Church History

Why We Don’t Pray For The Dead

Recently I came across an article written on Anglican Pastor by a fellow Anglican Priest entitled Why We Pray for the Dead.

What surprised me was not only his endorsement of the practice, but the implication behind the title that it is normal Anglican practice to do pray either for the dead or to the dead. Also there is no evidence that it was practiced by the early church, not until the middle of the second century.

Here are 10 reasons why we are not to pray for the dead:

1. There is no Scriptural support for praying to anyone other than God. None.
2.There is no Scripture support when it comes to praying to Christians who have died. None!
3. To pray to dead Christians, (asking them to intercede for us) is to give them attributes that only God has. (If every Christian prayed to dead Saints, then those dead saints must have the ability to hear all the prayers of Christians at once – this is a quality only our Triune God has).
4. Praying to dead Christians may be an ancient practice, but this does not authenticate the practice. An old error whilst old, is still an error.
5. The practice is inconsistent with the Anglican formularies.The practice was bound up with particular medieval Catholic doctrines and practices which the Reformers strongly rejected and Cranmer, having kept such prayers in the 1549 Prayer Book, removed them totally from the 1552 revision.The 1662 Book of Common Prayer is, of course, largely the text of 1552, but in one definite difference is in this prayer. Thus today, unlike in 1552, we pray:

“And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of they heavenly kingdom”.

The phrase ‘that with them’ is seized upon and taken by some to mean that we are praying for both us and the ‘departed’. But this is to distort the plain meaning of the English language and the prayer.
6. Whilst I agree that those who have died in Christ are not in Heaven,(Heaven being the place where soul and body is reunited again) but are in Hades (the place of interval), there is no need to pray for them.Those who are in paradise are walking with the King – enjoying the Lord Jesus, in his paradise with the wonderful joyous indescribable expectation of at a future point in time (when the Lord Jesus returns) of being inside the Father’s house, the place that has been reserved and prepared for them personally by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Those who have died outside of Christ will be in the King’s prison segregated and separated from the Lord Jesus Christ and from his people and will suffer remorse and regret of knowing that the life that had on earth is over, and that there is no altering of their choice in life to reject the Lord Jesus Christ, and with that the horrifying, agonisingly indescribable expectation of a future point in time (when the Lord Jesus returns ) of being cast into the Father’s garbage tip, the place that has been reserved and prepared for the Devil and his angels.
Thus praying for those whom have died does nothing to alter their destination. It is fixed at death. This is why Scripture is clear that we are to pray to God for the living.
7. Whilst all Anglicans state their belief in the Communion of Saints, what we are saying is that we believe that the catholic (World-wide, universal) church is made up of a spiritual communion or fellowship of Christians, including those who are alive (sometimes referred to as “the church militant,” cf. 1 Cor. 12:1ff) and those who have died (sometimes referred to as “the church triumphant,” cf. Heb. 12:1).
Those who have died in Christ are now with Christ ,whereas those who are alive in Christ on earth worship Christ by faith. What unites us is that both are in Christ and are part of His Church. This does not give us warrant to pray for them.
8. How can such prayers be faithful to justification by grace through faith in Christ alone and the reality that “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrews 9.27-28)?
9. The practice of praying to the dead and/or for the dead is inconsistent with not only the Scriptures, the BCP but also with the 39 Articles. (see Article XXII)

Article XXII
Of Purgatory
The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping, and Adoration as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.

10. The Homily on Prayer also roundly condemns the practice of prayer for the dead

So in essence, praying to the dead and/or for the dead, may be an ancient practice, but it has no Scriptural support, it is inconsistent with the Scriptures, the theology of the BCP, and the 39 Articles. In fact Scripture, the theology of the BCP and the 39 Articles make it abundantly clear that we are to not pray for the dead.

Luther – The Centrality of Grace

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Whilst there are many truths revealed in scripture, there are two of particular note. The first is that God is righteous, holy, and just. The second is that we are not, we are sinners.

