Question: An Evangelical wrote: “And do not call anyone on earth father, for you have one Father, and he is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). What are your comments on this verse? A Roman Catholic wrote: “The priests are called fathers because in a sense they are the spiritual fathers of the baptized Catholics, like Paul’s relationship to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:15).”
Answer: In Matthew 23 Jesus warns His disciples, and especially Christian ministers, against spiritual pride. He says:
“But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:8-12).
Clearly Jesus does not forbid us to call our physical fathers by that name (the context is not about family relations). Nor is Jesus making an absolute prohibition against employing these figures in other spiritual relations, since this is done elsewhere in Scripture. Having said that, we dare not ignore His warning against the tendency for Christian ministers to pride themselves with such titles as rabbi, father and master. This temptation is certainly not limited to the Roman Catholic clergy. The “Reverends” in Protestant churches should take notice that “reverend” is the title of our God and Redeemer. “He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant forever: holy and reverend is his name” (Psalm 111:9).
Disregarding Jesus’ words, the Catholic Church gives the title “Father” to all of her priests, and “Holy Father” to the Pope. “Holy Father” is used only once in the entire Bible and it is a reference to God (John 17:11). Moreover, "holy" is a title reserved to God alone, “Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy” (Revelation 15:4).
1 Corinthians 4:15 is often wrongly used to justify this human tradition of calling all priests by the title "Father." The apostle Paul told the Corinthian Christians: “For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” He was responsible for the spiritual birth through the preaching of the Gospel. In this sense, Paul was their father, and he reminded them about their special relationship to emphasize his love and concern for their spiritual well-being. Personal pride was the last thing on the apostle's mind.
It is noticed that Paul specifically excludes the idea that these Christians had several fathers. “Yet you do not have many fathers.” Ironically Catholic apologists use this verse to justify the practice of calling every priest "Father." How could that be since Christians do not have "many fathers"?
Also, it is worth noting that Paul does not attribute spiritual birth to baptism, as is intimated in the case of Catholic priests. “I have begotten you through the gospel.” Earlier Paul had reminded the Corinthians that he did not baptize any of them (with a few exceptions) because Christ did not send him to baptize but to preach the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:14-17). Sinners are saved by believing the Gospel message (1 Corinthians 1:21) - baptism follows salvation by grace through faith in Christ.
Maybe the reader is a Catholic priest. You may have become used to being called "Father." I hope and pray that God's Word will convict you of this vainglory. Jesus forbids His people to call you "Father." Moreover, the baptisms you administered to so many babies did not make a single one of them a child of God.