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.

The Pristine Model of Masculinity

“Christ is the pristine example of masculinity in every way (1 John 2:6). Surely, no one would say that any quality he possessed was unmanly.” Those are the words of Stuart Scott in his article, “Profiling Christian Masculinity” published in the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 9.2 (Fall 2004). He follows with a chart of particular references to illustrate the masculinity of the Savior.

Eternal Mindset

  • Did the will and work of the Father; not working towards his own success/desires (John 4:34; 5:30; 8:28–29)
  • Was filled with the Spirit (Word); not the world’s wisdom/ways (Luke 4:1, 14)
  • Gave the gospel to others; not temporary pleasures or relief (Mark 1:14–15; John 3–4)
  • Lived a holy, obedient life; not sinful (1 Pet 2:22; Phil 2:8)

Love, Understanding

  • Sought to meet needs of others; not uncaring/self-focused (Matt 4:23; Luke 4:18–21)
  • Sacrificed self and own desires; not self-preserving/selfish (Luke 22:42; Phil 2:6–8)
  • Was gentle whenever possible; not harsh/demanding (Matt 11:29; John 21:15–19)

Zeal, Courage, Confidence

  • Led the disciples and others; not a follower when he shouldn’t be (John 6:2)
  • Because of God and His promises) he showed initiative when He should have; not waiting for someone else (Mark 6:34–44; Luke 6:12–16).
  • Confronted when necessary; not a compromiser/man-pleaser (Matt 23:1–36; Mark 11:15–18)
  • Was decisive according to God’s revealed will; not wishy-washy or afraid (Matt 4:1–11; Mark 8:31–38)


  • Fulfilled responsibilities; not irresponsible (John 17:4; 19:30)
  • Was diligent; not lazy or a quitter (John 5:17; Heb 12:2–3)


  • Served and listened to others in His leadership; not proudly lording it over others (John 13:12–17; 6:5–10)
  • Glorified another (the Father); not greedy for attention or recognition (John 8:50, 54; 17:1, 4)