It's Not About "State-Sponsored" Prayers - It's About Freedom of Speech!

Picture The other day during a debate over putting prayer back in the school system, once again, someone challenged me with some of the same old tired rhetoric, that has been answered again and again.  This person asked a question, followed by what they perceived as being a verse in support of their anti-prayer stance: "What's the difference between quiet prayer and praying aloud?  I take you to Matthew 6:6 where Jesus says, 'But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.'"   So, at the risk of being redundant, I will make another attempt to bring some clarity as to what it is that the PPB Initiative is all about.

As is the case so many times, people use a verse or two of Scripture to use as a "proof text", but most of the time, take it out of the entire context of the rest of the passage.  So, with that being said, let's take a look at Matthew 6, beginning with verse 1 and following, Jesus says:

“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.

5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words." (NKJV)  He then proceeds to teach us what is commonly known as, "The Lord's Prayer".

In the context of this passage, Jesus, in essence, gives three specific examples of how our practice of piety should be different from the hypocritical or external practices of the Pharisees. The general principle for Christians is that the motive in religious observances is to please God and not to gain praise from others.  He is not addressing anything even remotely associated with what the PPB motivations are all about.

A key word the Lord uses is in verse 2; "hypocrites".  Let's take a very quick look at that for a moment. 

From the Greek, hypocrites, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace); Strong’s #5273: In Bible days actors wore masks, which included mechanisms for amplifying the voice. Since the dramas were questions and answers, the word describing the dialogue was hupokrinomai, to reply or to answer. Hupokrites is one who is playacting, reading a script, or one who puts on an act. The hypocrite conceals his true motives under a cloak of make-believe.

In contrast to hypocrites Christians are not to call attention to their alms-giving, praying or any good deeds, in order to receive some kind of praise or glory from it. The reward of such "play actors" is present and human, contrasted with the divine reward for unpretentious giving.

So, let's be very clear:  Jesus does not criticize public prayer in any way, shape, form or fashion here.  However, He does condemn pretentious, ostentatious prayer that attracts attention to one's self or the flesh.

Take a good look at what He says:  “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites.  For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men."  That is certainly not what the PPB and others who believe in the God-given and Constitutional right to freedom of speech are advocating.

He says:  "when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words." Vain repetitions refers not to repeating a request, but to an empty babbling and long prayers that confuse meaningless verbosity with piety. By way of contrast, Jesus teaches focused prayer, which acknowledges God’s needed reign in every facet of life and society (vv. 9-13).

gain, to be so painstakingly repetitious, what we are advocating and calling for is simply the right to pray, silently or aloud, if one feels the need to, without fear of reprisal.  We are not even vaguely advocating "state-sponsored" prayers.  We are not attempting to force anyone to pray, we just don't want people to be forced to suppress their basic right and freedom.

Daniel knew that for him to continue to exercise his God-given right to pray as he saw fit, that a decree had gone out that could very well cost him his life in a pit with ravenous lions.  Daniel 6:10 - "10 Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days."

Daniel prayed out loud, not for show, but because it was his right and he should be able to do that aloud if he wanted.  I'll tell you the bottom line of the whole story is, the devil tries everything he can to keep people from praying to God, at anytime using any means he can to do so.  And he uses unwitting, clueless people most to accomplish that task.  Not necessarily wicked people, just people that for whatever reasons, get convinced that "you don't have to pray like that to have a relationship with God".  To which I answer, "you don't have to take a bath either, but it sure feels good"!

Next, we'll talk more regarding the fact that it really isn't flesh and blood that we are fighting, but something beyond all that.

"Pray without ceasing."

Pastor Michael Parnell, B.Th.
Chairman, PPB Initiative

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