Call No Man “Father”
by Pastor Cary Gordon
A thorough, lengthy, sardonic, enlightening, offensive, and yet, necessary pastoral rebuke of those who unilaterally defrock Christian clergymen of their honored titles.
In Matthew 23:9, Jesus said:
“And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.”
Many people interpret this to mean, “Do not call a pastor ‘pastor.’ Only address him by his first name in order to keep him humble. Even more horrible, never ever, under any circumstances, call a pastor ‘reverend,’ and furthermore, to remain completely consistent, do not even call your…uh, eh, er…physical procreative home leader…‘father’.” (Whew. I shudder even as I type the word.)
Language experts who dig deep into the verse right before it, Matthew 23:8, where Jesus says, “Let no man call you Rabbi,” say the root word’s Latin equivalent is “doctor.” Therefore, the not-so-expert among us allege that no one should allow anyone to call them “doctor” whether they are a “doctor” of medicine, a “doctor” of dentistry, a “doctor” of theology, or a “doctor” of philosophy.
Those who make these arguments go so far to say that calling any mere human “father” or calling an ordained minister of the church a “reverend” or “doctor” violates the blunt command of Jesus Christ.
End of discussion!
(Really? Are you sure about that? Did you carefully study this text? Because I don’t think you did, and I’m prepared to show you why I believe you are terribly wrong.)
As we move forward into the New Testament, we see that calling elder apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, and their successors “father” was actually common and expected in the early church. (See 1 Cor. 4:15; Acts 7:2; 22:1.) It was favorably encouraged in the scriptures, so let’s be very careful with Jesus’ particular intentions here in Matthew 23:8 & 9, before we inadvertently condemn the verbiage used throughout the New Testament by the greatest of Christ’s apostles and inspired writers of our sacred text.
To be fair, the people who raise these concerns are well-meaning (sometimes), but they are incorrect in several ways I hope to explain in this article. I say “sometimes” they are well meaning because there is also another ditch of error that MANY fall into in our present culture.
“To whatever are you referring, BROTHER Gordon?”
I’m so glad you asked.
There is another error also forbidden by scriptures, which explains the confusion prompted by an abrupt glance upon the text of Matthew 23:9, where Jesus said, “Let no man call you Rabi,” and, “Call no man your father on earth.” I speak of those who crave the haughty pleasure of refusing to give honor where it is due, who envy and despise authority figures, sow discord to undermine them. These are they which disobediently “speak evil of dignities” and have never found a good man they weren't able to begrudge of admiration. Jesus had something to say about that side of this prevalent cultural problem, too.
He asked the rhetorical question, “Is the student above his master?” in John 15:20. (In case you didn’t know, the answer was no.) So Jesus believed some men were “above” others, and, as you’ll see in a moment, the Apostle Peter apparently agreed. In fact, Jesus taught that it would also remain this way eternally in heaven. Some would receive greater rewards and greater honor than others, based upon their behavior while living on Earth. So, if you’ll allow me to speak “tongue in cheek” for a moment… my fellow Christians need to quickly adjust their attitude on this subject or they are going to be eternally miserable living in a heavenly world where everyone enjoys the privilege of honoring those who deserved some things…more than they did.
I don’t know what you do for a living, so I would not presume to know about your job description or tell you how to do your job, particularly if it were something I’d never actually done myself. For me to behave any other way would be arrogant and foolish, wouldn’t you agree? Interestingly enough, there has been no shortage of unsolicited advice-givers that have routinely told me what they believed I should be doing or how “they would have said it differently than I did” or who claim I don’t speak for the “Jesus they know.” To quote D.L. Moody, “I like my way of doing things better than your way of not doing them.”
I hope it is not perceived as being too presumptuous for me to point out with the same candor afforded virtually all other careers on planet earth, that I actually do know what I do for a living, and I actually do know what my job description is, and therefore, as a courtesy to everyone who may be mistaken about that, in the interest of quelling prevailing ignorance on the subject, I would like to share it with everyone in just a moment. But before I do, I posit that if I were to horn-in on your career, having never walked in your shoes, and demand that you violate the instructions of your office manager to carry-out your duties to your employer in a markedly different way than how your employer demanded you carry-out your duties, you would correctly believe me to be an arrogant goof. In that situation, I have no doubt that Jesus would look down from Heaven and conclude that I was, in fact, a goof, the same as you had already concluded.
