You Can Pray to Christ!

One of the strangest teachings floating around some Reformed churches is the idea that we are not allowed to pray to the Lord Jesus, but only to the Father.  By that same token, hymns of praise to Christ are also out of the question.  The problem with this view is that we find examples in Scripture of the early church and the apostles praying to Christ.  I mentioned this in my sermon yesterday morning:

While he was being stoned to death, we hear Stephen praying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  Stephen prayed to the Lord Jesus and in the centuries to follow, thousands of martyrs would repeat his prayer. In 1 Corinthians 12, we read of how Paul prayed to the Lord Jesus and pleaded with him to remove the thorn in his flesh.  In 1 Corinthians 16:22, we read the brief prayer of Paul for the coming of the Lord Jesus, “Maranatha!  Come, O Lord!”  The apostle John echoes that prayer in Revelation 22:20, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”  If the apostles and early Christians prayed to the Lord Jesus and their example is in the Bible, certainly we also have that freedom.

This morning as I was preparing my notes on Volume 2 of Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, I noticed that he commented on this as well:  “…the Holy Spirit dwells in and among us, with the result that our prayers are directed more to the Father and to the Mediator than to him” (311).  Notice that Bavinck speaks of directing our prayers to the Mediator — and this is fine.  It’s also okay to pray (and sing) to the Holy Spirit, though it would not be our regular practice.  Wherever this thinking came from, it didn’t come from Bavinck.

For those who do think that it is sinful to pray to the Lord Jesus, I would want to ask:  which commandment is being broken?  Further, if it is sinful to pray to the Lord Jesus, then it is also sinful to sing to him — in which case the Canadian Reformed Churches (and other Reformed churches) are living in sin and should be called to repentance.

Finally, I am convinced that this line of thinking contributes to the depersonalization of the Saviour.  It robs our faith of vitality.  By saying that it is a sin to speak with him, we are in danger of making him into an abstract concept rather than recognizing him as a person and treating him as such.  Think about it:  what sense does it make to have a Mediator with whom you’re not even allowed to speak?

About Wes Bredenhof

Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania. View all posts by Wes Bredenhof

10 responses to “You Can Pray to Christ!

  • Nicole VanWoudenberg

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve heard that you shouldn’t pray to Jesus or the Holy Spirit, but only to the Father because Jesus prayed only to the Father. Thanks for clarifying what I’ve always believed.

    And, also, thanks for the post you did recently about the devotional book “Teaching Hearts, Training Minds”. I purchased it the day you wrote about it, and we’ve been enjoying it as a family since it arrived.

  • Coosje Helder

    Okay, you have convinced me. We had this discussion at women’s society and I believe that I threw that idea out there. I expect that you must have heard about it because it came up at least three times in subsequent sermons. I appreciate that very much. It shows that you are in tune with what is going on within your own parish and are able to use a teachable moment.

  • Rob

    While I agree that there are examples in Scripture of believers calling upon the Name of Jesus (see also Jn. 14:14, 1 Cor. 1:2), it can’t be denied that this practice is rare in comparison to calling upon the Name of God the Father. In his epistles, we find many records of the prayers of the apostle Paul and without exception, they are addressed to God the Father. Somehow, the teaching of our Lord about praying to God as “our Father” has to factor into this discussion. There’s also the practical problem: when does a believer pray to the Father and when to the Son? Do we pray as a rule to the Father but once in a while to the Son also? Or do we pray equally to both? Also, if prayer to the Son follows from His divinity and personality, the same is true of the Holy Spirit. Does the revelation of the Trinity legitimize and even require prayer to each Person since they are equal in honour and majesty? Also, what about the fact that both the Son and the Spirit are interceding on our behalf with the Father? Doesn’t that show the proper address for our own intercessions? Also noteworthy in this regard is Article 26 of the Belgic Confession. While it refutes the practice of prayer to the saints, it does not encourage prayer to Christ as Mediator. The conclusion reads: “In conclusion, according to the command of Christ, we call upon the heavenly Father through Christ our only Mediator, as we are taught in the Lord’s prayer. We rest assured that we shall obtain all we ask of the Father in His Name (Jn. 16:23).” In short, the last word has not yet been said on this topic. Rob Schouten, Aldergrove, B.C.

    • Wes Bredenhof

      Rob, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m not disagreeing with you. All I’m saying is that we should recognize freedom where there is freedom and not make rules where Scripture doesn’t. I don’t believe Scripture compels believers to pray or sing to Christ, but they have that freedom.

  • Rob

    I agree with you on that point, Wes. Somebody should write a paper about this topic. One more comment: I’ve notice that among many evangelicals, prayer to Christ is the norm and prayer to the Father rare. Not sure what that means …

    • Will

      Hello Rev. Bredenhof and readers,

      Rev. Schouten stole my thunder on this, as I too was going to ask about the very practical questions that arise from this discussion. On the question of when the believer is to pray to the Father, and when to the Son, allow me to shares some thoughts.

      Two things come to mind:
      First, an acronym I learned in catechism class about prayer – more specifically, a way to structure prayer: ACTS – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication.
      Second, the distinct work of the Persons of the Trinity as summarized in the Apostle’s Creed.

      It is immediately clear to me that adoration and thanksgiving are due to each Person – God the Father our Creator, God the Son our Redeemer, God the Holy Spirit our Sanctifier for their work. In Revelation, the Lamb is directly praised for His specific work. For me, the Addressee of our confession is a little less clear.

