Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The F Word

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.
Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


What did you think the F-word was?

The Pope Resigned

By now, everyone knows that Ratzinger has resigned from his post as the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. The news came as a shock since we have not seen a Pontiff willingly give up the post in something like six centuries.

A friend of mine sent me an email detailing an experience he had with a friend at work which resulted directly from this news. The friend somehow received a copy of a newspaper which was edited by an Evangelical--Anti-Catholic--Christian.

In the margins of the newspaper, the individual rehashed all of the tired, old, outdated accusations against the Catholic Church, including the assertion that we should not call any man Father. Below is the text of the email during which my friend goes on a rant against this kind of rationale:

[On] the exhortation in Matthew 23: 9 to call no man "father."  This was written over the picture of the pope in the newspaper.  I have always found this one of the clumsiest kinds of anti-Catholic disputation.  If taken literally, as many fundamentalist evangelicals do, then not even biological fathers should be called by that name.  Of course, in practice, no evangelical refrains from calling their male parent father.  In addition, numerous times in the NT (after the time of Jesus' putative injunction) men are referred to as "father" or "fathers".  (Any keyword search of an online Bible will give you the examples I have in mind.)  In particular, Paul refers to himself as a "father" in the gospel of Jesus Christ to his followers and disciples (1 Cor. 4: 14-15).  Thus, the apostolic testimony (not limited to Paul in the Bible!) is that a minister of God's word is a spiritual father.  Needless to say, the early Christians understood this and called their teachers "fathers," i.e., as in "Church Fathers".

A strict reading of the section of Matthew 23 that says call no man father also says to call no man teacher.  The Latin for teacher is doctor.  So we should not call anyone "Dr."  if we're saying priests can't be called fathers!  Just as in the case of the word father, however, a quick electronic search of any online Bible will show that the word teacher, teachers, or teaching were used often by Jesus, the Apostles, and the early Christians.  Was Jesus Himself not called "Rabbi" (i.e.,  teacher) by the Jews and His followers?   If so, then one can fairly accuse Jesus of hypocrisy.  But of course Jesus wasn't speaking literally or against titles in Matthew 23.  Instead, Jesus is referring to those who would use titles to promote themselves above God.  In effect, Jesus is warning against something that Paul would later warn against and that is the "personality cult" so common then and today.  How many cult leaders past and present don't like to be called "father" or "teacher"?  (BTW: All these men and cults come from the evangelical branch of the Protestant Reformation! ) 
I cringe every time I hear some misinformed evangelical resort to Matthew 23: 9 to try to challenge Catholic authority.  This is a classic example of poor proof-texting and exegesis   Jesus didn't have in mind modern rabbis or priests when He spoke these injunctions.  Rather, He had more timeless concerns about hypocritical religious leaders in mind. Certainly, someone has to correct this polemical misreading of Jesus in Matthew 23 for the sake of both charity and spiritual and intellectual integrity.

The Application

Let us be careful when speaking out against others. Not everything in scripture is meant to be taken at face value. Sometimes, there is meaning behind those things that we read.
Enhanced by Zemanta
Christopher M. Jimenez. Powered by Blogger.

Mailing List