Contrary to the sage prophetic wisdom of Walt Disney’s lovely Pollyanna, Jesus and I both believe that those who act in such a way are authentic, arrogant goofs. Arrogant goofs do exist, my beloved. How else would it make sense for the Bible and its writers to warn us not to become goofs if it were not possible to become them? How else could the Bible repeatedly show examples of arrogance for our instruction and protection, if we all were not in danger of being seduced by their magnetic powers? It is perfectly within Christian moral boundaries to admit that it is true that arrogant goofs do, in fact, exist! We all know several of them very well! You know I’m right, don’t you? If we were to deny that we did, we would only prove that we were liars, and we all know that lying is strictly forbidden by the same scriptures that warn us of the pervasive existence of arrogant goofs. Again, I adjure you that it is imperfectly outside Christian moral boundaries to tell a lie.
I know this is particularly true of Jesus’ beliefs (that He believed many people were arrogant goofs), because Jesus, as well as the Apostle Paul, called people the English equivalent of the words “arrogant” and “goofs” (see Mat. 23:17, 19; Luke 11:40; 12:20; 24:25; Rom. 1:22; 1 Cor. 15:36; Eph. 5:15, etc.), and I have also noted how that Jesus and Paul justified calling them the modern equivalent of the word “goofs” during their public rebukes. I said all that to say this: rebuking and correcting is not necessarily “arrogant”; it is actually a central part of a true clergyman’s duty.
The following is a COMMAND to all clergymen to “correct” and “rebuke” other people when they do wrong (as opposed to a suggestion). It’s too bad so many are disobedient to the command, but that’s another subject. I promised you a moment ago to explain my job description and my duty, so here it is in brief:
2 Timothy 4:2-5 (KJV) “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.”
Naturally, there will be no shortage of clergymen, in general, who will be offended by this writing, too. Why? Because I am “taking a tone” by “rebuking” and “correcting” wrong attitudes and false doctrines they happen to harbor right along with the poor sheep who follow them into what Jesus referred to as a “ditch.” (Please don’t make the mistake of projecting your own feelings onto me while you read. I realize you may be growing angry, but I assure you there is no emotion in mere text. I have grinned and chortled almost the entire time spent writing this helpful and loving paddling.)
The very mention of the above verse may strike clergymen through with conviction and could invoke the angry desire to stone me in the streets. Thankfully, our superior system of American law won’t allow my murder in this manner.
But then, I am authorized by the Scriptures to “take a tone”, whether it is appreciated or not, aren’t I? It is even possible that those I consider friends may take offense, but then, I embrace, trembling, that the happiness created through cherished friendships and the desire to preserve that joy, is not an escape clause that will allow me to disobey the command of 2 Timothy 4:2-5 (above). Without any wish to deliberately alienate myself from dear friends who may disagree, I transparently say that this is what I believe to be true, and I hope you’ll prayerfully consider the possibility, however remote it may be, that you clergymen who are reading this are a part of the growing problem of our cultural ruin.
I’m not afraid to tell you that you are not helping establish God’s kingdom when you cave into the pressure of our rotting culture, cloaked in an attempt to “remain relevant” and “appear humble” by refusing to allow anyone to call you “Pastor So-and-So.” I’m sorry if our disagreement on whether or not you should use your honored title hurts your feelings. It is how I honestly feel, though, and it is what I firmly believe. And why should I hide that from anyone? True friendship will survive Biblical correction and rebuke, no? Perhaps you will find it possible to consider this objectively, that I am trying to defend your honor, by pointing out that you aren’t defending mine or Christ’s while discouraging it in our own culture.
Now, with all that said, as I continue writing what will no doubt be a very thorough and lengthy article, it should be known up-front that I present this effort under four assumptions: 1) That the reader is Biblically literate and genuinely concerned with integrity in the art of interpreting the scriptures; 2) The reader recognizes that a habit of passive/aggressive contempt for any and all authority is now PERVASIVE in the self-described realm of Christian church-life; 3) That the reader accepts the Bible as a necessary tool of “correction” and, therefore, affords clergymen the legal and moral obligation to bring correction and REBUKE when it is needed. This further implies that the clergymen MUST use his own discretion (not at all connected to needing anyone else’s permission) to correct what he judges to be in conflict with the authority of scripture. 4) Therefore, it should be understood that I am deliberately and explicitly “correcting” and “rebuking” a trend in modern Christian life that I find unacceptable. If you began reading this believing, like other paganized Christians, that I did not have any right to bring correction, you are ineligible to remain a part of this audience, as you do not accept the authority granted to me as a minister of God. My kindest advice to you is simply to stop reading right now. You are only going to become more agitated by “correction” and “rebuke” as this writing continues. You have been thoughtfully and graciously warned.
