The Lord’s Prayer is a historical mainstay in Christian liturgy, yet it has been strangely scarce in Baptist life. I don’t mean that we never reference that portion of Matthew and Luke; we just never use it as an aid in corporate worship (i.e., pray it together in service). When I joined a club soccer team in the 8th grade, they had a strange ritual where before every game they would pray the Lord’s Prayer as a sort of superstitious appeal to God for victory. None of these boys claimed to be Christians or even attend church, but they rattled that prayer off like it was nothing. Here I was faithful Sunday School attending Baptist…and I have to admit I was a little shaky on some parts of that prayer!
As I was looking through some of my forebears’ writings on the subject, I found that the aversion to liturgical usage of the Lord’s Prayer runs deep in the Baptist tradition. C. H. Spurgeon in his sermon entitled “The Fatherhood of God” makes this comment:
I very much question also, whether this prayer was intended to be used by Christ’s own disciples as a constant form of prayer…this prayer of Christ is a great chart, as it were; but I cannot cross the sea on a chart…and so a man may not use this form of prayer, and yet be a total stranger to the great design of Christ in teaching it to his disciples.”
If we go even further back and look at Andrew Fuller’s comments on the Sermon on the Mount, here is what he has to say about this famous prayer:
It does not appear to have been Christ’s design to establish a form of prayer, nor that it was ever so used by the disciples; but merely a brief directory as to the matter and manner of it. Such a directory was adapted not only to instruct, but to encourage Christians in their approaches to God. It was putting words into their mouths.
Both of these men go on to provide incredible insight into the meaning of this prayer, but I have to disagree with the way they interpret what “appears” to be the “intended” usage of this prayer. Matthew places this prayer at the very center of the Sermon on the Mount. Does he spotlight it for nothing? The fact that Matthew and Luke include slightly different versions of the same prayer and the very early textual variant of Matthew 6:13 (the doxology added) actually suggests that Jesus’ disciples were using this prayer in various forms as liturgy, and that Jesus taught it often during his ministry.
The Didache, a letter written somewhere at the end of the first or beginning of the second century, insists that Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer (with the whole text quoted from Matthew) three times a day (Didache 8:2-3). Now, just because the early church did something does not mean we also should–see 1 and 2 Corinthians. However, we should second guess ourselves before we second guess men who were taught by the original twelve.
Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is distinctly communal: “Our Father.” In fact, I believe Matthew intends us to pray it not just with one another, but with Jesus himself; Hebrews tells us that Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers, and he intercedes before our Father as our great high priest (Hebrews 2:11-12; 9:24). The prayers of faithful men like Daniel, David, and Jesus are recorded in Scripture not just for our theological enrichment, but for our participation with them in prayer. Yes, the Lord’s Prayer is a chart or guide for prayer. And yes, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us about Jesus mission, God’s plan for history, and our place in all of it. But it’s also meant for our use.
Spurgeon and Fuller cannot be faulted too greatly, because they are both reacting against the cold, robotic recitation that was taking place–and still takes place–in churches around them. The Lord’s Prayer is not voodoo or magical incantation, and it does not confer special grace by its mere vocalization. However, the abuse of this prayer does not condemn the prayer; the abuse condemns the abusers.
So, let’s get liturgical! “Let me hear your [church] body talk!” And by talk, I mean pray. And by pray I mean pray the Lord’s Prayer…aloud…together…in church.