Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In the Name of…

Theologically speaking, is there any problem for a Christian not to pray in Jesus’ name? In other words, cannot a Christian—like a Jew or a Muslim—pray authentically in the name of God? 

The short answer to that question is “Yes, absolutely!” That is why I have no hesitation when praying in interfaith settings by saying, “In Your Most Holy Name we pray.” Christians, like Jews and Muslims, believe in One God and that God is One.  Trinitarian Christians believe that God is expressed in three “persons”—or in three ways—as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. We believe that the nature of God is most fully revealed in the person of Jesus Christ—that is, in Jesus, human and divine are completely united.  Because we look to Jesus as “the Way” for humans to know the fullness of God, we often conclude our prayers in Jesus’ name.  The phrasing is not intended to be exclusionary, but how can it sound otherwise to a non-Christian? When I pray publicly in God’s name and omit Jesus’ name, I do so not because I fear offending others, but because I wish to express my belief that we are all children of God and that God’s great love extends to all—without limit, without condition and without exception.

Grace, I thank you for your heartfelt explanation. I appreciate sensitive people like you who are aware of the beliefs of their audience. The reason why Muslims would feel uncomfortable if prayers are concluded in Jesus’ name is not because they do not believe in him, but because they do not consider him as divine. That word is reserved for God alone. It might surprise some Christians to know that Jesus [Peace and Blessings be upon him] is an honored prophet in Islam. Both his birth and the birth of his mother Mary [Peace and Blessings be upon her] are beautifully captured in the Quran. Beloved to Muslims, both are considered examples of righteousness and uprightness.  Having said that, they are considered human, and praying to them is therefore not appropriate in Islam.

While I was eavesdropping on your conversation, my thoughts wandered to a volunteer luncheon I attended some years ago at an interfaith-based charity. We all bent our heads as the Pastor led us in the grace before the meal.  He quoted from psalms and blessed the work of the volunteers’ hands, and then he concluded by saying, “in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.” I felt unable to respond “Amen,” because the word “amen” comes from the Hebrew root “believe,” and Jews do not believe Jesus to be the Christ (messiah). I remember feeling frustrated, since I agreed with the sentiment of his prayer and wished to respond.  I don’t think that he intended to exclude anyone from his prayers—he must have been unaware of the presence of those who do not accept Jesus’ divinity.  I wish I had been in possession then of Grace’s lucid explanation of why Christians pray in this manner.  The Pastor’s words authentically expressed the prayer from his heart. Distracted by my own emotions, I may have missed the depth of emotion he was sharing with us.

1 comment:

  1. My spiritual formation and practice are Jewish. For many years, I lived in the U.S. Bible Belt. During those years, many Christians witnessed to me. Each encouraged me to join their particular church. Some approached me because they genuinely believed that my life and soul would be better off. Some were fulfilling a church assignment. Some were looking for a date.

    In retrospect, I wish I had been more honest and open in my responses. Only with close Christian friends was I able to explain that the long history of tension and violence between Christians and Jews made their evangelism painful for me.

    Most people I simply brushed off -- "No thank you," "I'm Jewish," I'm married."

    Occasionally, if a missionary rang my doorbell, I diverted them. I said things like:

    "My cat just had a litter of kittens; do you want to see them?" (They were delighted.)

    "Were you a professional dancer? You look familiar." (She had been!)

    "Can you believe that new restaurant mixes bacon in everything, even with all the Jews, Christian sects, and Muslims in the neighbourhood who won't eat it?" (They hadn't gone, but agreed it was a bad business practice.)

    In retrospect, though these responses bypassed the witness's mission, I do hope they at least created a sense of mutual recognition and sharing.