Many writers used to describe my second point (given above) by saying things like, “This not only happens among the pagans; it also happens sometimes in the church.” I think this description is outdated. It is passé and out of touch with reality. This explains why I insist upon saying it in just the opposite way. I say that disrespect for authority is culturally popular especially inside the church, and it also happens sometimes in the pagan world. On occasion, the casual pagan on the street has stumbled all over himself to assign me some kind of honored title while speaking to me, face to face, in the marketplace. I’ve been called all kinds of awkward things.
For example, a friendly Greek restaurant owner once insisted upon calling me “Rabbi Gordon.” On another occasion I was chased down a sidewalk by an elderly woman, calling out, “Father, Father, bless me!” A non-Christian man of Texas, who appreciates my politics, insists upon calling me “Padre.” Why is this? Because the Greek restaurant owner, not unlike the lady on the sidewalk near Mercy Hospital, hadn’t yet attended a “cutting edge” local church, that’s why. They hadn’t been exposed to this trendy new fad, asserted by the parishioners and awkwardly encouraged by misguided preachers who insist upon being called only by their first name, in some errant exhibition of what our rotting culture believes to be “humility.”
Here are some facts not in dispute: It is generally no longer considered dishonorable in American culture for a young person to address an elder/adult by his or her first name, as if they are equals. It is actually considered “arrogant” for the elder to correct the child by insisting that they behave respectfully by addressing elders with “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, “Miss”, “doctor”, or “pastor”. The cause of this decline from old-school etiquette is that the parents don’t teach it in their homes. The parents do not teach it in their homes because they, just like their own immature children, also resent having to show respect to those in authority over them. The culture of rebellion born in the 1960’s has now passed its unwashed, sticky baton to a new generation of pride-filled, begrudging rebels.
With all that said, I directly address my vocal hecklers, who hate my titles, “reverend,” “pastor,” “parson,” “father,” “padre,” “rabbi,” “bishop,” or otherwise. I remind you of your own obligation to come to the table with evidence to support your own bizarre hypothesis. After all, you do not hesitate to insist that I do this, so I’m turning the tables upon you in the name of this word you love so much…“equality.” Moreover, I’m going to generously tell you what your hypothesis actually is, because I don’t think most of you actually know. After all, I’ve seen no evidence that you can articulate your own hypothesis, yet you thrust your new morality into this dishonorable and decorum-hating world, and you do it recklessly, in the name of Christ, misquoting Matthew 23:8-9. You offer no legitimate evidence while demanding that I must.
Let us both agree that evidence, not feelings, constitutes proof. Though it is possible to utterly prove an argument, it remains true that few arguments in life will be 100% to 0%. Evidence does not usually provide a ratio of 100% to 0%. This is not what judicious men require as “proof.” “Proof” is what is considered to be reasonable once the evidence for and against has been weighed. For the sake of all that is right, reasonable and good; live-up to your own standards, please!
There is a remote chance that I could be killed by a piano sliding from the cargo hold of a large jet flying high above my city, but it would be unreasonable to forbid the construction and use of all jets on that basis. The chances, while possible, are utterly unreasonable. Similarly, I could win the Iowa State Lottery. The chances, while possible, are utterly unreasonable. Again, I am willing and able to provide 95% of the evidence to constitute the proof of my Biblical position. I only demand that you should be honorable enough to provide a measly 5% to support your own.