The Bible tells us that all mankind falls short of the glory of God and have transgressed God’s laws. This is because we are sinful, and as it is is part of our ‘nature’, we by consequence, become objects of God’s divine wrath.

This leads, I think, to one of the most important questions there is for humanity:

 HOW CAN SINNERS BE RECONCILED TO A HOLY, RIGHTEOUS, AND JUST GOD?

Now, there are at least two errors one can make in trying to answer this question:

  • Firstly, one can deny the reality and gravity of sin; Either by denying sin altogether or reducing its importance.
  • Or secondly, one can acknowledge that they are sinful, but then attempt to remove the sin themselves.

Today is the 31st of October. It is known as Halloween and All Saints Day, but it is also known as Reformation Day.

It is on this day that we remember Martin Luther, the man who is, armed with his hammer and 95 theses, most known for triggering the Reformation.

Born in 1483 in Germany, Luther’s life was radically changed when, at the age of twenty-one, he was nearly struck by lightning during a severe thunderstorm. Taking it as a sign from God, and fearful of the storm, he cried out, “I will become a monk.”

Yet, even as a Catholic monk, Luther lived in terror of the wrath of God and sought every available means to make himself righteous in God’s sight. This included a life of prayer, severe fasting[1], sleepless nights, freezing cold, and even the beating of his own body to the point of considerable pain.

All of these were done in an effort to pay God back for his sin. However, they were all a result of poor teaching. You see, Luther had been told that the world was filled with good people and bad people, and that God lovingly saved those who were good, and damned those who were bad. Therefore, the only hope a person had was to save themselves by doing righteous things in order to make themselves holy.

Luther later recounted:

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously… I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law…without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel…threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience.[2]

Luther had no trouble at all acknowledging his sinfulness, it was an inescapable reality. He was troubled, however, with working out how to remove it. For him the means was not faith, not through trusting, but through trying.  Luther sincerely struggled with the question How is a sinner justified before a holy, righteous, and just God? 

But by God’s grace through the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit, Luther rightly came to see that a sinner was not declared righteous before a Holy God due to their own merits, but rather, that righteousness itself was a gift that God gave to those who simply trusted in Jesus alone for salvation. In other words, Luther rediscovered the great Biblical truth that the church had unfortunately lost – that justification is by faith alone in Christ alone, and by grace alone!

God in his mercy and grace, enabled Martin Luther to see the reality of the gospel – that because of Jesus’, sin-paying, death on the cross, a sinner is reconciled to God through faith alone. Here is how Luther put it:

 At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night… I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel… Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.[3]

Luther was liberated from the idea of meriting salvation, and this ‘radical’ idea — the heart of the Gospel — was unleashed to reform the church and it did. This message that we are justified by faith alone had wide-ranging impact, and is something that still has wonderful implications today! After all, this scriptural truth proves to us that it is not by our works nor by our merit that God accepts us. Rather, it is by the completed work of Christ on the cross.

Yet, despite this great truth being rediscovered, we see that mankind is still beholden to the idea that salvation depends on us. It is part of our own, foolish, nature to think that we need to bring something to God in order to be acceptable, or even the prospect that we canbring something to God in order to make us acceptable.

Entertaining such a belief lead to these type of thoughts:

  • God will accept me if I am good;
  • God will accept me if I go to church;
  • God will accept me if I take Holy Communion every week;
  • God will accept me if I put money on plate;
  • God will accept me if I have been baptised;
  • God will accept me if I have been confirmed;
  • God will accept me if…

Living such a way is torturous, because there is no assurance whatsoever. One can only hope to be saved and hope that their virtues outweigh their sins — and in the end, it is for naught. Luther rediscovered that we have nothing that God needs, that we can bring nothing to the table, and that there is nothing we can do for God to accept us.

Instead, rather than coming through trying, salvation comes through trusting.

