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Q. What do I do about calling a “priest” father at my Catholic University?

Hello Bob, I read your article on the Aaronic Priesthood. Due to different circumstances I am in a Catholic University where we are forced to acknowledge the priests as "fathers." The Bible seriously condemned this, what should I do?


Dear *****,

I’ve been considering your question for some time, and it is not an easy one to answer.

I see several factors when considering your situation.

It seems that you would not be in your current situation if you were not a student at Maddona University. Perhaps you have reached your present conviction regarding not calling a man “father” after you began to attend this university. Whether or not this is the case, it would seem that you have several possible responses.

But before we any specific application of this text of Scripture, let’s try to understand what Jesus meant in Matthew 23, where we find the instruction not to call any man father:

1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. 4 “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. 5 “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 “They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. 8 “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 “But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation (Matthew 23:1-14).

Jesus is clearly talking here about the illegitimate spiritual leaders of His day – the scribes and Pharisees (vs. 2). What He says here has application to us as well. These men create burdens for those they lead, but do nothing to assist these people to carry them (vs. 4). They seek the attention and praise of others, especially by emphasizing outward appearances which put them in a good light (vss. 5-7).

Our Lord’s primary issue with these Jewish religious leaders is their hypocrisy. They say one thing, but they do another. That is the essence of hypocrisy. I believe this is why Jesus can tell His disciples, and the others who are listening to Him, to do as the scribes and Pharisees say, but not as they do.

Jesus’ primary instruction is to those who would follow Him. And thus, His words of warning and instruction are focused on what they should not do, and the kind of people they should not be. In other words, Jesus is giving them instruction on what they should do, or not do, which distinguishes them from the Pharisees, who seek man’s recognition and prominence. They seek position and power, and places and titles of status, that make them seem important and authoritative. They even have lengthy (and visible) prayers, so that people will think they are holier than others.

Our Lord’s disciples should not live like this. They should humble themselves, rather than seek to be exalted. And thus, they should not dress and behave as the Pharisees, who seek attention, status, and power. And now, to be more specific, they should not seek to be called “Rabbi” (verse 8) or “leader” (verse 10).

We need to understand Jesus’ command to “call no one father” in the light of His instruction to them not to allow themselves to be called “teacher” or “leader.” We should also recognize that the command to “call no man” father is limited, and not universal. In other words, it is not a violation of our Lord’s command to for a son to call his biological father, “father.”

What I believe Jesus is saying is that you should not call a Pharisee “father” when that implies that he has a higher spiritual authority, which places you in submission to his authority and instructions. That grants him authority which he does not have, and should not have. This authority rightly belongs to Jesus, and not to any man.

I think this is a very important instruction to understand and to obey. Not only are we not to seek authority beyond that which we should have; we should not grant authority to others which they should not have – authority which belongs only to God.

In my opinion, it is not merely using the word “father” which Jesus prohibits, but granting a man authority which only belongs to God. This may also happen where the term “father” is not used at all. We are to obey and submit to our Lord, first and foremost, and no man has the right to speak as God, or for God, in a way that grants him the authority that belongs only to God.

This matter of granting another man authority which belongs only to God is one that is most important. We should not grant men more authority than they should have, and we, as men, should not seek authority beyond that which we should have.

It may be important, for the sake of your conscience, to make this clear to individuals called “father” at your university, and perhaps even to the administration. If your belief and conviction about this is acceptable to the university and faculty, then remaining on as a student may not be a problem. And whether or not you address some men as father may not be as important, so long as others know where you stand on the matter of men and their authority, in relation to God, His Word, and His ultimate authority.

Because you are attending a Catholic university, this issue is probably more important, because Catholicism has traditionally held that the church is the ultimate authority in terms of what the Scriptures teach. And thus, one would seem to be obliged to obey any individual to whom the title “father” is given.

Most important, as you are taught matters pertaining to God, and to His Word, you must, as the apostles said, “obey God, rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

I’ll pray that God gives you clarity and conviction in this matter.

Bob Deffinbaugh

Related Topics: Christian Life

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