Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

When the Term "Brother" = "Father"

In a recent post on sola Scriptura, I drew attention to some traditions' use of the title "Father" for their clergy in light of Jesus' words, recorded in Matthew 23:9, "And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven" (ESV). I argued, based on other New Testament occurrences of the word "father," that Jesus was not prohibiting the natural use of the term in regards to family relationships, but that, in context, He was forbidding His disciples from using the term "Father" as a religious title.

If I am correct about the meaning of Jesus' words, then people in many religious traditions are sinning against His command in calling their clergy "Father" so-and-so. Now, this would seem to be a sin from which Baptists are exempt; I have never heard of a Baptist preacher called "Father Beauregard," etc. But I would further argue that there is a common Baptist practice that contradicts Jesus' words in Matt 23:8-12 as surely as if we did call our clergy "Father" or "Rabbi:" namely, the tradition by which the senior pastor of a Baptist church is called "Brother" so-and-so.

In Matt 23:9, Jesus does not forbid the title "Father" because He dislikes the sound of the letters "pi-alpha-tau-eta-rho" [spelling the Greek word for "father"] when applied to church officers. In forbidding the titles "rabbi," "father," and "instructor" within the church, He was not inviting creativity in regards to thinking up alternative titles. Instead, by saying, "you are ALL brothers... you have ONE Father... you have ONE instructor... The greatest among you shall be your servant," Jesus was pointing to an equality under God among His followers, an equality that does not preclude people from holding certain church offices (He did, after all, appoint apostles who appointed elders; Matt 10:1-2; Titus 1:5), but that IS signified in the lack of religious titles for clergy.

And so, we should strive to honor the words of Christ. Pastors should teach their congregations, on the basis of Matt 23:8-12, not to call them "Father" or "Brother" (or "Rabbi" or "Right Reverend Doctor" for that matter).

On a final note: I will say that I have known at least one pastor who is called "Brother" by everyone in the congregation, yet he consistently calls fellow Christians "Brother" or "Sister" so-and-so, and he urged his congregation to return to the traditional practice of referring to each other (not just him) as "Brother." Though I think it unlikely that this traditional practice can be restored to an extent that the congregation would avoid using "Brother" as a distinct title for the pastor (in violation, I have argued, of Matt 23:8-12), I understand that this pastor (and probably, in a similar way, some others like him) genuinely desires us to honor the New Testament words about us all being brothers and sisters in Christ, and he is not seeking some special religious title. There are many other Baptist pastors, however, who seem well content to be the only man in the room called "Brother," and these might as well be called "Father" or don a pointy hat.


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