Spiritual Fatherhood: Up for debate!

April 14, 2017




Spiritual fatherhood and specifically father – sonship is a theme, which comes more and more to the surface together with the upcoming function of the apostle. The apostle as a function is clearly a fatherly function, although we also see women, who are doing apostolic work and planting churches. The word missionary, which we all know and have no problem with, has the same meaning as the Greek word “apostolos”, sent one. In the years 60, more than half of the missionaries were women, who went to the mission fields and nobody had a problem with it. In fact they were “apostolos”, apostles, sent from our church committees.





God reveals Himself as Father and sends (apostolos) His Son. See John 1: 18. This is family terminology. It is the father – son relationship, which is demonstrated through Jesus and it is from this relationship that Jesus gave us an example how to work out of the instructions of your heavenly Father.

It is Father God, who is called our Father in the first place once we are born again. Nobody can take the place of Father God in our lives. Read John 1: 12-13.



Does spiritual fatherhood exist in and for the New Testament Church? Paul writes in his first epistle to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 4: 14-16 that he, Paul, had begotten them in Christ Jesus by introducing the Gospel to them. He says: “For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers”.

  1. Paul claims to have the right to carry the function of a father to them as Corinthians.

  2. Paul makes a difference in importance of function as father in relation to instructors.

  3. Paul yet leaves room for more spiritual fathers by saying “not many fathers”, in other words, there are yet some.

  4. Paul states that one should follow his example as a prototype of how one serves Christ. It is hence an example function.



Paul refers back to the fact that the Corinthians were begotten through him because he came first to announce the gospel to them and he has reached them as a father. Like a father carries the seed in the natural in order to bring forth life, so Paul uses this picture in the spiritual to the Corinthians.

When we think over this, then it appears that also a woman can carry the seed (the Word of God) and preach, thus bringing people to the spiritual birth. Hence it does not concern a natural seed, but a spiritual seed, the Word of God.

Hence Paul concludes from this spiritual relationship as father to the Corinthians, that he certainly has the right to consider them as his spiritual children and therefore he may address them as a father.



Paul speaks in verse 15 “though you might have ten thousand instructors (mentors) in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers”.

An instructor or mentor is an assisting function, collaborating in the development of children but he does not have the same authority as the father. Paul uses this illustration to emphasize his rights and duties, being more than an instructor. An instructor has a temporary function but a father is always a father as long as he himself submits to the basic principles of God’s Word.



Some take the picture of fatherhood out of the natural situation and apply it to the spiritual by stating, once a spiritual father, always a spiritual father. This is a fact in the natural but in the spirit the function of fatherhood only continues as long as fathers respect the principles of the Word of God. For instance when a man of God no longer submits to the Scriptures and makes his own doctrines, falling into heresy, then you are released of your commission to follow such a person. Even more so in covenant with someone, this covenant stays valid as long as both parties are keeping the basic principles of the Word of God. When one of the parties begins to teach that adultery is allowed, then he breaks covenant with you because he comes against the Word of God.

A covenant or a working together is hence only valid as long as both parties continue to respect God’s Word.



This Scripture from Matthew 23: 9 must be seen in relation and in the context of the previous Scriptures in Matthew 23: 1-12. Verse 9 is especially used and taken out of context by those people who oppose the restoration of apostolic fatherhood.

Jesus speaks to the Scribes and Pharisees, who wanted to be praised by the people. Verse 5 says, “But all their works they do to be seen by men, for:

  1. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.

  2. They like to have the first places at feasts.

  3. They like to have the best seats in the synagogues.

  4. They love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to be called by men “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. “But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.”

Jesus speaks here about people who want to be called like that and in relationship to the Jewish leaders seeking honor Jesus states not to do so, hence not to be honored because of your function, for “you are all brethren”.

We are thus all equal in salvation by grace, but we are all different in calling and function toward each other. The fact that you are part of leadership or part of the fivefold ministry does not mean that you must be honored as more important than you brethren. On the contrary “let the one, who wants to be great, be servant of all”.



Is there then no place for leadership and spiritual fatherhood? Yes, for sure it is necessary to manage the church and to lead the people by means of leaders and father, whom God has appointed.

Paul clearly states in 1 Corinthians 4: 16, as a spiritual father, “follow my example” and in 1 Corinthians 11: 1 “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ”. He does not say “honor me or worship me” but follow me as I follow Christ.

In closure: do leaders have a place? Yes, in order to follow their example, but not to worship them. Do spiritual fathers exist? Yes, in order to follow their example, but not to worship them.

When somebody wants to grow in his destiny and calling then it is necessary to find a spiritual father, to whom one will submit, following his example and faith, while one also considers the outcome of his conduct.


May God richly bless you,

Leo Maat



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