I want to help many believers in the Lord on the issue of Spiritual fathers and spiritual sons. The concept has been over stretched to the extent that when a particular man of God visits another man of God for acquaintance or guidance there is usually the question of “Who is your spiritual father?’.

Even those who give prophecies sometimes start by asking the same question. This has seen many ministers in the body of Christ jostling to connect to a spiritual father or mother and in most cases travelling places and distances looking for the suitable ones. The trend has been mostly to look for those spiritual fathers who prophesy so that they can impart the same “grace”. The kind of relationships between these spiritual fathers and sons or daughters is cemented by gifts and sometimes some form of reverence as the sons pay respect and honour to their spiritual fathers, sometimes in a very carnal way. Those who manage to have many spiritual sons and daughters usually benefit from the gifts and material benefits which accompany the relationships.

Now looking into the Bible and seeking to help on this subject, there are scriptures which are normally relied upon by those who emphasise this teaching of spiritual fathers. We will discuss in brief and see where the church may have to adjust.

Matthew 23:5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, 23:6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 23:7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. 23:8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. 23:9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. 23:10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. 23:11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 23:12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

The scripture above is the basis upon which we shall develop our discussion to see what really should be the position and to see whether or not the Apostles were not in line with what Jesus Christ taught when they referred to certain individuals or congregants as sons or children. Matthew 23 clearly shows that Jesus’ desire was for the believers or ministers to be humble and mutually respect each other and see themselves all as children of God to start with. Jesus Christ wanted the title, Rabbi, which meant Master or Boss not to be conferred on man but God himself. Jesus Christ clearly states that when it comes to spiritual matters, only God deserved to be called father. Yes in the physical matters people already had those they called fathers who were their biological parents. So the spiritual father was supposed to be for God alone.

Coming to the Apostles and incidences where they referred to individuals as sons or children let us look at the scriptures again:

1 Corinthians 4:14-17: “I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. 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. Therefore I urge you, imitate me. For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every assembly of believers and disciples.”

Reading carefully the above scripture it is clear that the relationship which Paul referred to people as children and certain individuals as sons were natural relationships which developed from his participation in the individuals’ spiritual birth. Paul says he begot them through the gospel. In other words, Paul was using the words father and son/ children not in the sense of a formal relationship where they addressed each other that way but as a silent relationship where a father means someone who founded somebody in Christ. Thus the only scriptural reference in the New Testament where the word ‘father”, ‘son’ or ‘children’ can be used with Biblical relevance is when it is a natural relationship where congregants who owe their salvation and upbringing in the Lord are under the leadership oversight of the one who is responsible for their salvation and upbringing in the Lord. Paul referred to Onesimus as “my son whom I have begotten while in my chains.”

Philemon1:10 I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: 1:11 Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me: 1:12 Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels:

Paul was instrumental in Onesimus’ rebirth hence his claim to that relationship. Paul did not use these words in violation of Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 23 since these people were not in the habit of then calling him ‘father’ or ‘master’ but it was a silent relationship. Paul only mentioned it by way of identifying such a relationship. The same applies to Timothy, Titus and John Mark who Peter also identified as a son.

1Pe. 5:12 With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. 1Pe. 5:13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark.

The above scripture shows that where Apostles had an influence in the upbringing of certain younger ministers they could appropriately view them as own sons and this was a natural and silent relationship. It is therefore applicable in this sense for the ministers of the Word today to identify with their congregants as their children simply in terms of contributing to their salvation and them keeping on feeding from their ministry. Also in the example of Paul and other Apostles, the son and father relationship could also apply today to younger ministers who serve under the oversight of a leader who is in the same ministry service with them. For example, if I lead a ministry, I can casually identify those who are ministers together with me and who I helped in their upbringing as sons who are faithful to me and the work. This should not be overemphasised to appear like such relationships are mandatory or should be formalised when in actual fact they should be natural and silent.

The 'father' concept can also be done without harm in those environments or cultures where it is a way of addressing elders not necessarily for spiritual son and spiritual father relations. Paul also identifies incidences where his converts might get help from other instructors who occasionally minister to them and he refers to them as instructors but not in a way to make them formalise the relationship by calling them ‘my mentors’, it was a silent relationship which occurred naturally.

Another scripture below has been misquoted in support of the overemphasised father and son relationship:

Malachi. 4:5 “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. Mal. 4:6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

The scripture from Malachi mostly refers to restoration of the relationship that should exist between God and man. John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah and Jesus said he was the Elijah to come. He preached repentance and reconciliation. Elijah’s ministry shall be fulfilled again during the end times according to the Book of Revelation.

The error today is seen when people go out to look for fathers or sons who are serving in different ministries and in most cases have nothing to do with the upbringing of those so called sons. The error is also somehow because people need impartation of spiritual gifts and those who are looked upon would rather impart to those who become sons. In the Bible, Paul got Holy Spirit baptism through the laying on of hands by Ananias and it was a once off event. Paul then went on to develop on his own by the relationship he established with God.

It is thus possible that ministers can impart spiritual gifts if directed by the Lord but there wouldn’t be need for a formalised father and son relationship. Now some ministers who seek to support the concept of formalised fathers and sons relationships have gone on to give very absurd examples by claiming Jesus Christ had John the Baptist as spiritual father, Moses having Jethro, Paul having Ananias or some saying Paul had Barnabas and this is misrepresentation of scriptures. Moses had direct relationship with God and Jethro as father in law simply gave sound advice on an incident and that does not mean he was now spiritual father. The same applies with Jesus, John simply baptised him and acknowledged Jesus was greater. Paul had Jesus Christ mentoring him personally he was not a spiritual son to anyone. Ananias just ministered to him on one occasion the same way all of us might have received ministration or impartation from certain ministers in the past. The Apostles related horizontally mutually ministering and reporting to each other without a formalised structure of hierarchy.

The mature ministers who mostly lead church ministries can relate the same way and mutually gain from mutual relations without incorporating systems which Jesus Christ and the Apostles never put relevance to. Paul was able to rebuke Peter and where necessary Peter could do the same as they viewed themselves as brothers. Peter refused carnal reverence from Cornelius when he was about to bow to him. The Apostles like Paul received prayer covering from their congregants and this error of saying every man of God should report to a higher rank in a misplaced hierachy of human authority is misplaced. If ministers of the gospel want other ministers to consistently approach for help or sound advice, there can be established informal relations which can make them mutually benefit from each other, or others can establish some sort of board of ministers who can also foster mutual beneficial interactions.

(written By Howard Tundu)