And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” – Matt 6:7-13
There was a day and age in Christendom when the Bible was only written in Latin, and the only people who could read it were the priests. We called those the Dark Ages for good reason. Then Gutenberg’s printing press allowed for mass production (though his Bible was still in Latin), and Luther translated the Bible into German (or one of its dialects at the time) – times were changing dramatically. Today we all have Bibles, which is a beautiful thing. We can all access the Word of God.
This radical change in free access to the Bible introduced something that we had (by comparison) less of in the Dark Ages – disagreement over interpretation. If folks get to read and think for themselves, they sometimes find that they disagree on what the Bible means. There is no Pope to settle the disagreements (not for protestants, anyway) so we just have to debate and wrangle and grapple with what is true and right. This, I argue, is not a bad thing. Organic things (like people) grow through trial and difficulty, and doing the “mental gymnastics” of understanding the Bible is a helpful thing.
As disagreements have cropped up time and again we have seen the introduction of the concept of the “clobber verse” – a verse that so obviously and vehemently contradicts a theological construct that it leaves no room for debate.
By way of example, I remember having several debates in college with students who wanted to justify their continued practice of having pre-marital sex with a boyfriend or girlfriend. They would say things like “well, I’m a christian, and she’s a christian, and we love each other, and the Bible says that love covers a multitude of sins … so it’s OK.” To this we would respond simply with 1 Cor 6:9-10:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” [ESV]
Clobber verse. Christians take it very seriously when you tell them they will not inherit the kingdom of God. Of course the message has to be delivered with mercy. Note that it does not say “anyone who has ever committed these sins” – it is all given in a present tense, implying that it is those who live in a continual practice of fornication who are in trouble. It doesn’t stop there though, here in one fell swoop Paul deals with idolatry, adultery, homosexual acts, theft, greed, drunkenness (which is not the same as drinking), reviling (abusive language), and swindling (e.g., selling used cars … OK, maybe that’s a bit unfair).
I was sitting in church this Sunday and the preacher came across another such clobber verse, though this one is not in relation to fornication but rather Word-of-Faith theology (WoF).
Recall that WoF is not simply the fraudulent “prosperity gospel” – there are plenty of WoF types who have rejected the obvious errors of prosperity doctrine. Ultimately WoF is about self-worship. It replaces God’s sovereignty with man’s (usually referring to “dominion” instead of sovereignty … because that would be a tough sell). It replaces God’s will with man’s will. It ultimately puts man at the center of the equation, with God responding as an automaton to words spoken in faith.
In various times and places this has led WoF preachers to eschew the will of God. They will say silly things like “don’t pray for God’s will to be done” but instead “declare what you want” and “pray it in faith” and “pray the promises of scripture over your life” (they always try to tie their New Age thought back to the Bible somehow).
This type of silliness is subject to so many refutations from scripture that it boggles the mind, and yet they persist. For instance, consider the Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, who said “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39) and again “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matt 26:42). He was submitted to the will of God even though He clearly preferred to not go through the crucifixion.
On Sunday we found ourselves in another clobber verse – James 4:13-16:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
It’s a simple message. It doesn’t leave wiggle room for “faith in my faith” and declaring the promises you want to be true. He says quite clearly if the Lord wills – everything we hope or dream or desire in this life is subject to the Lord’s will. It is how Jesus taught us to pray. It is how Jesus prayed in the garden.
For a preacher to say “don’t pray for the will of God to be done” represents a clear departure from a very straight forward message of scripture. And yet they will (not all preachers, of course, but WoFers). If you ever find yourself sitting in a service where a preacher launches into such a diatribe against praying for God’s will to be done, that’s a good time to leave.