Some background, first.
This is not intended to be a rebuttal or a response, just my views on the subject.
Mat 23:1-12 NKJV
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.
In my former life as a community organizer, I had to deal extensively with various religions, and faiths, in hopes of attaining a certain goal. Being a fundamentalists, it was difficult in my first dealings with the Catholics, and indeed any other denomination. I do not believe that anyone can be a ‘reverand’, and yet so many of the people that I dealt with included that as a title. Also, how can one be a pastor unless they serve God and in the right doctrine.
Needless to say, I wrestled with it because I had to come to some understanding within myself whereby I must be true to God. Of course, the singular passage on this is the above passage. Call no man ‘Father’; call no man ‘Teacher’. (And of course, in dealing with Jewish leaders, Call no man Rabbi). So the question I asked myself was, how can I first reach these people if the first impression of me was a sign of disrespect. So, after prayer and introspection with study, this was my answer.
First, I do not consider a Catholic priest my father in the Lord, something that Paul said of himself. I believe that it is permissible to see that they do. Recognizing that simply because someone sees himself as such or such as correct, I do not have to maintain it as such, I have no problem using the title that they select for themselves (as long as it is not blasphemous). As a matter of fact, this word is used metaphorically of spiritual fathers as well as those who have gone on before. Typically, it is used by children in reference to their paternal parent.
Second, we have to understand what the audience was hearing. Do you really believe that they understood Christ to say that the word ‘father’ could no longer be used? Surely not, after all, it was used after Him by the rest of the New Testament writers. As a matter of fact, the writer of Hebrews used it speak of the patriarchs as well as the fathers in the flesh. No, what the audience was hearing was the Christ was commanding that we have only one Father, which is God. No man can determine any earthly religion.
Fr. Bellows says it this way,
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”. 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”, 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”. The summation of their private interpretations did in fact “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men”.
I find his statements on the development of man made tradition puzzling since Rome herself is built on Tradition, yet, we have to agree that too often, people use the term ‘Father’ in speaking with someone who gives a new revelation or new Tradition for disciples to follow. These Rabbi’s, Masters, and Fathers loved to be exalted. Surely, some priests, pastors, doctors, lawyers and such sit in the same seat, yet does that justify alienating yourself from those that you might need or those that you might lead to Christ?
Third, we know that Christ used hyperbolic statements to stress His points, something common to Middle Eastern communication even today:
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
(Luk 14:26 KJVA)
Surely, the same people who take the words of Christ in Matthew at literal face value would strive to hate mother, father, brothers (perhaps the same brothers as Matthew 23.8) and sisters. Surely they must fill their lives with hatred for their fellow man in order to follow our Lord Christ.
I would hope note.
Again, the issue is just who was Christ referring to? He was referring to those who sit in the true Faith and seek to dictate to others new things, difficult things, that they themselves are not willing to follow. It can also me said that in this passage, Christ is condemning a ‘click’ mentality that the Apostle Paul fought against in 1st Corinthians 1.12-13. We have but One Teacher, One Master, One Father – we are not of Paul, Apollos, or Peter, but of Jesus Christ, our great God, Saviour, Teacher, Master and Father.
A friend of this blog has a title that he has no doubt earned in his Tradition. He is not offering any new Tradition or new Wisdom, only promoting his doctrine and his Faith. Although his offering is contrary to mine, and it surely is, I still recognize him in his earthly capacity as a spiritual father to his spiritual children; further, he is a ‘father’ in rank in his Tradition. This in no way demotes the words of our Lord Christ, but allows us to communicate in a respectful and honorable manner.
I certainly would not refer to him, or to any man, as ‘Father’ in some exalted sense, believing that they could create in me a new man, or save my eternal soul. Nor would I call any man Teacher or Master in the hopes that they could create some new Tradition or interpret an old Tradition in some new light, yet, I find it a comfortable position to speak with someone with due respect for thier own accomplishments in hopes that he or she may in turn return some level of respect for my meagerness.
Now, I know that I will roundly criticized for this position and let me say that it is a personal position, developed in my own study and prayer. I encourage you to challenge this, but please do so from Scripture with firmness.