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Generic prayer and the urgency of using Jesus’ name

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Local News: Kirk Cameron, star of 1980s sitcom, Growing Pains, will be at First Baptist Church of Jackson on Sunday, May 4, from 4:00 to 7:30 p.m. helping to host the "Love Worth Fighting For" marriage conference. Cameron became a believer as a young adult and has gone on to act in numerous faith-based films (most notably, the Left Behind movies and Sherwood Baptist Church's Fireproof). He has also co-hosts a television program with evangelist Ray Comfort, known as "The Way of the Master". Doors open at 2 p.m. and general admission is $22.50. To learn more about the conference, click here.

Yesterday, April 28, 2014, Presbyterian News Service published an article written by Cathy Lynn Grossman titled, “Most voters favor prayer, minus Jesus, at public meetings”. The article highlights an interesting finding—most U.S. voters recently surveyed support public prayer, but they want the prayer to be “generic”, not Christian in nature.

1. American attitudes about prayer

The survey, conducted by Farleigh Dickinson University, determined that 73% of voters believe prayer at public meetings is acceptable “as long as the public officials are not favoring some beliefs over others”. The level of support for prayer differed little across age groups and between men and women. Grossman said that high profile pollsters such as Gallup, Barna Research and Pew Research Center have data showing that 80% of Christians claim to pray at least once a week. There is little surprise that people for whom prayer is an integral part of life would be more in favor of public prayer in general and this is what the data shows. Individuals identified as “religiously observant”—meaning they attend religious services at least once or twice a month—were more in favor of public prayer (86%) than the general population.

Grossman identified the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State as three groups who generally oppose prayer at government functions, no matter how generic it may be. The Freedom From Religion Foundation was quoted as saying that “government prayer is unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive.”

2. Is generic prayer an option for Christians?

With the National Day of Prayer coming up in two days (May 1), what are we to make of all of the controversy about prayer? First of all, for the purpose of full disclosure, Jackson Presbyterian Examiner does not have any vested interest in seeing prayers offered at government functions or public schools. The presence of prayers in such settings is not at all indicative of any level of piety in the community, and the prayers of politicians are often suspect as being more about getting political brownie points than speaking to God. Prayer at government schools is not going to usher in revival to America, as some conservative Christian writers have suggested, because the prayers would not be specifically Christian prayers. Government schools may employ Muslims, Buddhists, or Hindu—just to name a few—besides Christians and if prayer is being mandatorily conducted by teachers, of course the prayers will reflect the religious views of the individual teacher.

The poll is troubling, not because it shows an increasing aversion to prayer at government functions, but because it shows a high level of support for prayers that Christians can’t, in good conscience, offer. Believing that people can pray at government functions, provided they don’t specifically name the Deity of any one belief system, presupposes a secularist outlook, presupposes that there isn’t any Deity out there to actually communicate with. If there isn’t any supernatural being out there, it’s awfully kind of secularists to patronize the misled religious people and allow them to utter their words (which ultimately are heard by no higher power) at public meetings. But if there really is a Deity out there, and if that Deity is the source of all reality, then of course we can’t just arbitrarily make him out to be whatever we like.

Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper that if they asked God the Father anything in his (Jesus’) name, God would grant their request. Christians pray in Jesus’ name because they believe that they, in and of themselves, are not worthy to be heard by God. God hears the prayers of believers, not because they are such super great people meriting God’s attention, but because they prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. God hears our prayers not for our own sake, but for Christ’s sake. To put it bluntly, if we approach God on our own, expecting to be heard for our own sake, we have no reason to have any confidence at all that God would listen. We are sinners, cut off from God because of our sin. It is Jesus—his death and resurrection on our behalf and his continual intercession before God’s throne on our behalf—that make us acceptable to God.

3. Conclusion

If our society prohibits the use of any specifically Christian prayer in public venues, what are Christians to do? This examiner believes it would be preferable to refrain from praying in such contexts rather than offer up generic prayers, thereby implicitly communicating that Jesus’ name is something we can take or leave when speaking with God. That would be the worst thing imaginable.

The world rejects Christ and of course rejects the New Testament teaching that relationship with God is impossible apart from knowing Jesus Christ. Christians, however, must never allow Christ and the Father to be divorced like that. John the apostle tells us in his first epistle that whoever does not have the Son does not have the Father. Jesus himself made it clear that if we are ashamed to acknowledge him, he will not acknowledge us before his Father. We can’t settle for a watered down civic religion that agrees on a generic higher power, minus Jesus. The only way we can know the heart of God is through Jesus and the only way we can approach God is through Jesus.

This is not something Christians should be cantankerous about. If anything, Christians have historically occupied a privileged position in America, being permitted to exercise their faith so publicly, even at city council meetings and things of that nature. It shouldn’t shock or disillusion us if, as American society becomes more secular, Christians are given less opportunities to demonstrate their faith publicly. We must keep praying in Jesus’ name, even if that means declining from praying in public venues. If we offer up Christless prayers in public, we don’t have any assurance God will hear us. We can, though, as Jesus said, go into our closet and pray, knowing that our Father in heaven will hear us.

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