Many of my posts and explorations have to do with people questioning practices that our Protestant friends may not be comfortable with. One such practice is reference to the leaders of our communities as Priests and Fathers. I mentioned that recently one such colleague said “we believe in a priesthood of all believers.”
The discomfort comes from Matthew 23:9, “Call no man on earth ‘your father,’ for one is your Father, he who is in heaven.”
Let’s look at the fuller passage 23:8-23:10 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for one is your teacher, the Christ, and all of you are brothers. Call no man on earth ‘your father,’ for one is your Father, he who is in heaven. And do not be called ‘teacher,’ for one is your teacher, the Christ.”
There are a couple of points of contention here if one is to take this to a literal level of understanding. Those who quote this as reason to refrain from this title still use it. They also use the term ‘teacher.’ Further, if one is to understand the meaning that we cannot in human language utter a term that should be ascribed to Christ, one should also not use the words minister or pastor, because Christ is the only true minister and pastor. I have also commonly heard highly educated leaders of Protestant communities referred to as Dr. Smith. This word is originally an agentive noun of the Latin verb docēre [dɔˈkeːrɛ] ‘to teach’. So again, should we not say do not be called teacher’?
+Fr. Thomas Hopko has an excellent podcast covering this topic on Ancient Faith Radio:Call No Man Father
And Jesus did not restrict usage of the word here. How do we refer to male parentage? Is this consistently employed? What about school teachers and professors?
We can then look at other Biblical texts. Most Christians still hold the Ten Commandments in high regard. God passed to Moses the command that we should honor our Father and Mother–choosing to use this title.
Moving to New Testament texts, let’s look at St. Paul writing to the Church at Corinth, “For although you have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet [you do] no [have] many fathers. For in Christ Jesus, I became your father through the Good News” (I Corinthians 4:15). Is it reasonable to think that St. Paul would have called himself a father if Jesus had meant this literally?
I know that the title of ‘priest’ has also been a source of contention. Again, we must understand that it is really in one’s understanding of words and their underlying context. Our priests/pastors are representative of Christ’s ministry. The ministry is Christ’s. This is well understood by Eastern Christians. He appointed men to carry on his ministry and his teachings. He told his disciples to go and preach to all nations. He expressly told St. Peter to “Feed my sheep.” There are no longer animal sacrifices by the high priest in the temple. We now have the bloodless, Eucharistic sacrifice that is carried out by the priest, who is symbolically representing Christ in carrying out the ministry, preaching the Gospel, and Feeding the Sheep: both through the his teachings and literally the broken body and spilled blood of Christ–the Eucharistic offering.
We must speak and we must use human language. What is important is that we understand that our ultimate Father, Teacher, Rabbi, Priest, and King is Christ. He is the fulfillment of all things.