As a service to you, in order to help you with your side of the argument, here is your hypothesis, in direct contradiction to mine. Please memorize this, as it will aid you in your future attacks against others in our world who may have earned an honored title which you refuse to say out loud during a conversation. Your argument (not mine) is that American culture is more respectful today than it used to be. Your hypothesis, said another way, is that America was less like Jesus, back in the day when all authority figures were addressed with respectful decorum, and we are more like Jesus today, when leaders are begrudged their titles of honor. To be very clear, your hypothesis is that it is better to call your pastor “Bob” than it is to call him “Pastor Bob.” It is better to call your family doctor “Jim” than it is to call him “Doctor Jim.” You firmly believe, right along with our presently rotting culture, that this new “equality” we enjoy in the name of “humility” is superior and that the respectful etiquette enjoyed by previous generations was inferior, arrogant, un-Christlike, and, for the most daring of your protagonists, it is allegedly “unscriptural.” The feeble evidence you offer as a means to prove your rarely articulated hypothesis, is a cavalier glance upon Matthew 23:8-9. Hmph!
I require YOU to prove your hypothesis, too. I’m not the only man in this two-sided debate required to prove his position. But it is possible, even likely, that I’m the only one who actually can. That is actually a part of my hypothesis – that you are wrong and you cannot prove your hypothesis with credible, reasonable evidence, even after receiving help from me…generously defining your unspoken hypothesis for you. Please accept that as the challenge that it is intended to be against your lack of studious integrity. Remember, this is intended as a “rebuke” and a “correction” on the authority of 2 Timothy 4:2-5. I take my job seriously. I hope you take yours seriously, too (whatever it is that you do when you aren’t attacking and begrudging members of the clergy of their earned titles).
Again, I can’t tell you how to do your job, because you are not my employee; thus, you don’t get your duty list from me. That is why you cannot tell me how to do my job. I do not work for you either. My duty list comes from a famous book translated and written in plain English. I have to follow those written instructions, not your personal opinions that contradict my written directions. Surely you can understand this… Maybe not.
If you have now read this far, you allegedly did so because you agreed with the four assumptions of my target audience. Otherwise, you ignored my warnings. In either case, you have no right, at this point, to be offended. Don’t write me and tell me that I don’t serve “the Jesus you know” or that I am “unloving.” I will ignore you, because you should have listened when I told you I was going to rebuke and correct. You are a victim of your own insatiable curiosity, perhaps of your unwillingness to follow directions, as well. Par for the rebel’s course, I guess. By your rejection of the premise of 2 Timothy 4:2-5, you admitted that you will not accept rebuke or correction. You are a dissident, and reading these pearls was never suited for you. You are addicted to the argument of weak-minded agitators. You must resort to the lame and all too predictable argument of style over substance. You will ignore the truth, capable of setting you free, in favor of the false security you get by whining about the other “taking a tone.” So again, this is your last chance to do what is in your best interest, and stop reading. Go back to your lifestyle that is “pleasurable only for a season,” and enjoy it while it lasts.
This brings us to focus upon this new term we hear so much about these days called “equality.” There seems to be great confusion in our times concerning the word “equality.” Indeed, we live in a world where “all men were created equal”, before the Divine Judge of Heaven, and therefore, as citizens, it was determined by the writers of our American Declaration of Independence that we must all be “equal” before the rule of law, as citizens under God. Certainly, it is true that all men are equal before the cross of Christ. But for the saving grace of Jesus Christ who bore our sins and iniquities at Calvary, we all utterly deserve to be cast into hell…equally. But that’s about where the equality stops. Outside equality before the law of God and men, no two human beings who have ever stood upon the face of this earth have ever been “equal” in any other sense. It will be a better world when everyone gets that through their heads. This truth will set you free, too! We are all quite unequal, because we are amazingly unique. Thank you, Lord, for making it so! Peter warned those who confuse the real-world meaning of the word “equality” in our age with these words:
2 Peter 2:9-12 (KJV) “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption…”
I have been outright assailed over the public use of the title “reverend” in various and sundry media publications over the last decade. Interestingly enough, with only a few exceptions, almost no one in my church refers to me as “Reverend Gordon”, and I am nearly always called “Pastor Cary” or “Pastor Gordon” by those to whom I am closest. Others just call me horrible names I’m too uncomfortable publishing. Most just don’t call me at all. I digress again…
Some repeatedly insist, “Only God is called Reverend!” Let the record show that I have NEVER on even one occasion during the last 40 years heard a single solitary human being bow their heads to pray before a meal and say, “Dear Heavenly Reverend, thank You for this food. Bless it to our bodies. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.” Furthermore, I’m apparently not alone in this lack of familiarity with the idea that “only God is called Reverend!” To be sure, one hundred and eighty-six years ago, in 1828, Noah Webster, a famous scholar of Greek and Hebrew, who not only created America’s most famous English dictionary, but prepared an excellent translation of the Holy Bible, wrote: “[Reverend] is, I believe, never applied to the Supreme Being, or to His laws or institutions.” So my own perplexity with those who accuse me of stealing God’s glory by using the title “reverend” remain suspiciously hard to bear. To quote Shakespeare, “Me thinks ye protest too much.”
