Question:

My questions are about:

  1. Catholics call their spiritual leaders "father." In doing so they claim they follow Paulís example: "I became your father in Jesus Christ through the gospel" (I Corinthians 4:15).
  2. Jesus said his church would be "the light of the world." He then noted that "a city set on a hill cannot be hid" (Matthew 5:14). This means his church is a visible organization. It must have characteristics that clearly identify it and that distinguish it from other churches.

Answer:

Should spiritual leaders be called "father?"

"But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi.' 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" (Matthew 23:5-10).

There is a difference between fulfilling a role in a person's life and demanding a title which distinguishes a person from all other Christians. The church in Corinth was founded through the efforts of Paul (Acts 18:1-11). Thus, the reason these brethren were Christians is because Paul acted in the role of a father to teach them. "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). But when Paul stated, "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" (I Corinthians 4:15), notice that he isn't telling them to call him "Father." He is arguing that they ought to pay attention to his instruction because he has played a special and important role in their lives. Look at the larger context:

"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 church" (I Corinthians 4:14-17).

This is common in Paul's writings. He takes common, everyday ideas to give illustration to his points. For examples:

  1. In I Corinthians 3:5-8 Paul refers to himself as a farmer.
  2. In I Corinthians 3:10-17 Paul refers to himself as a master builder.
  3. In I Corinthians 4:1-2 Paul refers to himself as a steward.
  4. In I Corinthians 4:8-13 Paul refers to himself as a fool or a jester in the court of kings.
  5. In I Corinthians 4:14-21 Paul refers to himself as a father dealing with rebellious children.

None of these illustrations mean that Paul is requiring the Corinthians to call him "Farmer Paul," "Master Builder Paul," "Steward Paul," "Jester Paul," or "Father Paul."

Is the church the light of the world?

"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:13-16).

An invalid substitution is taking place. Read this passage again. Read the larger context. Is the "you" in this passage churches or people? What you have being claimed is that "you" is a single church. To get that, you have to twist even the English translation, but they are trying to slip it through because in English we say "you" for second person regardless of whether we are talking about a man or a woman, or one or a multitude of people. In the Greek, the language is a bit more precise. "You" is in the plural form, so whatever you claim "you" refers to, there are more than one. Jesus is addressing an audience of people interested in being his followers. He is telling each one that they are, individually, lights in the world. It is the same point made by Paul. "Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain" (Philippians 2:14-16).

Jesus' church does have have characteristics that distinguishes it, but this isn't the passage to prove it. The traits of Christ's church are found in the pages of the New Testament.