NOTE: This article appears in the July/August 2006 issue of Frontline Magazine. It appears here with permission of the publisher.
By David Pennington
Alarmingly, Bible-believing Christians in the United States of America are being denied their God-given and constitutional rights. A clear example is that clergy or designated individuals who open the Indiana House of Representatives in prayer have been forbidden to pray in Jesus’ name (see December 1, 2005, edition of the Indianapolis Star). Surprisingly, this prohibition was upheld by Judge David Hamilton who required “any person chosen to give the invocation be instructed it must not advance any one faith or be used in bid to convert listeners.” Judge Hamilton’s ruling included the prohibition of invokers praying in Jesus’ name.
Prohibiting Christians from praying in Jesus’ name violates the “free exercise” clause of the Constitution of the United States. Although the Constitution upholds the “free exercise” of religion, Christians are told that prayers must be generic and inoffensive to citizens with differing religious or secular views. Legislators apparently believe that praying in Jesus’ name violates the Constitution’s “establishment clause.” In other words, they believe that a minister or designated individual who prays in the name of Jesus invoking God’s blessing upon the House of Representatives somehow “establishes” a religion. Perhaps the Supreme Court of the United States of America needs to define clearly what constitutes “establishing” a religion. Apparently, our nation has stooped to a new level of secularism by believing that any mention of a particular religion, even in prayer, “establishes” a religion and violates the Constitution of the United States. Thus, today’s American citizens can offer only generic prayers stripped of any religious teaching and completely inoffensive to anyone who believes anything. Such praying may supposedly purge America of “religious intolerance,” but it does not allow individuals to freely exercise their God-given beliefs or religion.
Forbidding Christians to pray in Jesus’ name violates the freedom of speech in the Bill of Rights. To limit or restrict a minister from praying in Jesus’ name is to deny him the right to speak what he genuinely believes. His praying in the name of Jesus does not in any way deny others the freedom to believe or speak differently. He is simply expressing in his prayer his sincere religious beliefs. Christian ministers have the right to free speech also!
Prohibiting Christians from praying in Jesus’ name violates the authority of God’s Almighty. The reason ministers pray in Jesus’ name is because the Word of God instructs them to do so. If ministers or other Bible-believing Christians do not pray in Jesus’ name, they violate the very Word of God they believe and teach. By doing so, they place man’s authority over God’s. In the early church, the apostles faced similar opposition. They were commanded they could not teach in that “name” (Acts 5:27, 28). To which they responded, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
To pray, or for that matter to do anything, in someone’s name is to do so in the authority of that person. For example, in Matthew 7 false believers claimed to prophesy, cast out demons, and do wonderful works in Jesus’ name. Yet their claims were false, and Jesus rebuked and brought judgment upon them. They were claiming that they did these things in the authority of Jesus. Jesus exposed their claims as false and dishonest.
The name of Jesus is a prevalent theme throughout the New Testament. Wonderful works were done in His name (Acts 3:6). Eternal salvation comes through His name (Acts 4:12). Men have access to the very throne of God and receive promises of answered prayer through His name (John 14:13, 14; 15:16; 16:23, 24). Therefore to deny Christian ministers the right to pray in Jesus’ name is to cause them to disobey the teachings of God’s Word.
Sadly, America has become a secular nation that denies Christians their constitutional right to the free exercise of religious beliefs, that restricts Christians from freedom of speech, and that causes them to disobey specific teachings in the Bible that command Christians to pray in Jesus’ name. The apostle Peter gave encouragement to believers facing similar persecution in his day. He writes, “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified” (1 Pet. 4:14). God’s people may soon find themselves facing imprisonment or financial fines simply for praying in Jesus’ name. In spite of such opposition, it is important to be obedient to God’s directives. May the Lord give His people the courage and boldness to pray in Jesus’ name in their public and private prayers!
Dr. David Pennington pastors Burge Terrace Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, and is also on the Executive Board of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International.