Thursday, December 20, 2007

In Jesus' name, pt. 1 - Prayer and Jesus' name

There is quite the little controversy bubbling up in Tulsa. In Saturday's Tulsa World there was an article about the prayer that opens the regular city council meeting. Tulsa has a tradition (like many other cities) of asking religious leaders to come in an lead the gathering in prayer before the business of the meeting is dealt with.

According to the article, persons representing the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance approached the chaplain who coordinates the religious leaders who volunteer to pray. They approached him in the interest of inclusiveness. Karl Sniderman said that he and another TIA board member attended a council meeting that was opened by a person who prayed in Jesus' name. Sniderman goes on to say, "I'm Jewish and she's Muslim, and it kind of irked us."

This conversation led to the decision by the coordinating chaplain to not allow prayers that were prayed in Jesus' name. Anyone who could not in good conscience abide by this condition is being asked to decline to offer the prayer.

This was brought to my attention by a parishioner. I have also been following along with one of the local talk radio stations. According to conversations and interviews with city council members, the city council was not aware of this decision.

The issue at hand is that praying in the name of Jesus is exclusive. It excludes people of other faiths. A prayer can be offered with other names for God being used. But the use of Jesus' name is not to be used. The article states that religious leaders who did not comply with this condition have been removed from the rotation.

This article has a companion piece. The following information was taken from the Tulsa World and, as one reader has pointed out, is not correct in its details. Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt was court martialed by the U.S. Navy for offering a prayer in Jesus' name, in violation of a U.S. Navy policy. Klingenschmitt challenged that policy, and Congress agreed with him, forcing the Navy to change the policy.Klingenschmitt has gone on to become an advocate for public prayer and the inclusion of the name of Jesus.

This has led me to a study of the subject of using the name of the Lord. I have prayed many years with the familiar, " the name of Jesus, amen." It was something that I had been given through my faith heritage. I had never heard teachings or opinions on this until recently. But it was something that I did.

So my study has begun on this subject. Of course, I wanted to begin with the subject of prayer. This is the pressing issue. So I began to study all of the passages of the New Testament that refer to the name of Jesus. And not once in the entire New Testament are Christians commanded, urged, exhorted, or asked to pray in the name of Jesus.

Before you go ripping into me, get a concordance and look up every passage that uses the word "name". You will find over 900 uses of the word name in the entire Bible. You will find 190 uses in the New Testament alone. In none of these passages, from Jesus' words in the Gospels to Paul's words in the letters to John's words in the Revelation, does it say that believers are to pray "in Jesus' name" explicitly.

There are a host of other things that we ARE to do and MAY do in Jesus' name. We ARE to:
believe in Jesus' name (John 1:12; 3:18; 20:31; 1 John 3:23)
baptize in the name of Jesus {and the Father and the Spirit} (Matthew 28:19; Acts 8:16; 10:48; 19:5)
give thanks always in Jesus' name(Ephesians 5:20)
glorify God in Jesus' name when we suffer for his sake(1 Peter 4:16)
avoid those who live an unruly life not in keeping with the faith passed down (1 Thessalonian 3:6)

Some of the things we MAY do in the name of Jesus include:
receive a child (Matthew 18:5)
gather with others (Matthew 18:20)
perform miracles (Mark 9:39; 16:17; Acts 3:6; 16:18; Luke 10:17)
speak boldly (Acts 4-5; 9:27-28)
proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins for all nations (Luke 24:47)

I believe that the idea of praying in Jesus' name is grounded in these few passages of scripture:
In John's Gospel during the final instructions to the disciples Jesus tells the disciples that they will be able to ask for anything and that Jesus would do it and the Father will give them whatever they ask in Jesus' name. (John 14: 13, 14; John 15:16; John 16:23-24)
Paul instructs the believing Gentiles in Colossians to do everything, by word or deed, in Jesus' name (Colossians 3:17)

These passages would seem to be the source of the tradition of praying in Jesus' name. We also have the example of the disciples using the name of Jesus to produce miracles. But I would remind you that at no point is there a command to pray in Jesus' name.

In fact, Jesus tells us, explicitly, whose name we are to pray in. Matthew 6:9 and Luke 11:2 record the prayer which Jesus offered to the disciples as a model for their prayer. In that prayer, which we call The Lord's Prayer, Jesus explicitly prays in the name of God the Father. "Our Father...hallowed be YOUR name." The model prayer that Jesus gave to the disciples that they could pray themselves was prayed in the name of God.

Toward the end of Jesus' ministry, he again models a prayer in which the name of God (Father) is used. In addition, you see that Jesus' prayer is intensely relational. He speaks of the oneness that Father and Son share. He prays of the sharing of glory, name, lives, and love between God and himself. This is, in it's being recorded by John, another model for prayer. We learn to pray by hearing what and how Jesus prayed. And his prayers were prayed in the name of the Father.

Now, about the exhortation of Jesus to pray in his name and receive it, there is a wide range of teaching. Some believe that this means if we pray for anything then Jesus or the Father will provide. I don't feel confidant enough to argue this point, yet. I will approach it in an upcoming blog, though. But I am confidant enough to say that prayer is NOT just asking God for whatever we want (whether good or bad).

Prayer is a relational link that we have with God the Father through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. When we pray we are coming into fellowship with all three persons of the Trinity. The Spirit, who dwells with us, has connected us to Jesus Christ who intercedes on our behalf with God the Father. In turn, God the Father speaks to us through the word and life of Jesus Christ that is communicated by the Holy Spirit into our hearts, minds, and spirits.

Prayer is that ongoing relational link. When we pray, we are already coming in Jesus' name. We are coming in that name because we have believed in his name (John 20:31). We are coming in that name because we have been justified in his name (1 Corinthians 6:11). The life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ has already brought us into his life and his authority.

To go out in someone's name or to do something in someone's name is not to go around saying that name in order to cause something to happen. It means to bear the authority of the one in whose name you are going. When Peter heals the lame man, it is not the name of Jesus that heals him. It is the authority that Jesus has given to Peter. When Paul casts the spirit out of the girl who is a fortune teller, it is not the name of Jesus that causes the spirit to leave her. It is the authority of who Jesus is.

To pray in Jesus' name has become, in the most innocuous form, a matter of rote ritual or habit or, in its most dangerous form, magical incantation. If we pray in Jesus' name then we should be mindful that our prayers are carrying the full weight and authority of the identity of the King of Kings, the name to which every knee will bow. But the use of the words "in Jesus' name" are not a requirement in order to live out the relational link we have with God the Father, Son, and Spirit through prayer.
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