In the early years of my insertion into the public arena of politics and law, under the advice of an attorney, I adopted the use of the broader title “reverend” for use during public discourse. It was argued that this title would enable me to speak on behalf of, and in the interest of the Christian faith, without too closely tethering myself to one particular local church. The rationale was to protect my local church as it was being harangued at that time with mounting insidious threats of a debilitating, gestapo-styled IRS audit. So I accepted “reverend” instead of “pastor” when speaking publicly so as to distance myself from the allegation that I was speaking on behalf of my local church every time I minced words with a snarky reporter.
Needless to say, being attacked for my title has been the least of my worries, but it has been a criticism repeated often enough (on occasion by good and well-meaning Christians) that I finally decided to address the topic once and for all. When I am jumped again – and I will be – I will simply respond with a link to this screed. Then I will chortle to myself about it.
In the most recent incarnation of this re-emerging criticism, a man who has never met me, knows nothing of my life’s work, and had no basis wherewith to broach this subject in the first place, wrote to me asking (I paraphrase), “Can you give me book, chapter and verse in the Bible where it refers to any man as reverend? Titles are for man’s ego and worldly show, not for God’s edification. No one should be called reverend; only God is reverend!” I responded (and I paraphrase), “Nope. I can't give you one for ‘colonel,’ ‘scoutmaster,’ or ‘chancellor’ either, but the description ‘holy men of God’ is used of mere men in 2 Peter 1:21.”
I continued, “You're certainly entitled to your opinion, of course, but the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek. The title ‘reverend’ is little more than a synonym of our English language routinely substituted for ‘apostle,’ ‘prophet,’ ‘evangelist,’ ‘pastor,’ ‘teacher,’ ‘bishop,’ ‘rabbi,’ ‘doctor,’ ‘elder,’ ‘deacon,’ and others that are all commonly used in the Bible, and each of these particular titles are translated from Greek into English.” I persisted my attempt to explain that in this sense, the phrase, ‘holy men of God,’ had been historically honored in our Western culture by the universal title of ‘reverend.’ Despite the fact that Webster’s 1828 Dictionary further defined the term as “A title of respect given to the clergy or ecclesiastics,” it bore no fruit with him. He would have none of it, which is always the case with begrudging men who too often and too carelessly claw and scratch away at all others who possess some level of authority that they themselves do not.
According to Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language, the title “reverend” simply implies that the man who bears it has earned it as a member of the clergy. The title suggests he is living a set-apart, holy life worthy of the “double honor” the Apostle Paul told Timothy belonged to every man who labored in the Holy Word and doctrines.
1 Timothy 5:17-18: (KJV) “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.”
Paul addressed this proclivity in men to begrudge others of honor (a popular activity in today’s bold new world where everyone is addressed on a first-name basis) when he wrote his letter to the Romans:
Romans 13:7-8 (KJV) "Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law."
Sometimes the real ego and pride problem is not the “father,” the “pastor,” the “reverend,” or the “doctor” - it's in those who refuse to give honor, custom or tribute as commanded in the above verse.
Then there's the command of Paul explicitly teaching this:
1 Timothy 3:1 & 6 (KJV) “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work... [but] not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.”
Let’s be clear. Who is Paul suggesting is more prone to being tripped up by arrogance? The novice is more prone to arrogance. The title and/or office he’s given does not create the arrogance. It merely exposes what was already there, what should have been noted, and why his promotion should have been postponed until a later time. To be clear, who is the novice in this context? He’s the guy without the proper credentials and experience necessary for the honored position as a church leader, who has been inappropriately awarded the noble title of “bishop.” Conclusion: some people deserve honored positions and the titles that follow those positions, and some do not. Makes a lot of sense to me, actually.
The man who provoked me by his criticism finally concluded his accusatory remarks by stating, “One either believes God's Word and obeys it or one chooses not to believe and changes it. I’m sorry, but your reasoning rings hollow with me. One cannot rearrange the words in the Bible to fit one's wishes.”