You see, whilst there was nothing we could do to bring salvation, there was one who could and did. That was Jesus. He took our punishment upon the cross, and as such any — any — who trust in Christ are recipients of his substitutionary atonement. When we believe in the Jesus, when we trust in him as Lord and Saviour, when we respond to the person of Jesus with faith and repentance, we are forgiven. We are forgiven not because of anything we do, but because of what Christ has done

That is the gospel.

Luther encountered the grace of God in Christ and his whole life was transformed by it! Luther came to know that he was justified by faith alone in Christ alone and not through works — and as such, he became free from the tyranny of fear and doubt, and he was able to live life the way God intended. His whole life became an expression of his salvation. Luther enjoyed his wife, his kids, his food, the birds in his garden, and the dog that begged for scraps under the family table.

Luther was free, from slavery to sin, free knowing that his sin was forgiven, and therefore he was free to take hold of the truth of Scripture which says that all of life is to be lived as worship of God.

This is the freedom that comes to those who understand the the centrality of grace, which lies at the heart of the Christian faith.

There is a song by Slim Dusty and it goes like this:

I love to have a beer with Duncan

 I love to have a beer with Dunc.

 We drink in moderation

 And we never ever ever get rollin’ drunk

 We drink at the Town and Country

 Where the atmosphere is great

 I love to have a beer with Duncan

 ‘Cause Duncan’s me mate, yeah

 

Luther was God’s instrument to Reform the church, to restore what had been lost, that salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone, by grace alone. Luther loved beer, and although I don’t drink beer, I would love to have a beer with Martin, and my song would say this:

I love to have a beer with Martin

 I love to have a beer with Mart.

 We drink in moderation

 And we never ever ever get rollin’ drunk

 We’ll drink at the Lord’s own table

 Where the atmosphere is great

 I love to have a beer with Martin

 ‘Cause Martin’s me mate, yeah

 

References

1. Luther’s fasting during this time was to caused him intestinal problems later in life.
2. Preface to Martin Luther’s the Complete Edition of Luther’s Latin Writings, Vol. 34, ed. by Lweis W. Spitz (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1960), p. 336-337.
3. Ibid.

Book of Common Prayer – Anything But Common

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IT is not often we encounter a dye in the wool card carrying Presbyterian give praise to The Book of Common Prayer, but a few years ago this happened when the Academic Dean and Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia Carl Trueman was interviewed by an Anglican priest from the Diocese of Sydney and acknowledged that the The Book of Common Prayer, was one of the crown jewels of Anglicanism, (the others being the Homilies and the Thirty-nine Articles).

But it seems to me in some Anglican circles the crown jewels have been gathering dust for a very long time. I love the Book of Common Prayer (often referred to as the BCP), yet it is rarely used and it appears to be easy to forget that the front page of A Prayer Book for Australia and An Australian Prayer Book both state their purpose:

For use together with The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

My view is that the Book of Common Prayer is anything but common.

But first, a bit of historical context:

Imagine that you had come here to church because you had a heavy heart, and you wanted to hear something from the Word of God. You walk into your nearest church and find a building adorned with pictures and statues of dead Christians. And then you discover a rather macabre display case with physical remains (known as relics) of these dead Christians; a tooth of St So and So, teeth of St So and So. In the case there were also splinters from Christ’s cross at Calvalry, hair from 13 out of 12 apostles, breast milk from the Virgin Mary and enough nails from the cross to shoe every horse for Melbourne cup day. And by simply looking at these sacred relics or touching them, you can win favour with God or at least reduce the time that you spend in that man made Roman Catholic invention known as Purgatory.

Imagine that when the service begins, the minister does not speak in English (even though you do and everyone else does also) but speaks in Latin. The priest is elaborately attired in vestments of various colours and spends most of the service conducting a ritual at the altar. And now and them, he and everybody else, falls down to worship or pray to what is on the altar. There is no sermon. (As if there is a need or want of a sermon!) For the reason everyone has come is to see what is done by the priest and to adore and worship the bread and win that is on the altar.

