In his second epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul was quick to point out that, while he had the responsibility as a leader of the church to correct and rebuke erring believers, and encourage church discipline, he was still but a “fellow-worker”. It is not, he said, “that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy, for by faith you stand” (2 Cor. 1:24, emphasis is mine).
Here was a man who had practically traveled the civilised world of his day, preaching the gospel, and seeing many turn to the faith. If ever a man would be tempted to lord it over others, it should be Paul. On the contrary, he recognised, perhaps more than any of his contemporaries that authentic faith could not be dependent on, or attached to, some towering personality. Indeed, later on in this epistle, he expressed his bewilderment that some believers of his day, as are many today, seem to have a curious affinity and preference for “false apostles” who manipulate, exploit and lord over them: “you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face.” For good measure, in that masochistic attitude and behaviour those Corinthians actually considered themselves wise.
Father in the Lord
We are on the topic of “Daddy Pastors”. This phenomenon has gained increasing popularity in Nigeria, but certainly exists in other forms elsewhere. It began with the more benign- at least on the surface- idea of “Father in the Lord”, several decades ago. This in itself is based loosely around a few scriptural passages in which, for example, someone like Apostle Paul refers to Timothy as his “son in the Lord”. It is also true that the Apostle Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians told the Corinthians that: “even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” (1Cor. 4:15).
Now, more diligent students of the Bible will recognise that Paul was here using a metaphor to describe a relationship, and a responsibility, that exists between a mentor and a mentee. Indeed, these are the contexts in which he used the description, either in the individual instance of Timothy, or in the collective example of the Corinthian church. There is no sense at all in any of the passages that he intended this to be understood or conveyed as a title, with all the attendant ostentation and air of superiority. To be sure, there is nowhere in Scripture where Apostle Paul was referred to as “father”. More crucially, the Lord himself warned against arrogating, or allocating, the title of “father”: “do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.”(Matthew 23:9).
The psychology of idolatry
Why was Christ so explicit and emphatic in the instruction not to “call anyone on earth ‘father’? First, of course, he was not referring to biological fathers. In order to understand the basis for this instruction, you need to understand the fundamental psychology of idolatry, and how the Christian Gospel in a corrective to that. Throughout history, people have shown the propensity to elevate what they consider spectacular to the realm of gods, either in terms of things in nature, or with respect to specially gifted and accomplished people. This mindset can be observed in all the mythologies of the ancients. In modern times, this tendency manifests in the form of personality cults. Many of the Greek gods, for example, were once humans subsequently elevated to the level of gods on account of their spectacular feats. In Yoruba mythology, Sango was once a mortal king- Alaafin- of old Oyo kingdom, subsequently elevated to a god, following his death. He was reportedly acclaimed for having the powers to spit fire out of his mouth, and to bring thunder.
The Christian gospel is a corrective to the psychology and practice of idolatry. In short, it says you do not need any human intermediary in order to have a direct relationship with God, because God himself had come in Christ to break down the “middle wall of separation”(Ephesians 2:14), so that “you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”(Ephesians 2:19).
Penchant for domination
Yet the propensity to idolatry in some has, throughout history, been aggravated by the penchant for domination in a few. It is a case of finding a willing victim for a ready criminal. The attraction is almost irresistible, and is akin to a sadist finding a masochist.
The evidence is, of course, not far-fetched. There is a constant temptation inherent in human beings to set themselves as superior to other human beings, and from that position to control and dominate. We can find many theories to explain this tendency, but not one to deny its existence. We will subsequently examine how this tendency is aggravated by fear, ignorance and culture, but now it suffices to say that religion has, throughout history, been abused by self-styled leaders to assert and maintain control over millions. Why does this phenomenon persist in this day and age? What effect does it have on society? And what can be done to stem the tides? Join me in the next installment of this series.