up to our school system? Jesus was saying that no one can glorify themselves for being a teacher, for all wisdom comes from God. No one can glorify themselves for being a father for all creation was created by God.

The real question is why do Catholics still use the term Father? Why not pick another word (like Reverend) and avoid the issue all together?

The New Testament is full of the Apostles referring to themselves as Father and the people they're mentoring as "Child" or "Son" (Paul calls Timothy Son and Child many times and says I am your father through the gospel as noted above; Peter and John do the same thing). Catholics just kept the tradition up from that time. We believe that ordained men continue in Apostolic Succession; so they fill the role in the Church today that Apostles did after Jesus' death. That's why we give them the same titles as the Apostles.

In addition, it’s the most fitting word to describe a priest’s relationship with the laity (those who aren’t ordained). Priests, in persona Christi, provide us with our food (Eucharist), with forgiveness (Reconciliation), they lead and teach us (homilies), they provide for our families (through giving their lives in service), they give advice (through spiritual direction), and do many other fatherly things. What better word can there be to describe what our priests do for us? Maybe “Rock Star”, but that’d be a bit much.

As a parting shot, Protestants call their leaders names too; Pastor, Reverend, and Minister for example. What's the difference? It's still a title that sets that person apart as a spiritual leader and that's the heart of what Jesus was condemning. So use the titles as they’re given, but remember that all earthly fathers only derive their position from our heavenly father. Without him as their father, our spiritual leaders are powerless.


The Wife said...

ROCK STAR!!! I love it!

Anonymous said...

I think what Jesus is trying to say is make no one on earth so high on a pedestal that there is a division between us (laity) and them (So called spiritual leaders,limiting the authority that belongs to God Himself. Hence you now have a catholic church that says, "we will interpet scripture and tradition for you", instead of all of us being subject to His divine inspiration,directly. Sure Abraham and Paul could use the terms father, but not every day and in all contexts. We do have spiritual lineage to Abraham, we do have spiritual fathers, but they are not above A direct relationship with the Father in Heaven. Basically the catholic church teaches the Pope is above my relationship with God and heaven forbid I have a more spiritual take on things than the Pope,just as heaven forbid someone be above the Pharisees who had their Father Abraham,to hide behind. I believe Jesus was warning us not to use these terms so mundanely and commonplace but only in rare occasions. Did people go up to Paul and say "Father Paul" ? Are all of today's priests your spiritual father ?...I suppose you are right to say many people call their church leader "pastor", but it does seem to be more humble than "father". Probably the bigger problem is not so much the name, but more are they deserving of it ? Are they right in doctrine and practice ? Are they enablers of spiritual growth ? Did not Jesus scold the pharisees and in specific, there was Nicodemus who showed the root problem with such so called leaders - they were not saved. Yes, do you believe it ,a spiritual leader not saved, not being one with God, not being born again, being blind. They set aside God's law and Word for traditions. This is exactly what happened with the Immaculate conception, yet as Augustine admitted is contrary to scripture. That is,the bible says "all have sinned" (except for the tradition that says Mary had no sin). Matthew also implies the adding to the law and things to do religiously. There is a whole ritual of baptism and confirmation and just to be born again .It is not as simple as evangelicalism. Everything is thru the church, and must be done by an ordained priest, when in fact we are all priests. The whole ritual of the mass is not what I see in Acts. In short what one can not deny, is that there a lot more hoops to jump thru in Catholicism and bells and whistles than so called protestantism (there is an attraction to all that, and can make you "feel" spiritual). Anyways, I suppose I don't like calling every priest "father" because as a catholic protestant,it forces me to elevate them above what the Lord has given me, and they are so wrong about so many things(like the pharisees and even many protestant leaders who are not born again).This problem knows no denominational barriers. But doesn't it sound different ,that "a pastor could be wrong" versus that "a father could be wrong" ?