Part 3 of series: Should Christians Pray “In Jesus’s Name” in Civic Gatherings?
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series
When I have prayed in civic gatherings, such as city council meetings or community luncheons, I have ended my prayers by saying, simply, “Amen,” rather than saying what I’d say when leading prayer in church: “in Jesus’s name, Amen.” I realize that others have a different practice, and I respect their convictions even if I don’t share them. In this post I want to explain why I don’t say “in Jesus’s name” at the end of my civic prayers.
If you’ve read my last post, you have seen that Christians are not required to say “in Jesus’s name” at the end of our prayers. When Jesus teaches us to pray in his name, this is not about the words we say. Rather, it’s a call to pray in his authority and under his sovereignty. This means we are free to say “in Jesus’s name” or not.
When I have prayed in public, secular gatherings, I have not said “in Jesus’s name” because I knew that many of the people whom I was leading in prayer were not Christians. My goal was to include through my words as many people in the prayer as possible. I wanted all who had gathered to be able to pray with me, to join me in the “Amen” without hesitation. I didn’t want to leave some people out if I could help it.
Some Christians are reticent to mention the name of Jesus because they’re embarrassed about their faith. I can honestly say I don’t fall into this group, though there have been times in my life when I did. God help us not to be afraid of identifying with Jesus! After all, it was Jesus himself who said:
“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)
Of course this passage was not addressing the issue at hand. Jesus wasn’t concerned here with whether or not his followers should say “in Jesus’s name” when they pray in public. But the sense of this passage does suggest that if one is motivated by embarrassment to omit the name of Jesus, in prayer or in any other communication, that person is skating on thin spiritual ice.
Ironically, it is my commitment to following Jesus that leads me to pray without saying “in Jesus’s name.” Jesus, after all, welcomed to himself those who hadn’t the faintest idea who he really was. They were drawn to his truth, his kindness, and his love. People did not flock to Jesus because he hammered them with religious language, but because he welcomed them with God’s own love. In this context he was able to speak of the truth of God’s kingdom and its implications for people, which included calling them to repentance.
I’m more than happy to talk with non-Christian folk about Jesus. In my experience, this sort of conversation happens best when I have welcomed people and have shown consideration for their convictions, feelings, and concerns. So, strangely enough, I don’t pray “in Jesus’s name” in civic gatherings precisely because I want to welcome people in Jesus’s name. I want to show the kind of consideration for people that Jesus demonstrated in his ministry.
There are some public (or semi-public) settings in which I would mention the name of Jesus in prayer. I think of interfaith funerals, for example, where representatives of different faith traditions pray ways that are consistent with their own religious convictions. I have often performed weddings or funerals in settings where many of those in the congregation are not Christian. Yet those who asked me to officiate (the couple getting married or the family of the deceased) sought me out to do an explicitly Christian service. The people in the congregation expected me, as a Christian pastor, to speak and pray as a Christian. (Photo: The sanctuary of Irvine Presbyterian Church, where I performed dozens of weddings and funerals.)
Now you know why I don’t say “in Jesus’s name” when I pray in civic gatherings, and why I believe that, nevertheless, I am praying in Jesus’s name. In my next post I want to examine some public prayers of one of the world’s most prominent Christian leaders to see what we might learn from his example.