Languishing in my failed attempt to help him understand how neither the Old or New Testaments forbade titles of honor, and hoping to shake him from his errant insistence that the English words “father,” “reverend,” “doctor,” “pastor,” etc. should all be abandoned entirely, I asserted that he remain consistent with his argument and said (admittedly with what seemed to be necessary sarcasm), “According to your logic, you shall henceforth refer to me as “Επίσκοπος” (pronounced “ep-is'-kop-os” according to Strong's Greek & Hebrew Dictionary), for that is the original Greek title given by the scriptures to a man in my position. Indeed, the title, “Επίσκοπος,” is given to mere mortals such as myself. We translate this sacred word, “Επίσκοπος,” into English as “bishops.” Therefore, we must say “Επίσκοπος Gordon” lest we ‘rearrange the words to fit our wishes.’”
So back to Jesus’ remarks addressed to a brood of hypocritical Pharisees with overwhelmingly bad doctrine who routinely dishonored Moses… Jesus says, “Be not YE called Rabbi.” (Emphasis added.) The commentary on the Gospel of Matthew writes, “’Be not ye called Rabbi’ with emphasis on ‘ye,’ as the Greek indicates [is better explained], ‘Do not crave the honour of being recognized as a religious teacher.’ The implication here is that this particular audience of scoundrels possessed an inordinate desire for public respect whilst living in such a way so as to deserve very little, if any at all. He was directly addressing THEM because THEY were uniquely unqualified to so inordinately crave praise they had not earned in the eyes of God. Notice how Jesus began this chapter:
Matthew 23:1-7: (KJV) “Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, 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 for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.”
If you think He’s pretty rough on them in His opening remarks, you should see how this sermon of Jesus’ ends! WOW! Jesus wouldn’t be allowed to preach in most churches today. Why? Well, because He wouldn’t be enough “like Jesus,” of course!
But then these kinds of men should not be confused with other kinds of men. There are men who ARE qualified and do NOT inordinately crave praise, who HAVE earned a special gift of grace for public ministry, recognized by church authorities also ordained by God, which includes particular titles and offices honored in Acts 13 and Ephesians 4:
Acts 13:1-2: (NKJV) “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
Ephesians 4:11-13 (NKJV) “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
It really couldn’t be simpler than this; God approves, equips, and calls those He approves of, and, as in the case of Matthew chapter 23, He also does not approve, refuses to equip, and does not call some who decline to cooperate with Him. Of this particular text of Matthew 23, when we read carefully, we see that Jesus was addressing the quarrel-prone Sanhedrin. To explain why Jesus specifically forbade the use of this relatively new and particularly divisive title, “Rabbi,” which had recently come into vogue in His day, Adam Clarke recalls, “None of the prophets had ever received this title [of “Rabbi”], nor any of the Jewish doctors before the time of Hillel and Shammai, which was about the [same] time of our Lord; and, as disputes on several subjects had run high between these two schools, the people were of course divided; some acknowledging Hillel as rabbi,—infallible teacher, and others giving this title to Shammai. The Pharisees, who always sought the honor that comes from men, assumed the title, and got their followers to address them by it.”[i]
So, they were fighting amongst themselves, gazing into that magical mirror to inquire, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” And Jesus answered, “You are all remarkable hypocrites. That’s for sure!” (See Matthew 23:13-33.) They had not lived up to their newfangled, grandiose titles, and Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai were jockeying between themselves for the preeminent position of doctrinal infallibility. All the while their man-made traditions were irreverently trouncing the laws of God that had been graciously handed to Moses. So these two fighting factions Jesus rebuked were actually stealing away the very glory of God for themselves, pretending to have more doctrinal authority than the written Torah, God the Father, Moses His servant, and Jesus Christ His beloved Son. If anyone on earth needed to be corrected, called out, and taken down a hundred and nine notches, it was these two smarmy cliques of usurpers. They were all miserable failures in the righteous judgment of Jesus, and therefore unqualified for any such grandiose title. This text was never intended to become the proof-text of those who think they finally found their permission to dishonor everyone else…equally.
Along similar lines, I won’t be undergoing brain surgery by any man with the title “doctor” if he’s not been properly credentialed by a medical institution. I don’t care how famous his latest rap album is in the back streets of Los Angeles. “Doctor Love” hasn’t really earned my respect in this regard, has he? Some titles are cheapened by those who steal them. That is the point of Jesus’ remarks in Matthew 23. Welcome to the real end of the discussion!
