Modern Day Church Fathers

Transcribed from Douglas Wilson’s second address at the Desiring God pastors conference:

We have to recover a proper understanding of the role of fatherhood in the church, and I don’t just mean your familial fathers, the fathers of the families that come to church. I’m talking about fathers for the church.

First Corinthians 4:15–16 says this: “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.”

Notice what Paul says, I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. So the father here that Paul is being, the role he is playing here, does not interfere with the gospel, it is the instrument by which God brought the gospel to them.

One of the fundamental qualifications given for church leadership in the New Testament is that we must have men who know what it means to be a father (1 Timothy 3:4–5). If we continue to ignore the obvious it gets pretty complicated pretty quickly because we don’t understand how imitation governs the world. We have neglected one of the fundamental realities: we are supposed to imitate. As a result everything downstream from that goes to pieces. …

Churches need fathers to govern them, but unfortunately today’s church appears to show all the signs of being managed by the ecclesiastical equivalent of single moms. Paul requires that the church be governed by road-tested fathers. …

Now this also explains why the controversy over women’s ordination is not going to go away anytime soon. The issue is not exegesis, the issue is not what the text says. For several centuries we’ve exalted some very feminine virtues to the highest place in the church, and we have demanded that men conform to those standards. … Unfortunately, if those are the standards — if we don’t know what masculine piety looks like anymore, and we have enshrined feminine virtues in the church — then we are stuck. If those are the standards, women would do a better job at being women-pastors than men would do as women-pastors. If we must have women-pastors, then women will be better at it, it would seem to me.

I believe honestly we’re scared by masculine piety. It’s not very easy to control. It’s unsettling. So we’d rather have sweet virtues, we’d rather have feminine virtues in place, and then ask the men to conform. …

It’s not a coincidence that the requirement that bishops be road-tested family men, fathers who rule their families well, is a requirement that immediately follows the prohibition of women in ministry (1 Timothy 2:12). Because we have neglected the qualification that you must be a reliable father, we have patched together some other characteristics that we think would be “nice.” Thus we have come to demand essentially feminine virtues of our ministers, but we are stuck with this arbitrary line from the Bible that keeps the most qualified members of the church, as far as being sweet goes, out.

10 thoughts on “Modern Day Church Fathers

  1. “One of the fundamental qualifications given for church leadership in the New Testament is that we must have men who know what it means to be a father. ”

    This begs the question: How did Paul know what it means to be a father?

    Did Wilson address this glaring question?

  2. Right. I’m not in doubt that Paul uses the “father” metaphor to describe his ministry (as he also uses the “mother” metaphor).

    But the excerpt from Wilson you provide implies that pastors need to be “road-tested” fathers in order to shepherd the congregation well. This makes me ask how Paul, IF he was never a road tested father, was so very fatherly in his ministry.

    And so, I would like to ask Wilson how celibate pastor/preachers (like Charles Simeon and John Stott), without being road tested fathers, were able to discharge the demands of their fatherly office so effectively.

    In this sense, then, it is misleading to say that “Paul requires that the church be governed by road-tested fathers.” No, he only requires that when fathers govern the church, they should also be fathers who govern well their families.

    History is replete with fatherly pastors who never sired their own wee bairns.

  3. @TB,

    Based on the context of the “road-tested father” comment, it appears Wilson was urging this quality over and against feminine rule and in no way discounted childless men any more than the Biblical imperative does.

    How does a childless man learn to father? Hopefully he had the opportunity to learn from his earthly father. And much can be garnered about fatherhood from the Father of lights.

  4. Don’t you @TB me Matthew 2323. I will not be @ed.

    Thank you for your thoughts. I agree with your conclusions about learning to be a father, of course. But I don’t think Wilson, in this excerpt, says what you say, even if he meant it.

    Bene docet qui bene distinguit.

    Grace and peace,

  5. By the by Tony,

    Thank you for taking the time and energy to post this. Your industry and creativity never cease to amaze me.

    During the course of the DGC, did Wilson speak about Paul’s self-described motherliness?

    Also, here Wilson implies that all feminine virtues are “sweet.” Is this true of his entire address? If so, well, I think there are some problems:

    “But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died.”

    Such a sweet little Jael…

    Much grace to you brother.

    As ever,

  6. “Don’t you @TB me Matthew 2323. I will not be @ed.”

    Is that a request or a command?

    It is, as you noted an excerpt and I think that could be part of the interpretive difficulty. The only thing I read was what Tony posted so I’m not acquainted with the entirety of the speech. There was no contact information on Mr. Wilson’s blog, that I could find, to email him and ask for clarification.

    Tony, Do you have a way to reach Mr. Wilson?

  7. That was neither a request nor a command. I would call it a repartee.

    Yours, prompt and sincere,
    The master of water, wood and hill.

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