When mentioning to our family members and friends how we are Anglican, we get a lot of confused looks and questions. Once they hear the word “father,” they think that we’re Catholic. Also, in conversations with friends who are wives of Anglican priests, they talk about getting flack for being married to a priest–thinking that all men who wear collars must be celibate! Well, this post is a little unpacking of the tradition of calling pastors ‘father,’ the clerical collar and the allowances of the men who wear them.
Many don’t understand how Anglicanism is any different from Catholicism and the response is sometimes an attack as if we’ve left the Protestant faith! For others, they believe the use of the word “father” for calling our pastor is unbiblical. These people are referring to the passage in the bible from Matthew 23:9 that reads, “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.”
Let’s unpack this verse. First of all, it is obvious that the verse does not mean for us to not call our earthly biological or legal father our father, since God uses this father-son and father-daughter analogy in describing one aspect of God’s relationship to us. Secondly, in bible times, the concept of fatherhood was commonly used to show signs of respect (Joseph describing his relationship with the king of Egypt in Genesis 45:8). God himself also declares in Isaiah 22:20-21 that Eliakim “shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.” There are also numerous accounts of the use of “father” for people unrelated biologically but are used as a form of address or reference.
Now let’s look at the context of the passage in Matthew 23. The passage surrounding this text reads:
Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. 4 They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear,[a] and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. 11 He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; 12 whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
A plain reading of this text suggests that Jesus is rebuking the Jewish priests and using the scribes and Pharisees as an example to the disciples. Jesus is warning them of behaving like men who do their deeds to be seen by men and love to be called rabbi (or father). Jesus is speaking in hyperbole here. He is warning people against inaccurately attributing fatherhood—or a particular kind or degree of fatherhood—to those who do not have it. Paul often attributes his relationship to other disciples and believers as a spiritual father. Therefore, Jesus is not forbidding the perfunctory use of honorifics nor forbidding us to recognize that the person does have a role as a spiritual father and teacher.
Why not call him ‘Pastor’? I came from a church that was led by a pastor, and have had many positive experiences with churches with pastors! Though there is nothing wrong with the term ‘Pastor,’ there is something more reverential about calling the parish leader ‘Father.’ There is a movement in the Protestant world that is called the “Priesthood of All Believers” (Taken from the passage in 1 Peter 2:5-9) which implies that there is no need for spiritual authorities like pastors, deacons, and elders. This idea is that the pastor is just one of the flock, but slightly elevated in responsibility and knowledge of the things of God. In this ideology, anyone can become a pastor. It has become a career path, a means for paying the bills, and oftentimes it is no longer a calling.
Granted, there are many pastors in the field who are not making money, who are truly called to pastorship, and who bear the burden of taking on the responsibility of a flock! I believe that the “Priesthood of All Believers” ideology is a reaction to the heretical elevation of Roman Catholic Priests who were used as a mediator between God and people. This is called clericalism. Reacting to this heresy by getting rid of all spiritual hierarchies is not correct. An obvious elevation of spiritual authority is Jesus’ selection of the twelve, the Apostles and the disciples. Though it is true that no man mediates between God and men, but like the husband is the head of the family, so the priest or father is the head of the congregation. He acts as the symbol of Christ to the church and is also given greater spiritual authority as well as responsibility. I prefer to use the word ‘father’ because of this spiritual implication of responsibility and reverence.
Who wears the clerical collar? Clergymen, or ordained church leaders, wear the clerical collar. The Anglican church had been wearing a black coat with a white necktie since 1840 to symbolize their sense of separation from the world.
Invented in the Presbyterian Church, the clerical collar was adopted by other Christian denominations, including Anglican Church, Methodist churches, Eastern Orthodox Church, Baptist churches, Lutheran churches, and the Roman Catholic Church. In 1967, the Roman Catholic Church adopted the clerical collar after the cassock became less popular among priests following the Second Vatican Council. (ref.)
A priest or father is not required to remain celibate. In the Roman Catholic tradition, priesthood requires celibacy. In the Anglican tradition, celibacy is not required. This is not a new invention, nor some reaction to the Catholic church, but rather, some of the earliest Christian leaders were married men.
The mention in Mark 1:30, Luke 4:38, and Matthew 8:14-15 of Saint Peter’s mother-in-law indicates that he had married (Matthew 8:14-15: “when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever.”) According to Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, III, vi, ed. Dindorf, II, 276), Peter was married and had children and his wife suffered martyrdom. Pope Clement I wrote: “For Peter and Philip begat children”. (ref.)
Let us give honor and reverence to men who have given their lives over to the service of God. The priesthood (pastorship) is hard work, and much sacrifice is given by these men. When I call my pastor ‘Father,’ I am not placing my hope for salvation on him. I am not trusting in him for the remission of my sins. Jesus is my salvation, my hope, the remission for my sins! Jesus is my true counselor and lover of my soul. I am showing reverence to the Father in Heaven, the Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit by giving respect and reverence to His workers on earth: the spiritual fathers here on earth.