Rabbis and Spiritual Fathers

Here are two different topics.

1) In “Exponential Christianity” I explored the topic of discipleship, and pointed out how Jesus’ statements about being His disciples – along with similar language from the New Testament epistles – was very specific in its implications to first-century Christians. I also explored how the relationship between a rabbi and his disciples would have looked and functioned.

2) Apostle Sam Soleyn has been speaking for quite a few years about spiritual fathers and sons, and dives deeply into this topic in his book “My Father! My Father!” (available for free on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/My-Father-Sam-Soleyn-ebook/dp/B005YFJOEE). He has also talked about this topic extensively in his various teachings, some of which are available at https://www.mrowl.com/user/samsoleyn/maturingthroug1/sonship for reading or listening. Dr. Soleyn’s book concludes that God’s model of sons and fathers provides a critical pathway for bringing the government of God’s Kingdom into full maturity on the earth. He writes “God intends to reveal His glory through His manifested sons, assembled as the corporate man in Christ, who have overcome and been delivered from the bond of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God who worship Him in spirit and in truth. (Romans 5:17a). God’s original intent was to restore the relationship of God and man as Father and son. God always intended that the end of the age would bring forth the perfect fruition of that which He planted in the earth from the beginning.

I believe that these two topics – rabbi/disciple and father/son are in fact closely related.

The Flow of Maturation

Much like a master/apprentice relationship, both of these models imply a few things:

1) Relationship
2) Growth over time
3) Maturing
4) Reproduction

To wit: A relationship is created, under which the younger is slowly and carefully grown and matured, until the younger becomes fully qualified to the full rights and privileges of the older, and then he begins to reproduce the process – and in so doing, to reproduce his own character and skills and knowledge.

  • A master craftsman trains his apprentice to be a fully-capable master craftsman in his own right.
  • A rabbi does this same thing in the religious realm, training a disciple who becomes a rabbi, and then takes his own disciples.
  • A father raises his son until that son is qualified to carry on the family business, or to represent the father in legal matters concerning the family, and eventually the son has his own children, which begin the cycle again.

(These terms are not gender-specific, by the way. Women are fully able to participate in the father/son cycles, and this discussion, although using the terms “father” and “son” should in no way be understood to only apply to men.)

Now, no rabbi becomes qualified to raise disciples, until he is fully acknowledged as a rabbi himself. One cannot simply declare himself a rabbi and take on disciples, as those disciples would not ever be recognized as having been properly trained.

Similarly, no person could declare himself a master craftsman and take on apprentices without first having been properly apprenticed.

In much the same way, as Dr. Soleyn says, in order to become a father, one must first become a son – not just any son, but a mature son. The Bible has several words that are translated “son.” He says “Son can mean anything from a newborn infant, nepios, to a little child, paidion, or a teenager, teknon, or a young adult, neaniskos, and finally huios, which is a fully mature son who accurately represents the Father.

That “fully mature son” is the one who can then be qualified to be a father.

Wrestling with Bad Examples

Unfortunately, our human examples of this process are often not fully mature. We have plenty of examples of immature men siring children, and still acting as young men while raising those children. So there is truly a plague of immaturity that results on the earth.

However, this does not invalidate the Biblical model of spiritual fathers and sons. It simply proves that mankind is imperfect, and that we have not properly modeled this process consistently.

I’ve been steeped in this discussion of sonship under Dr. Soleyn’s instruction for many years, but I have consistently struggled to discover how I might approach sonship in a fruitful and functional way, such that eventually I might find myself qualified to be a spiritual father, fully matured and approved as a father, not just assuming my own readiness, but having been acknowledged by my peers and my own spiritual father as qualified and ready to father my own spiritual sons.

I find that thinking about sonship in the context of rabbi and disciple is actually helpful. It takes the discussion out of the realm of analogy and places it in the context of a very well-documented historical structure. And furthermore, it somewhat insulates us from our own, often unpleasant, history with fathers.

Unfortunately we actually have a lot of personal experience with fathers, and quite a bit of that experience is bad, and the examples we see are often deeply flawed. Even if we have amazing natural fathers, we know that’s quite rare. And many Christians have seen spiritual authority and submission done badly. We haven’t seen spiritual fathering done well, or if we have, we also have seen plenty of bad examples, so we’re not convinced that this model will – or can – be reliable. So we naturally approach Dr. Soleyn’s teachings with at least some trepidation, if not outright disapproval.

And even those of us who begin in a spiritual family often have experienced it being done less than perfectly, further coloring our own expectations.

A Baggage-Free Example

But fortunately, at least for Western Christians, we don’t have much experience with rabbis and disciples (at least, the real Biblical kind I discuss in “Exponential Christianity“). Thus, we don’t have bad examples either, and we can study the meaning of the terms and their implications without being emotionally compromised by our history.

So when I consider spiritual fathers and spiritual sons in light of Dr. Soleyn’s teaching, I believe it will be valuable for me to explore replacing those terms in my mind – “rabbi” for “father,” “disciple” for “son” – at least temporarily. This gives me something which I can latch onto as I explore the practical things that are necessary to be a disciple or a son.

  • What precursors are necessary to be a disciple?
  • What characteristics can be found in a rabbi’s disciple?
  • How are the disciples expected to act?
  • How do the disciples serve the rabbi?
  • What expectations do disciples have of their rabbis?
  • What expectations do rabbis have of their disciples?
  • What does a proper Jewish society expect out of this relationship?
  • What benefits do rabbis and disciples bring to society?
  • How long should this process be expected to take?
  • What roadblocks exist?

None of this thinking invalidates Dr. Soleyn’s father/son model in any way. I believe that God provided that model, as a specific earthly and human representation of His goal for the mature body of Christ on the earth. But I also believe that God allowed the Jewish society to develop the rabbinical model for much the same reason. And so I believe that the rabbi/disciple model points the way to the working out of that sonship model, in a way that may be somewhat more approachable, at least as a teaching tool for our deeper understanding of sonship.

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