Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 29, 1962
NUMBER 46, PAGE 5,13a

"One Is Your Father"

Robert C. Welch, Nacogdoches, Texas

The title father has a limited use in the speech of the Christian. This limitation is specifically set by our Lord; "And call no man your father on earth: for one is your Father, even he who is in heaven." (Matt. 23:9) The context shows that this limitation is set upon those who would give religious distinction to some above the others, as was practiced by the scribes and Pharisees. It is not to be taken as prohibition of its use in describing the natural, physical relationship; the context plainly indicating that it refers to religious distinction and discrimination. Also, there are further examples of its specific use in the New Testament when describing the physical relationship.

In society in general, and among religious peoples, and among Christians in particular, there is an ever present tendency to rely on the past. This is most commonly manifested by a revering of the men of the past. They are referred to as fathers. Used in this sense it is a tradition-clad word. From a patriotic and national viewpoint Lincoln used it in this way in his famous speech, saying, "our fathers brought forth on this continent." It may have such a significance as it is used with reference to our ancestors. The Lord does not condemn such usage of the word. But when men begin to revere others religiously and give them such a title of distinction, they have surely violated the decree of Christ.

No Scriptural Approval

Sometimes men will be found attempting to justify its religious use on some supposed scriptural grounds. But a critical examination of the Scriptures which they use will prove them in error. Paul said; "our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea." (1 Cor. 10:1) Has he not used it here in a religious sense? Though the passage has its definite religious significance, yet the word itself is used in a purely family connection. Those who passed through the sea under the cloud were the literal ancestors of Paul and others of the Jewish race, to whom the letter was partially addressed. (See I Cor. 1:23.) There are other instances when he uses the word from a national and patriotic standpoint (Acts 22:1.) Here it is used in the sense in which it is now used when men talk about those who attend to the affairs of a city as the "city fathers." He specifically uses the word with reference to the physical relationship in such statements as; "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath." (Eph. 6:4) Paul in no instance contradicts the plain edict of Jesus by calling some man his father in a religious sense.

Paul calls Timothy, "my true child in the faith." (1 Tim. 1:2) And he says; "For, though ye have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I begat you through the gospel." (I Cor. 4:15) Do these statements teach that Paul called himself the father of others religiously? The exact converse of such statements is not always the case, and it is not the case in these instances, as we shall further illustrate.

The angels said that Jesus was begotten of the Holy Spirit, or that Mary had conceived of the Holy Spirit.

"The Holy Spirit shall come upon the and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God." (Luke 1:35) "For that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit." (Matt. 1:20) But this begettal and conception "of the Holy Spirit" did not make the Holy Spirit the father of Jesus. God is his father.

The foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20) is a case in point, though of a different nature. The foundation is not the apostles themselves; but is that which they laid, Jesus Christ, in their proclamation of the gospel.

The children, which Paul begot, are not taught to claim Paul as their father. Instead, he emphatically declares that he begot them by the gospel and that they are children of God. (Gal. 3:26, 27) But, if Timothy was Paul's "child in the faith," would that not make Paul his "father in the faith"? Not any more than the "foundation of the apostles" makes them the foundation. Not any more than the Holy Spirit's begettal makes him the "father" of Jesus. And have you not heard of the one who taught others as being their "father in the gospel"? The point is, such expressions are not scriptural terminology. These latter ones and Timothy were children of God, made so by the receiving of the word which was proclaimed by Paul and taught to the others. (1 Pet 1:22, 23)

The Common Catholic Use

The Catholics apply the term as a title of respect to their clergy. Plainly it is used in the sense mentioned in the last question above. These men called by the title are the spiritual guides and leaders. And just as plainly, both are direct violation of the prohibition given by Christ. They have used the term, and their protestant successors have continued it, with a traditional religious homage paid to the men who led in writing and teaching in the past. The title attributes religious authority to those men. To speak of a group of men as "Ante-Nicene Fathers" is to give them a religious title of respect, honor and authority which belongs solely to God. Men may not wish to accept it as they blindly follow the Catholic system, but Jesus said, "call no man your father on the earth, for one is your Father."

A song has been handed down to us from the same source with the word in its title. The precise wording of the song shows that it is neither speaking of a national, patriotic nor family relationship. Instead, it is speaking of those who lived, believed and suffered before our generation. Though it says, "faith of our fathers," yet it is a hinging of our faith on them. Call them martyrs, call them any term which is not forbidden in the Scriptures. But why give them a religious title which scripturally belongs to God? When the song is begun in worship, I find myself in complete ill at ease. If I should try to sing it, there is hardly any time left for worship as I try to transpose mentally the common meaning of the word used into something that will be acceptable to God the Father. And I must not be singing it without thinking of the meaning or with the common significance of the word. The man who can sing it without making such mental gymnastics could as easily call the Catholic priest what the Lord says belongs to God only. Or he should be able with equal ease to call some preacher by another title which is used in the Scriptures only to describe the name of God, reverend.

It would be so much better if we could get away from the usage of a word in religious writings, worship and work which is so near the ungodly Catholic usage as to make it nauseating. It would be so much better to get away from the use of such terminology which commonly gives honor to men of the past above that of other saints, dead or alive. It would be the best just to take the Lord's word as he gave it: "And call no man your father on the earth: for one is your Father, even he who is in heaven."