Praying To Jesus?
Gary W. Summers


Yet another question was raised on the fourth day of this year's Open Forum at Freed-Hardeman University, which merits further attention. The question seems to be multifaceted:

Is it proper to address worship to Jesus and the Holy Spirit specifically and individually? Is it Scriptural to pray to Jesus? Many leaders in the church direct their prayers toward Christ even though many verses in the Bible discourage it. There's one verse in the NIV which says Stephen prayed to Christ during his stoning. Does this make it okay?

These questions are not new or unique. They have been asked and answered many times. Ralph Gilmore's answer, however, was unusual in that it first disagreed and later sort of agreed with what most brethren teach.

Well, I would say, first of all, that we have customarily sung songs of worship to Jesus in the past. It's just that they have been kind of disguised, and we didn't think about them. "Worthy of praise is Christ our redeemer, worthy of glory, honor, and power." That's a direct song we have sung for years with no controversy. Why is there controversy now among some to worship Jesus when, if you look through some of the hymnody that we have been comfortable with for years, it's there already.

First of all, this defense is an Argumentum ad Populum. Just because we have been doing something that people enjoy does not mean that the practice is correct. How many years have some been observing "Easter" or using instruments of music in worship? The Lord condemned man-made traditions (Matt. 15:1-9).

Second, singing "Worthy of praise is Christ our redeemer" (see Revelation 5:12) is not the same as praying to Jesus. Preaching or singing about Jesus cannot be legitimately questioned since the New Testament records sermon after sermon about our Wonderful Savior. Surely there is no controversy over songs of praise; brethren have questioned songs that encourage praying to Jesus, but those objections are not new.

But now it seems as though, with some of the stresses of postmodernism on the church today, and the fact that, as some go further to the left, it isolates and crystallizes those to the right, and, as some go further to the right, it pushes some to the left, and as we seem to be in a process of fragmentation here, it seems that some things we have done in the past that were not controversial at all now are getting scrutiny from the brotherhood.

Wow! That is quite a sentence! Regardless of postmodernism, the right, and the left, however, we, of all people, ought to be happy to reevaluate any practice that we have. Should we preach to others that everything we teach and practice must have Biblical authority (Col. 3:17) and then try to exempt ourselves because something we currently practice has not been questioned previously (not that brother Gilmore was advocating such)? We should always be willing to examine what we do by comparing our practices with the Scriptures. Only by doing so can we be confident that we continue to please God and not men. As careful as we have tried to be, we dare not think that Satan has not or cannot deceive us. We must ever be vigilant (1 Peter 5:8)--both as individuals and as the church.

The Case for Praying to Jesus

Brother Gilmore at last cites what he apparently thinks authorizes praying to Jesus.

In Acts 7:59, Stephen, as he is dying, calls on the name of the Lord Jesus. In Revelation 22:20, it is John the revelator who says: "Come quickly, Lord Jesus."

The passage in Acts 7:59 certainly authorizes speaking to Jesus: 1) when a person is being stoned; and 2) when he sees the heavens opened and Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56). Since this event is so early in the history of the church, it may be that Stephen knew Jesus while He was upon the earth; therefore, it would be entirely understandable if he spoke to Him. But if not, Jesus nevertheless is Lord, King, and Head of the church, which is His body, of which Stephen was a member. Since he was being put to death for preaching the Gospel of Christ, it is scarcely surprising that he addresses the One for whom he is giving his life.

The NIV does erroneously render the Greek verb in this passage "prayed." Imagine that, the NIV making one of its many "dynamic equivalence" blunders! The Greek verb, epikaleomai, is from the Greek verb, kaleo, meaning "call." With the preposition, epi, in front of it, it is translated in the King James as "surnamed," "call, calling, called" (Acts 2:21; 22:16), and "appealed" (Acts 25:11-12). Incidently, the NIV never translates this verb as "pray" in the other 31 times it appears in the New Testament.

What about John's comment in Revelation 22:20 (Rev. 12, 16-17, 18-21)? The entire verse says, "He who testifies to these things says, 'Surely I am coming quickly.' Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!" The next time Jesus speaks to one of us personally that He is coming quickly, we will undoubtedly be free to say "Amen" by way of response! But how does this exchange authorize praying to Jesus as a matter of common practice? Surely we can recognize the difference between a prayer offered to God and an enthusiastic response to a statement uttered by the Lord in the hearing of one of His servants! These two passages do not authorize praying to Jesus; they are personal, direct comments made to a visible and/or audible Savior.

Jesus was accustomed to worship even when He was a baby--when the wise men came and worshiped Him in Matthew 2:2. Jesus became accustomed to worship because He was above angels. Hebrews one, verses 8 and 9, clearly talks about Jesus being worthy of worship. Matthew 28:9--there it talks about the women who bowed down, and the Greek word proskuneo, they worshiped Jesus.

These references are correct; they prove His Deity.

In Revelation chapter 5, toward the end, the verse, you have the elders who are there on the throne scene of Revelation 4, worshiping God the Father --Revelation 5, worshiping Christ the Lamb. They are worshiping Him. So I'm gonna make a bold statement here. Not only is it okay to worship Jesus; I think it is very regrettable if we don't. He is worthy of worship.

At this point, Benjamin Apple came to the microphone to say that the question was not, "Can we worship Jesus?" Rather the question was "whether we're authorized by Scripture to pray directly to Jesus instead of in His name."

Well, in Acts 7 and Revelation 22, there are those two places.... Jesus says in John chapter 14 that, if you ask in My name, the Father will grant it. However, you have Acts chapter 7 and you also have Revelation 22, which indicate there are a couple of occasions when a prayer is addressed, although a short prayer, to Jesus. So, Ben, I think my answer would be, from an expedient point of view (and from a point of view that I feel most comfortable with), that you continue to pray to God the Father, as we have seen in Matthew chapter 6. And I don't see any reason to change that, but it's not worth a fight over. And I would just say that we continue to pray through our Mediator, Jesus Christ, who is there to help, and that we pray to God the Father.

