By Bishop Dave Chikosi
Someone once said: “Dad is destiny.” A biological father’s presence in the family is probably the most important factor that determines a child’s success and happiness.
Unfortunately nearly 2 out of every 5 kids in America do not live with their fathers. A 1995 U.S. New and World Report feature article says: “Fatherlessness is the most destructive trend of our generation.”
The relevance of these facts and statements ecclesiastically is this: the natural is very often a reflection of the spiritual. As goes the spiritual, so goes the natural. The curse of fatherlessness in modern society is but a mere reflection of the lack of fathering in the church.
In the biological family the father brings strength, stability and balance. The father is a protector, counselor and guide to his children. The absence of a healthy father role model can be deleterious to the children’s God-ordained destiny.
The same is true in the church world. Beginning with Elijah and Elisha in the Old Testament we see the importance of good spiritual fathering. When Elijah was taken up to heaven by a whirlwind, his protégé Elisha cried out: “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” (2 Kings 2:11-12).
Interestingly enough, a king of Israel later addressed this same Elisha using exactly the same words and title. King Joash at the bedside of dying Elisha cried out: “My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof” (2 Kings 13:14).
Over in the New Testament St Paul had no problems representing himself as a spiritual father to his protégés. To young Timothy he writes: “Unto Timothy, my own SON in the faith” (1 Tim 1:2).
To Titus he also writes: “To Titus, mine own SON after the common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace” (Titus 1:4-5). In fact, writing to the whole congregation at Corinth, Paul says:
“I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved SONS, I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many FATHERS: for in Christ Jesus I have BEGOTTEN you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me” (1 Cor 4:14-16).
This is the kind of language that drives religious people nuts. Paul calls the Corinthians his SONS. He says he is their only FATHER! In Christ he gave them birth! And then he crowns that incredible thought with the command: “Follow me.”
Wow! How arrogant is that? Somebody needs to check that man’s ego! But is Paul an egotistic, domineering man of God desirous of people to worship him? Why does Paul talk like that? Isn’t he aware of Jesus’s prohibition in Matthew 23:9 which says “call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.” Is St Paul purposely disregarding a clear command from the Lord? Does he contradict Jesus by calling himself father?
If you think that’s what Paul is doing then you don’t know the man. No, Paul understood that Jesus’ prohibition in Matthew 23 (spoken some 2000 years ago, NOT 6000!) was not to be interpreted in an exclusively literal sense. To do so would first of all undermine the Fourth Commandment: “Honor thy father and they mother” (Exodus 20:12 and repeated in Eph 6:12).
Paul also knew that Jesus was not intentionally disrespecting Elijah and Elisha, those two revered Old Testament prophets who had a father-son relationship.
Paul was present at the stoning of St Stephen. He heard Stephen address the Jewish Council saying: “Brothers and FATHERS, listen to me” (Acts 7:2). Fathers? Yes! Paul knew that this first martyr of the church was well aware that he was not in violation of Matthew 23 when he addressed the Jews as “fathers.”
Lastly Paul was familiar with the story of the Rich man and Lazarus told by Jesus Himself. When the rich man saw Abraham with Lazarus in his bosom, the rich man addressed Abraham as “father.” Abraham’s response was not: “Don’t you know that there is only one is Father in heaven?” Evidently it was a non-issue with Abraham. Why is it an issue for some people today?
So why the prohibition? Jesus is not banning the use of paternalistic vocabulary in the church. He was not that petty or small-minded! What He was simply doing is to call for a humble and responsible usage of the term “father” by those in a mentoring capacity within the church.
Jesus is denouncing the use of titles (father, rabbi, master etc) as a means of exercising demonic dominion and abusive authority over those entrusted to leaders to lead. Paul clearly understands this. This is why he does NOT refrain from use of “father”, a term that began in the Old Testament with the prophets.
The church should not refrain from using this wonderful, nurturing office. We need fathers in the church. Unfortunately we have a bunch of baby-sitters and hirelings pretending to be fathering our spiritual sons and daughters. The result is that the church has become an orphanage rather than a family.
But all is not lost. God is up to something in these last days:
“He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:6)
Bishop Dave Chikosi is a published author who writes about theology, economics and politics. More of his articles and teachings can be viewed on his blog http://davechikosi.blogspot.com