I have tried to establish two categories for discussion in this blog, “Theological Mistakes” and “Theological Disagreements.” What I would like to discuss today is very close to a “Theological Mistake,” but I am going to be a little softer and list it as a “Theological Disagreement,” because it is certainly not a matter for the heretic police.
In the last 10-15 years I have been hearing more and more public, Christian prayers ended something like this, “We pray this in your name, Amen.” This has replaced the more traditional ending, “We pray this in the name of Jesus, Amen.” Why this shift? I don’t know the exact reason for this, but I have two suggestions.
First, there may have been some indirect pressure from those who are asked to pray in a public, non-church forum. I remember praying for my Rotary Club in Los Angeles where about 1/3 of the members were Jewish. It would not have been appropriate for me to end a prayer “in Jesus’ name” there, because I was praying for the whole group, and my Jewish (and Muslim) friends would not have been included in that. I just ended my prayers in this setting with, “Amen,” which was acceptable to Jewish people, Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, and even to Muslims. I have long believed that if you are unwilling to be non-sectarian in this type of public prayer you should decline the invitation. However, I have seen suggested model prayers for public events ending with “in your name,” presumably to be more inclusive and not exclusively Christian.
Second, and much more likely, is a confusion in understanding the doctrine of the Trinity. Let me illustrate. I used to see bumper stickers that proclaimed, “Jesus is Jehovah.” I understand the sentiment behind this (protecting and proclaiming the divinity of Christ), but this is theologically misguided and overly simplistic. There is a distinction between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the persons of the Trinity. We can argue and disagree about what that distinction is, but we should agree that the Father/Son/Spirit language is both biblical and helpful for us to understand the nature of God. Christian prayers are generally addressed to the Father, although we may sometimes pray to the Son (and even to the Holy Spirit). But if we are praying to the Father, what’s wrong with ending the prayer, “in your name”?
Here’s what’s wrong. When we pray “in Jesus name” we are doing more than giving a liturgical or ritualistic flourish to the end of our prayers that is somewhat meaningless. We are claiming a promise. In John 15:16, Jesus teaches, “whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” I believe this is the basis for praying “in Jesus’ name.” Most prayers include petitions, asks. If we are asking things of God, doing so in the name of Jesus clarifies our basis as Christians for such asking. So, unless we are praying specifically to Jesus the Son, the “in your name” seems misplaced. And, if we are praying specifically to Jesus the Son, ending the prayer “in your name” doesn’t make sense to me, because it is a misunderstanding or warping of the promise Christ gave his disciples.
One further note: there is a great variety of ways to end prayers. There is no dictated pattern in the Bible that demands we end a prayer in anyone’s name. We do find many New Testament prayers ending with “Amen,” meaning, “May it be true” or “May it be so.” I cannot find any prayers in the Bible that end in either “in the name of Jesus” or “in your name.” But I do find the basis for ending a prayer with “in Jesus’ name” (or some variation) in this promise that Jesus gives as recorded in the Gospel of John.