      When it comes to supplication, it seems to me that most of what we ask for we seek from the providence of the Creator and Sustainer (Lord’s Day 9, 10). Leaf, rain, fruitful years, food (c.f. our daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer), health, and riches (as well as their less desirable counterparts) all come “by his fatherly hand.” I can think of some possible exceptions. If we pray for the defense of the church, we are praying about the work of God the Son “by His Spirit and Word” (LD 21). But on the whole, when we bring our supplications, we do so as children seeking the care of the Almighty God who is our willing and faithful Father (LD 9).

      I am not sure where exactly this leads us, but it might provide a helpful framework within which to work.

      As for the norm among evangelicals of praying to Jesus, they also tend to focus on the power of the Spirit. I wonder whether the Father – not the Spirit, as has previously been suggested – is now the “neglected” Person in the Trinity.

      Will Gortemaker, Winnipeg, MB

  • George Helder

    In spite of my wife’s quick acceptance of your thesis, I was somewhat troubled. I would add caution to your arguement in the lines of brothers Schouten and Gortemaker. While it may not be wrong in a strict sense to pray to Christ, perhaps we are guilty of dividing the Trinity more than necessarry. After all, to state the obvious, Jesus is God. I do think we need to take Christ’s own teaching to heart as we do in the Heidelberg Catechism and Belgic Confession and direct our prayers to the Father as the norm.
    I don’t want to argue a point because of possible dangers of misuse, but it is evedent in our times that prayer to Jesus rather than Christ, is often a sign of deformation. In fact, that is why I reject some of the new proposed hymns, because they are prayers to Jesus. Of course we can and should sing praises to Him but, as you quoted Bavinck, it is not our regular practice.

    • Wes Bredenhof

      George, thank you for your contribution to this discussion. I am sensitive to what you and others have written on this. As already mentioned, this is about not compelling the consciences of believers and also trying to have some balance.

      In my mind, this relates to God’s transcendence and immanence. Those who over-emphasize God’s transcendence will tends towards a distant, more impersonal relationship with God, perhaps even towards deism. Those who over-emphasize his immanence will tend towards flippancy and irreverence, perhaps even towards pantheism. Interestingly, when Christian Smith published his study of the spiritual lives of American teens a few years back, he defined what he saw as “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Christomonism (focussing on Christ to the expense of the Father and the Spirit) does not immunize one against deism.

      The thing that I appreciate about Bavinck is his insistence (esp. in Vol. 2) on holding to a biblical view of God that acknowledges and does equal justice to both transcendence and immanence. In our Canadian Reformed “spirituality” (the practice of our faith), my observation is that we often tend towards an over-emphasis on transcendence. This is reflected in the curious fact that even though some say we can’t pray to the Lord Jesus because he taught us to pray to the Father, most of our people still address God as Lord, rather than more freely using the more intimate and personal “Father.” Again, don’t get me wrong: there is nothing sinful or wrong with saying “Lord.” But how we pray does give some insight into how we view God and our relationship with him, whether he is a distant figure-head (or even a concept) or someone who loves us and is intimately involved with all the details of our lives.

      • George Helder

        It took a while for me to get back to you on this because I was reflecting on some of your points.
        First of all with respect to your example of Stephen. I don’t think that thsis can be taken as an example for us to follow. As he was being stoned Stephen saw Jesus Christ in Heaven, no wonder he spoke to Him!
        Your other examples from 2nd (not 1st) Corinthians 12 and of calling upon the Lord to return soon, I will defer to the arguements of Rev Schouten. I do take from this, in agreement with you, that if one feel particularly compelled to address our Lord on occasion, it cannot be said to be wrong. I do think it bears repeating though, that his does not mean praying to Jesus, as that is usually an attempt to bring God down from Heaven.
        The funny thing is, after listening to a sermon on LD 46 from Dr VanVliet, it was made clear to me again, that the calling upon God the Father is not, or should not be, a distancing or an over emphasing on the transcendance, but rather brings Him near.
        I also agree that we need to be more careful in addressing our payers to our Father rather than God, or Lord, or LORD. (Why don’t we use JAHWEH anyway? That’s a question you might want to address sometime!) You’re right in observing that in trying to maintain a recognition of the LORD Almighty, that there is a danger in depersonalising our relationship with Him.

  • Mikhael

    Just a quick thought.. I am very tired tonight and not thinking as clearly but this is a very interesting subject..

    Some here have said “it may not be wrong in a strict sense to pray to Christ” and you yourself have said “What command is it breaking?”

    So my question is “Where is the command to pray to Christ? What about the regulative principle of worship which is that we do not do anything based on silence but on the direct command of scripture? Apart from the singing issue which for me is a determined “Exclusive Psalmody” but how are we to pray but by the command of scripture and how God prescribes pray. So where is the command to pray to Christ in scripture? We have a command to pray “Our Father” or any of the Father’s personal names but where is there a command to pray to “Our Son” or “Our Holy Spirit”? I know we are to pray through Christ just like we are to do all things through Christ but I am not sure about praying to..

    I am not sure since I have never thought about it til this very moment by your blog entry but that is my opening thoughts on the subject.

    P.s. Before anyone says it, Yes Psalms singers sing the name of Christ since the name of Christ is in the Psalms. HaMashiach Yeshua is in the Psalms and it is translated as The Annointed (Messiah) Joshua which Joshua is the English translation of the Hebrew given name of Christ. So it can be translated through transliteration Hebrew/Greek/English as Christ Jesus.

    Mikhael

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