Imagine that you lived in England 500 years ago and attended a service, that is exactly what you would have experienced.

What is going on?!?

What is going on is what is not going on. And what is not going on is reading the Bible.  You see, the Bible was shut! And furthermore, because it was shut, there was no discernment, people could not tell the difference between what was true and what was false. There was superstition and ignorance of the things of God and that was with the clergy. Crazy as it seems to us in the 21 century, but in the 15th century,  to read or even own a part of the Bible in English was punishable by death. Only the clergy and the educated (the rich) spoke Latin, so for most people who came to church it was all ‘hocus pocus’ (and by the way that term is a slang word that came from people hearing the priest say ‘Hoc est corpus’ at Eucharist, which means this is my body) and today ‘Hocus Pocus’ means something that is nonsense).

But slowly at the beginning of the 16th century, things began to change and over the course of a few decades, a revolution took place.

The Bible was opened.

People began to hear the Word of God in their own language, this revolution reformed the church, and history knows this movement as The Reformation. God raised up men who read the Bible, and their eyes were opened to the errors that had riddled the church. It happened in Europe first, with people like Martin Luther, and then it came to England.

During this time, there was a new era of technology, the Printing Press had been invented. Until this time books were rare and expensive. Now books could be published on mass, cheaply, quickly which meant that Bibles could be produced. And God raised up one man, who in God’s providence was placed in a position and a role where he could work for change in England, even though he was risking his life to do so. That man was the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, and his name was Thomas Cranmer, who was born on the 2nd of July, 1489.

Thomas Cranmer

You may have never heard of Thomas Cranmer. Many people have not and perhaps many Anglican Christians have not either. He lived such a long time ago, but the battles he fought are still being fought today. The errors in which he stood against are still with us in Australia in the 21st century as they were in England in the 16th century.

Thomas Cranmer was born in a small village in Nottinghamshire. Following a tough education he studied at Cambridge University at 14 years of age. He went on to become ordained and obtained the Doctor of Divinity and lectured in Divinity at the University. At Uni he heard about what was happening in Europe, especially in Germany. He started reading books by Martin Luther.

In 1529 Cranmer came to the attention of King Henry VIII. The King did not like the Pope very much and because the Pope would not grant him a divorce, it was enough to make Henry reject the RomUnknown-1an Catholic Church. At the same time King Henry was impressed by Cranmer, and in 1533 Cranmer became the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was the last thing that Cranmer wanted. However he was now in the ideal position to work for Reform in the Church of England. Some people think that this is how the Church of England started, but in actual fact, it was the centuries old Church of England that was being reformed to see it return to genuine, biblical Christianity.
There are three blessings of the Reformation that God gave us through Cranmer.

  • The Bible in English – Cranmer clearly understood that the key to wiping away great ignorance of the things of God, and false doctrine was for the Bible to be available in the language of the people – English. It was only when the teaching of the church could be discerned, or openly tested against the Word of God that truth could be seen. And so in 1534, Cranmer began to work with others for the translation of the Bible into English. Two years later, William Tyndale was strangled and burnt at the stake undeUnknown-2r the orders of Henry for translating the Bible into English. His last words as the flames engulfed him were “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes”. That prayer was later answered. Cranmer pushed on and in 1539, the King approved the English translation of the Bible and every parish in England was given a year to buy one. It was to be chained in the church so that it couldn’t be removed and so that everyone come and read it, or hear it read.

 

