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Public Prayer

Discussion in 'General Theology' started by seebs, Sep 20, 2002.

  1. No; Christ forbids it explicitly.

  2. Only if the public aspect is unintentional.

  3. As long as the prayer is not *just* to be seen.

  4. I don't know.

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  1. seebs

    seebs God Made Me A Skeptic

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    So, all the Christians I know in my daily life have always believed that prayer is a private thing, which should be done always in private. The support for this is Matthew 6:5-6. Throughout the gospels, every time Christ prays, He does so alone; he leaves the people He is with, even His disciples, to do so.

    I have heard it argued that public prayer is okay as long as it's not hypocritical.

    I find myself still utterly convinced that it is wrong to choose a place to pray with the intent that one will be seen praying. If there's no practical alternatives, I don't necessarily see the problem with praying in front of others, but I think it's very clear that we are commanded to *avoid* doing so.

    In a discussion in News & Current Events, it's become clear that some people disagree with this. :) The two arguments I've heard are:

    1. It is good to make a stand for the faith, and show people that you believe. (I hear this often echoed by students who attend these events, in interviews.)
    2. They're not doing it to be seen; that would be hypocritical, but sincere prayer is different.

    It seems to me that these two defenses of public prayers are mutually exclusive.

    What do other people believe about this? What scripture or evidence do you cite in support of your beliefs?

    The concrete example that started this was the famous "See You At The Pole" event, where students gather to pray at a flagpole near their school. Every interview and other source I have seen makes it seem that the intent of this is to make other students more aware of the faith of those attending.
     
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  2. seebs

    seebs God Made Me A Skeptic

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    Posted here because it occurs to me that this is a purely internal debate; non-Christians can't really tell us what we should or shouldn't think, and I don't think the question of "how does it make other people feel" is directly relevant; after all, we're talking about whether or not this is permissible, not whether or not the effects are what we want.
     
  3. ZiSunka

    ZiSunka It means 'yellow dog'

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    If you pray only to be seen, then you have received all you're getting--the attention of others.

    But if a group of people pray in a public place, there's nothing wrong with it, as long as they aren't doing it only for the attention.
     
  4. seebs

    seebs God Made Me A Skeptic

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    Interesting; my reading has been that, if being seen is *ANY PART* of the motivation, that it's wrong; your interpretation seems to be that, as long as being seen isn't *ALL* of the motivation, that it's wrong.

    Are there specific sources you're looking at other than Matthew 6:5-6 that you base this on, or is this a question of how we interpret that particular verse?
     
  5. LilyLamb

    LilyLamb The Lord is My Shepherd

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    I asked the following in the other thread ...

     
  6. seebs

    seebs God Made Me A Skeptic

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    Interesting point about the blessing; I believe it says that He went off to pray after feeding the multitude... I think there may be a difference between Christ blessing something and our prayers.

    I don't know about synagogues; He may have participated in prayer there, but it wasn't discussed much, and I don't know how vocal He was. However, He was very consistent about leaving the people He was with when He was going to pray; it's specifically mentioned several times.
     
  7. ZiSunka

    ZiSunka It means 'yellow dog'

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    Anyone praying for the purpose of being seen has already received their reward--being seen. Motive is the key here, as well as what you are expecting as a result of the prayer.

    See, if you are praying to God and wanting an answer from Him, then it doesn't matter where you pray, in a church, on a street corner, in a bathroom, under your desk. The prayer is between the prayer and God. Even if you are praying in a group in a public place, the prayer is from communicating with God, not for getting attention from others.

    If you are praying for the intent of getting attention, it doesn't matter where you pray it, in a garage, in a chimney, in a private room, in a hole in the ground. The intent of that prayer is not to communicate with God, so He doesn't bother listening. He knows you aren't talking to Him.

    It's not a matter of "right" or "wrong" it's a matter of what outcome you hope for.

    Praying is communicating with God, not reciting magically incantations. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to pray. There are only right or wrong motives.

    Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. Matthew 18:19 The two are not praying separately, and there is no admonition to pray alone, yet Christ plainly says the Father will answer.

    He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be horrified and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, "My soul is swallowed up in sorrow -- to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake." Then He went a little farther, fell to the ground, and began to pray ... Mark 14:33-35
    He took others with him so they could pray together. They were in a public garden. They didn't try to hide, nor did Christ request them to pray silently, nor does it say that Christ prayed silently.