First, if Acts 7 and Revelation 22 constitute the sole authority for praying to Jesus, then we really have none, for the reasons already cited. Second, it is the correct conclusion to say that we should pray to the Father through Jesus Christ. Gilmore referenced Matthew 6:9, in which Jesus taught the multitudes to address the Father when they prayed: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name."

Third, is it worth a fight over? It is worth studying. Presumably those on both sides of the issue want to do what is right. We know that God (the entire Godhead) is to be worshiped, honored, and glorified. To do so properly means that we must do all things according to His Word. We know that we are plainly authorized to pray to the Father through Christ. Are we authorized to pray directly to Jesus? If so, where?

Hardeman Nichols made some pertinent comments on this subject:

And in the passage in John 16:23, Jesus is talking about the time that He'll be leaving the disciples, and He said, "And in that day"--after He goes back to Heaven--"in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name. Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be made full." So Jesus' position in our praise and worship is not to address Him directly, but rather to address God through Him and acknowledge His priestly state.

An Example of Prayer

Sometimes, in addition to a principle, such as the one found in John 16:23-24, it is helpful to have an example; in this case we are blessed to have recorded for us a prayer offered by the disciples in Acts 4:24-30. It begins by addressing the Father as "Lord" and then adding, "You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them." We know that the Father is addressed by the use of the word Lord--not because Jesus is not also so designated at times, but because Acts 4:27-28 state:

For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.

The disciples again address Him as Lord in Acts 4:29. Their request was that they might with all boldness "speak Your word" and that their preaching might be accompanied by "signs and wonders" (Acts 4:30). The unity of the Godhead is seen in this passage. The brethren speak of God's Word (while addressing the Father) although the Word is inspired of the Holy Spirit. Concerning the miraculous, they ask the Father to stretch out His hand to heal and for signs and wonders to be done "through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus." The next verse says that they "were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness" (Acts 4:31).

The Father is the One addressed in the prayer, but they petitioned Him that signs and wonders be done through the name of Jesus to accompany the bold preaching. Peter had preached that those on Pentecost should be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38). The lame man was made strong through Jesus' name, "through faith in His name" (Acts 3:16); signs and wonders were to be done "through the name of the holy Servant Jesus"; and (in fact) whatever we do "in word or deed" is to be done "in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Col. 3:17).

All of these verses strengthen the concept of addressing prayer to the Father through Christ, our Mediator and High Priest.

Praying and Singing to Jesus

An anonymous individual from Alabama wrote on another person's Web site:

I have been a member of the traditional Church of Christ for 58 years and have been told all my life that I must pray to God--not to Jesus. ...why is it unreasonable to "talk" to my Savior who is my advocate and through whom I must go to reach the Father?

First, the New Testament does not speak of the traditional "Church of Christ." We either follow the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, or we do what we feel like doing (will worship). If this anonymous person has been taught to pray to the Father through Christ, it has probably been because of the principles cited in this article.

Second, theoretically, a person may speak or sing to Jesus all day long: "Worthy Art Thou." Third, why stop there? Why not also speak to the Holy Spirit and praise Him for giving us the inspired Word (without which we would have no knowledge of any of these matters) and for confirming it with signs and wonders?

Fourth, if Jesus is truly our Lord, then should we not do as He says? He taught us to pray, "Our Father..." (Matt. 6:9). He told the apostles to ask the Father in His name (John 16:23). Fifth, the approach advocated by this anonymous writer degenerates into a subjective, touchy-feely testimonial: "I will never forget the closeness to Jesus I felt at my first talk with Him!" Well, that settles it! Such a feeling certainly proves the case! Next we will be asked to accept as brethren those who had this warm feeling throughout their bodies when they first believed in Christ, though none of them were baptized for the remission of sins, according to the Scriptures. God gave us His word so that we would have an objective basis for our beliefs rather than determining all things by our subjective feelings.

Concerning the songs we sing, there is nothing inappropriate about singing praises to God, whether of the Godhead, the Father, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. The anonymous brother from Alabama cited, "My Jesus, I Love Thee" as singing a prayer to Jesus. He is mistaken in thinking that every time we address someone, it constitutes a prayer. If a woman stands by the grave of her husband of fifty years and speaks to him, is that a prayer? She does not expect an answer, but she might say, "I am proud to have been your wife, and I still love you." She might honor and praise him--without the expectation of a reply. How much more appropriate to honor our Savior, who has risen from the dead. Such does not constitute praying.

There are some songs that do advocate praying to Jesus, and these are inappropriate and in conflict with what Jesus taught. If we violate what Jesus said to do (pray to the Father through Him), then how can we possibly honor Him? The most flagrant (but there are others) is "Just a Little Talk With Jesus." It teaches error with respect to salvation: "And then a little light from heaven filled my soul; It bathed my heart in love and wrote my name above." The talk with Jesus, however, is for the purpose of prayer: "He will hear our faintest cry and He will answer by and by." This approach is not one of glorifying Jesus for His great work; it advocates praying to Him instead of the Father through Him. We ought to be careful of what we sing.

Songleaders should be careful of the songs they choose. Since singing is for the purposes of praising God and edifying ourselves, it is a means of teaching. Certainly, we do not want to teach ourselves false doctrine. Not all songs are as blatant as "Just a Little Talk With Jesus" or "Tell It to Jesus Alone" (the very word alone prompts the question, "What of the Father?"). Many songs simply include a phrase which sets forth the idea. Whether in prayer or in song, let us all approach the Father through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


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