  • Rediscovery of justification by faith alone – As Cranmer and others read the Bible for themselves, they rediscovered a doctrine that had been lost for hundreds of years, and that was justification by faith alone (known as Sola Fidé).What does this doctrine mean? It means that because of my sinful nature I can never be good enough to stand in the presence of a holy and righteous God. As it says in Isaiah 64:6 that our righteous acts are like filthy rags. Only by the mercy and grace of God can we ever be accounted as righteous before him, and God has chosen to do that on the basis of Jesus atoning sacrificial death on the cross. JUnknown-2esus paid the penalty for the sins of all those who trust in him once for all. When a person trusts in Jesus as Lord and as Saviour, God looks at that person as if they have no sin, as they were paid for by Jesus. That is what Justification By Faith Alone Means – We are made with God solely on the basis of what Jesus has done for us.Or another way of putting it, we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone, by God’s grace alone.
  • The Prayer Book – From the Middle Ages, many churches were teaching that the way to be right with God was through good works, in other words we need to earn enough credit to deserve to be saved and to go to heaven when we die. And the very centre of these good works was ‘The Mass’. The Mass was understood to be a way of earning favour with God. It was seen as the best good work that anyone could do. And in the 16th century the reason people came to church was so that they could witness the miracle of the Mass – where you were told that the bread and wine actually transformed into the literal body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. And by offering up that real flesh and blood as a continuing sacrifice toUnknown-1 God, you could earn the forgiveness of your sins. So the Holy Communion was thought to be an actual offering up of Christ’s body and blood again to God, someone repeating the sacrifice that Jesus made at the cross. And because people believed that the Lord Jesus was physically present in the place of the bread and wine, they would fall down and worship him and pray to him there on the altar. Thomas Cranmer rightly saw that to be the  The way he dealt with it was to have the Bible in English, to have sermons in Church, so for the first time in centuries you would be able to go to church and understand what was being said. And thirdly, he taught the people of England through what they were to pray. He is the man behind The Book of Common Prayer. It is for this work that Thomas Cranmer is best known and remembered. His first prayer book was published in 1549, his second in 1552 and the third in 1662.

The Anglican Church stands in the great Reformed tradition that is rooted in the primacy of the scriptures (sola Scriptura) and the doctrine of salvation by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide) in Christ alone (sola Christus) to the glory of God alone (Soli Deo Gloria), which is foundationally expressed in The Book of Common Prayer. Anglicanism rejects the Authority of the Roman Church and Pontiff, (Article XIX of the Church). Thomas Cranmer set out a pattern of liturgical worship that is very much in protest against the Roman Church. (I.E Confession is made to God through Christ, rather than to a priest; rather than forgive a person on behalf of Christ, an Anglican Presbyter announces God’s forgiveness. The Anglican Church rejects transubstantiation (the physical presence of Christ in the elements) (see Article XXVIII Of the Lord’s Supper).

Thomas Cranmer  was able to bring Martin Luther’s rediscovery of justification by faith alone into the heart of the Church of England. It has since spread around the world in Anglican and Episcopal Churches and is now the third largest Christian denomination with about 77 million members and it is largely due to The Book of Common Prayer.

What excites me about The Book of Common Prayer and what I have come to see all the more clearly is that (along with the other crown jewels of Anglicanism) it offers the historical anchoring that many evangelicals seek. It allows us to root our convictions in the riches of the tradition of Christian thought and prayer that faithful followers of Jesus Christ have passed down to us. We can discover an ancestry that goes back two thousand years – right back to the teaching of Jesus himself, with great theologians, liturgists and saints whose writings can help us to be the disciples that Jesus calls us to be. It also makes us more clearly part of the one, holy, catholic (i.e. universal) and apostolic Church.

The BCP also reminds me that the church and prayer is not about me and my emotions, that the worship of God is about God, that I am a participant with others who are gathered to meet with God in Word and Sacrament, that I am not a spectator and certainly not a consumer; that the worship of God involves all the senses and does not begin and end with the preacher. Finally it reminds me that the Christian Faith is over 40 years old and that it is not hip, trendy and cool and does not need to be in order for it to appeal to people today.

I believe that the Book of Common Prayer, and even more importantly, the theology of the Book of Common Prayer will give people what they seek. The Book of Common Prayer is one of the crown jewels of Anglicanism, and in my view is the Jewel in the crown. And it is my prayer that as the BCP is re-discovered (and there are very encouraging signs that this is happening) that those who read it will discover what I discovered some years ago, that the Book of Common Prayer is anything but common.