    Go to bible.crosswalk.com and do a NT search on prayer. Zillions of verses come up and not all the praying is done in a secret place, except in the secret place we metaphoically call The Heart.
     
  8. wildernesse

    wildernesse Use less and live more.

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    If a family prays before their meal in a restaurant, quietly and without fanfare, then no problem--because they aren't going around on a campaign to pray in every restaurant in town (and even if they are, but aren't advertising the fact). They happen to be eating a meal outside their home and giving thanks.

    However, if that family begins a mission to say grace over a meal in every restaurant in town, and makes it known--even to its home church--then I think they have gotten their reward in the attention they receive.

    Jesus says not to let your left hand know what your right hand does in regards to "acts of righteousness" in the verses just prior to telling us not to pray for the purpose of being seen. Those who proclaim either their acts or prayers for the purpose of acknowledgement by people get only those rewards that their audience gives, and their audience isn't God.

    That being said, I did go to "Meet you at the Pole" prayers in high school, without thinking much about it. I don't have a problem with a group of people meeting to pray together--but I probably would if it was to be a "show" of some sort. That's me talking today.

    --tibac
     
  9. seebs

    seebs God Made Me A Skeptic

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    And yet, He separated Himself from the others to pray...

    It's interesting how we read this differently. I see it as a clear condemnation of praying with the intent of being seen praying - stating that you have already received your reward means God isn't interested in those prayers.

    What's especially funny to me is that, in the entire time I've been hanging around CF, I think this is the first time that I've been convinced something is prohibited by the Bible, and the "conservative" Christians have all thought it was okay. :)
     
  10. EJO

    EJO Hellafreak

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    "Where two or more are gathered I am there in there midst"
    Not exact scripture, but that is the idea.
     
  11. ZiSunka

    ZiSunka It means 'yellow dog'

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    Probably because you are used to taking the opposite side from the Christians on principle, no matter what.

    It doesn't say he hid himself, just that he walked a few steps away. He probably didn't want to be distracted or interupted, and falling on the ground and crying would have definitely alarmed them. They would have tried to pick him up and soothe his sorrow, but he needed to prepare for the cross. The key is that he didn't go to a closet or stay in the upper room after everyone else left, but he went out to a public garden. If Christians can only pray in private, he would have found other accomodations.

    It's just your rebellious side that's wanting us to be wrong.
     
  12. seebs

    seebs God Made Me A Skeptic

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    I don't think that's true. I am regularly in agreement with many Christians on many things, and (definitionally) all Christians on some things.

    What I've noticed is that there is a tendency for people to lump Christians into categories like "liberal", "moderate", or "conservative". I almost always end up in the "liberal" bin; you and a few of the others almost always end up in the "conservative" bin.

    It's like the differences between, say, Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists. It's not that the average Catholic has a list of Baptist beliefs, and tries to avoid holding any of them; it's just that their views of God and Christianity are very, very, different.

    One of the problems I wrestle with is a tendency to assume that people who don't see God the same way I do are somehow intentionally resisting His glory. It's an easy assumption to make, but the fact is, I know that most Christians are doing their level best to seek truth and righteousness.

    Most of us end up spending our time socializing with people with similar beliefs to our own; this makes it easy for us to fall into the trap of believing that the few people we meet who disagree aren't even making a good *effort* at understanding.

    And yet... every Christian person I know in the flesh (friends, relatives, whatnot) finds the "SYATP" thing *very* disturbing... Does that mean people who don't are idiots? No. That they're lying? No. That they come from a different upbringing and view of the faith? Certainly!

    One of my friends was once in a church where, sandwiched between the new Bingo schedule and the Confirmation class schedule, there was a brief mention that a black family had tried to join the congregation and enroll their kids in Sunday school, and "of course" they were told to try finding a church "more appropriate to their type". The entire congregation was just smiling and nodding. Evil, heartless, racists? I don't think so; just human, like the rest of us. I do think they were wrong; I think they were totally and unequivocally wrong. But... That's okay, we all are. It goes with the territory.
     
  13. ZiSunka

    ZiSunka It means 'yellow dog'

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    No one would call me a conservative!

    See You At the Pole and all public prayer are two different things. I'm not a big fan of SYATP myself, but not because it is public prayer, but becasue it is prayer for the purpose of being seen praying!

