There is a popular idea being promoted today where the family model is taught as the main model for the local church. But the Bible teaches that the human body with all its members, joints and ligaments (see Col 2:19) is the model for both the universal worldwide priesthood of all believers, meaning all Christians, and the local church as well. Hence we are called the Body of Christ not the family of Christ.
Certainly, a general comparison of the church to a family can be a good constructive thing and can bring warm pleasant thoughts. While the family can surely be used to parallel certain things about church life and provide some insights, we must remember that the body is the model for the church given in the Bible.
14For the body is not one member, but many. 15If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 16And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the smelling be? 18But now God has set the members every one of them in the body, as it has pleased him. 19And if they were all one member, where would the body be? 20But now they are many members, yet but one body. 21And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of you: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. 22No, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: 23And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely [unseemly, less presentable] parts have [become] more abundantly presentable. 24For our comely [more presentable] parts do have this need: but God has tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked. 25That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. 1Cor 12: 14-25
Here we see that all Christians are important members of one body. Other Scriptures show us that the Head of this body is Christ Himself:
22And (God) has put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23Which is his body, the fullness of him that fills all in all. Eph 1:22-23
17And he is before all things, and by him all things consist [hold together]. 18And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence [supremacy]. Col 1:17-18
It is clear that we are not all members of one family with the head (or “father”) being a pastor.
When the family model is incorrectly substituted for the body model in the church, big problems quickly arise. Controlling church leaders commonly pervert and twist the body model described in 1Cor 12: 14-25 above and instead promote their idea of a family model to their congregations, of course with themselves being conveniently installed as the father and head of this “family” which they call a church.
Call No Man Father
The Bible teaches:
“And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.” Matt 23:9
Of course by the context of this Scripture we know that this verse is not saying that we shouldn’t address our earthly father as “father” or “dad”. We certainly can and should do so. This passage is strictly talking about addressing others in the church, specifically other brothers who have a teaching and/or advisory role in the local church. Keep in mind that this kind of role is a function among all brothers and sister as co-equals. This is not an office or position, let alone a position of dominance, power or control.
[Side note: the word “office” as seen in various passages in some Bible translations is not found in the original Greek but in fact was added by the translators.]
Let’s now look at this verse in a little more context to prove the previous points:
8But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all you are brethren. 9And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. 10Neither be you called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. 11But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. Matt 23:8-12
This passage in itself makes a very strong case against the idea of a pastor being the “father” of church congregation and accordingly makes a strong case against the idea of the “family” model being installed in the church. Needless to say, this passage also refutes the popular practice of authoritarian regimes in churches. If we are not to be called “masters” according to verse 10, then by common sense we also know that we are certainly not to be recognized as a master by any Christian. If we are not to be recognized as masters, neither should anyone else be so recognized. This fact is also proven out in Mark 10:42-45, 1Pet 5:1-3 and other verses that forbid authoritarianism in the church.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if we are not to call any man father, then we are certainly not to install any man as the father of the local church. To do otherwise instantly usurps the headship of Christ and undermines the leading of the Holy Spirit in a local congregation.
Controlling or Advisory Authority?
The one thing that a controlling “father figure” pastor never accounts for is the fact that in a real family, a parent’s authority slowly shifts from a controlling authority to advisory authority over time until the child reaches maturity. At that time a parent’s authority strictly becomes advisory in general since they have no real control over what their adult children do. All they can do is advise, warn, hope and pray that their children will do the right thing in whatever situations arise.
However, authoritarian father figures in the church maintain a perpetual controlling authority within their idea of the family model. So it’s not really a family model at all that they promote, but in actuality an unrealistic twisted version of it. Hence church members gets treated like children forever and are kept in a never ending immaturity, never being able to make decisions on their own and therefore never growing properly in the Lord. This is one of the many dangers of submitting to an abusive manmade religious system in the church instead of following the simple loving commands of Christ and His Apostles as found in the New Testament.
The Apostle Paul was very well aware of these kinds of problems in the church as many verses such as this next verse shows:
18Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. 20If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21"Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" 22(which all refer to things destined to perish with use)--in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. Col 2:18-23 NASB
The family model simply does not work as the model for the church, especially in the area of authority because a pastor or elder is never supposed to have controlling authority over any member of the church (see Mark 10:42-45, 1Pet 5:1-3, Matt 23:8-12, etc.). They are not to have such authority, not even for a moment, not even towards the newest and most immature of believers. A pastor or elder’s authority is therefore always advisory in the lives of congregation members, regardless of whether those members are new believers or those who have been Christians for quite some time. Nowhere in the Bible do we see authoritarianism permitted in the church, let alone some kind of authority of men shifting over time from controlling to advisory authority. We just don’t see any of this in the New Testament church.
We must ask ourselves, in the modern “family” church model, just when are the “kids” finally grown up so that they can make spiritual decisions for themselves according to what they find in the Bible? When is that moment in time? In most controlling churches, the answer is a resounding NEVER. Some churches play a sleight of hand game where they make it seem like they are “launching” someone (usually some extraordinarily submissive puppet) into “ministry” but those kinds of churches usually retain immense unbiblical control over that “minister” in one way or another.
Imagine a parent who finds some underhanded way to keep control over their child all the way into that child’s adulthood. Maybe it’s a wealthy family and the child is threatened with the loss of their inheritance if they don’t comply with the eccentric wishes of one or both of their parents. Imagine how wicked that would be. Suddenly you have kids from rich families marrying people they really don’t love, running businesses that they really don’t want to be involved with and engaging in all kinds of their things contrary to their personal wishes, and more importantly contrary to God’s will for their lives. What you essentially have in cases like this is puppets on a string, not mature grown up offspring.
It’s the same way in most churches today. All around us we see the same kind of eccentric “family” things going on in abusive churches, just in a slightly different way than my example. Men hold certain promises and rewards over the heads of their followers. They offer rewards for obedience (usually position, power and recognition) and they threaten punishment for non-compliance. So we have all kinds of good little pastor robots running around who refuse to buck the ungodly system of manmade teachings and traditions for fear of loss of something they want. As I have said before, a cure for this is to STOP WANTING the false opportunities that these men and these kinds of churches offer and suddenly their power over you will disintegrate into dust and go up in a puff of smoke.
- Paul Howey