So these opinions against ever showing a true man of God respect by addressing him by a particular title, rather than verbally lowering him to a first-name basis (based solely upon Matthew Chapter 23) are made without consideration of many other scriptures and seemingly no concern of the context in which they were given by Jesus. In every passage we must always ask, “Who was Jesus addressing? What was the historical context of these remarks?” When we read the entire chapter carefully we discover hypocritical Pharisees publicly exposed by Jesus for possessing Moses’ authority in government without properly teaching Moses’ divine doctrines in the synagogues (churches).
While earnestly condemning all ministers for accepting any and every title they may have actually earned by divine calling, ordination of God, and by virtue of their ongoing sacrifices the Apostle Paul called “worthy of double honor,” we would all do well to remember that Stephen shouted, “Brethren and FATHERS, hearken,” in Acts 7:2. Apparently, he believed it was okay to refer to leaders in the community as “fathers.”
For any would-be enforcer of the “humility police” who, for fear of offending God, calls his own “physical procreative home leader” “Papa” instead of “Father”, I mean only to soothe your misplaced fears and bitter begrudgings. Interestingly, and quite germane to this debate, in another place (see Mark 7:9-13) Jesus criticized the Pharisees, not because they didn’t deserve to be called “fathers,” but because they had failed to properly honor their Hebrew “fathers” who apparently DID deserve that honored title. Hmmm?
As I pointed out in the opening remarks, when we move forward through the scriptures, we see that calling the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, and their successors “father” was common in the early church. (See 1 Cor. 4:15; Acts 7:2; 22:1.) As in the case of all scriptural interpretations, we must allow scripture to interpret scripture, following reasonable laws of interpretation. (See 2 Pet. 1:20; 3:16.)
Like most of the ministers I know, I don’t demand my title. I have earned it, however, and I am certainly willing to explain why I have no intention of refusing it, and why my convictions are as follows:
- Whereas it is my conviction that insisting that others not use my title would be disrespectful to the divinely granted office God has graciously bestowed upon me through my ordination to ministry;
- Whereas it is also my conviction that I do a disservice to the people of God in my care when discouraging the use of my title; that by doing so I inadvertently aid and abet the dangerous sin of familiarity exposed as most malevolent in Mark 6:3-6, argued to be one of the worst of sins fostering special unbelief which so limited the miracle power of Jesus Christ in his home town of Nazareth;
- Whereas American culture has deteriorated to a place where almost nothing is considered sacred and all are equally dishonored by the social degradation of the Marxist mentality.
- Whereas it is the duty of a biological father to train the children in his own home to give honor to their elders by age, and therefore also the duty of a spiritual father to train the spiritual children in his church to give honor to their spiritual elders of divine calling and unique grace;
I will continue to appropriately embrace my ordination and divine calling to the office of “eπίσκοπος” (bishop), and encourage the culture around me who is as opposed to this idea as it is committed, to learn to show respect as Christ instructed his own disciples – considering others as greater than ourselves, esteeming others, being kindly affectioned one toward another, with brotherly love, in honor, preferring one another in the Lord, according to Romans 12:10 and Luke 22:24-27.
If we are ever to enjoy a world of “equality”, then let us strive for one where men find ways to honor, esteem, and prefer others as greater than themselves. This is a far superior kind of “equality” than the kind offered by the world where we sojourn as aliens and strangers, and where men appear hell-bent on finding ways to remind everyone else, “Hey! You’re no better than me!”
As tempting as it may be, I promise I will not remove my white gloves and smite you across the face for calling me by my first name, so long as you remember that there is a difference between me working on your behalf and me working for you. I answer to my first name when it is appropriate, but it is not always appropriate. Children should not call out to a church leader or family doctor, “Hey, You!” Frankly, neither should mature, adult Christians. No, I won’t smite you, and I never have smitten anyone for being too familiar. Just see to it that you don’t insult me and others by defrocking all men of God, who honorably execute the duties of a high and noble office - an office which mere mortals, such as yourself, are without the power to either grant or revoke.
God Love You,
Reverend Cary K. Gordon
Executive Pastor, Cornerstone World Outreach
[i] Adam Clarke A Commentary and Critical Notes.