    We're on the same side of that issue.

    But you are wrong in condemning all public prayer. There are a zillion instances of it in the Bible if you'd look for them a minute. It's the intent of the heart that matters, not the location of the prayer.
     
  14. seebs

    seebs God Made Me A Skeptic

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    Actually, I think you've mostly persuaded me. I think the question is largely one of how you use the term "public". My in-laws say grace before meals. They do this no matter where they are, or what circumstance they are in. I don't see this as "public prayer".

    Now, if my father in law were to stand up and boom out THANK YOU GOD FOR THIS FOOD AND BLESS IT TO OUR USE, IN JESUS' NAME AMEN!, in a restaurant, I'd think of it as "public prayer".

    I don't think it's a question of whether or not you're in a public place, but whether or not you are going at all out of your way either:

    1. When praying in a place which happens to be public, trying to make it as obvious as possible that you are praying.
    or
    2. When praying, to make a point of finding an obvious place to do it in.

    So, for instance, if some friends of mine and I wished to organize a club to pray for a school, we'd try to get the use of a school room for our extracurricular activity, and pray with the door closed. Even though we can see each other, and people are aware that we're gathering, we aren't jumping up and down saying "WE'RE PRAYING HERE!". Or we might just meet at someone's house over the weekend. It's not as if God is absent-minded, and if we're not *AT* the school when we pray for it, He'll get confused and bless some other school.

    Re-reading your posts, I think we've been talking at cross purposes over what "public" means. I have been thinking of it as implying some degree of "showing off". For instance, in Matthew 6:5, Christ talks about people who *stand* in the synagogues to pray. Perhaps He contrasts them with those who sit quietly, praying in their hearts rather than out loud so that everyone knows what they're doing.

    I think my cutoff is that I don't think that it should ever be even a *part* of the goal of a prayer for it to be seen. That means, it shouldn't be ostentatious, and it should only be in a public place if you happen to be in a public place when you feel the need to pray.

    Argh. Now that I've thought about it more, I don't like the wording of the poll questions. Ah, well.

    Thanks much for your insights into this; I think you've helped me understand the boundary between things that don't bother me at all (my father in law saying grace before dinner) and things that bother me a lot (people publicizing their SYATP events and inviting news media).
     
  15. ZiSunka

    ZiSunka It means 'yellow dog'

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    Exactly.

    Glad to help.

    The problem with SYATP is not that the kids are praying at the flagpole, but that they are counting up the numbers and announcing them over the radio, loudspeakers, in newspapers and on websites. That number-announcing stuff makes is prayer for the sake of being seen.

    If they inconspicuously prayed and didn't take a census and announce it, it would be okay, and as Jesus said, more effective.
     
  16. seebs

    seebs God Made Me A Skeptic

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    I think the decision to meet at a flagpole is itself mildly questionable; even without any formal census-taking, everyone *will* see them, and if you think about it, a flagpole is generally *THE* most visible location around - that's where you *always* put the flag! So... I'd be a lot happier if they just met in a classroom, or met at someone's house, and I think it'd be better prayer.

    I think it's really hard to pick an exceptionally public place and not have it be, at least partially, about being seen. Even if that's not your primary intent, the knowledge that you are visible is a dire temptation indeed, and we are, after all, instructed to avoid even the appearence of evil; if nine out of ten outsiders asked what you're doing say "They're showing solidarity and faith by praying in public", then you're having those effects, even if you didn't mean them.
     
  17. ZiSunka

    ZiSunka It means 'yellow dog'

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    It's just a landmark that is at every school around the world, so it's convenient to tell people to meet there.

    It's a lot more confusing to have a slogan like, "See you in room 128!" since not every school has a room 128.
     
  18. seebs

    seebs God Made Me A Skeptic

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    Hmm. That's a good point. I still wish they'd be less enthusiastic about how cool it is that everyone sees people praying. :)
     
  19. Job_38

    Job_38 <font size="1"> In perfect orbit they have circled

    +1
    If I want to show what God has done in my life, is that wrong seebs?
     
  20. Job_38

    Job_38 <font size="1"> In perfect orbit they have circled

    +1
    &nbsp;

    &nbsp;Well, what I see whats cool about it is that, despite public opinion, they still do it.
     
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