Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How did Jesus answer the question?

Evangelicals pride themselves on keeping their spirituality alive and emphasizing the unique work of Christ for salvation, both of which are laudable. However, in doing so, evangelicals sometimes condemn the very answers that Jesus gave to questions about the faith. Here are two examples:

Prayer: Reciting memorized prayers? To some evangelicals, that sounds like dead religion. Real prayer, they counter, should be spontaneous, like we're having a conversation with a friend. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was specifically asked to teach a person how to pray. What did Jesus say?
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation." (Luke 11.1-4)
Jesus simply gives the person a prayer to pray. While spontaneous prayer is certainly acceptable, the way Jesus chooses to answer the question may make evangelicals want to re-evaluate the way they teach people to pray.

Salvation: What must a person do to have eternal life? If a person answered "keep the commandments", I think most evangelicals would immediately condemn the person as espousing a religion of works that belittles the work of Christ on the cross. The problem, however, is that that is exactly how Jesus responded to the question:
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19.16-22)
Of course, the story doesn't end with Jesus telling him to "keep the commandments". The man says that he has kept the commandments and asks what else he needs to do. But in his response, Jesus doesn't back down from telling him that he needs to keep the commandments to be saved or say that the man just needs to have faith. Instead, Jesus gives the man an even more stringent commandment to follow.

Scripture must be taken together as a whole. I do not mean to say that the Lord's prayer or memorized prayer is the only way to pray (cf. John 17, Psalms, etc), or that the only thing a person needs to ever hear about regarding how to attain eternal life is "keep the commandments" since the person also needs faith (Hebrews 11.6), repentance (Luke 5.32), and baptism (John 3.3-5), to name a few other parts of the process.

What I do mean to point out is this: Catholics follow Jesus in embracing memorized prayer and teaching the importance of the moral life after baptism to attain heaven. Evangelicals, on the other hand, in the way they approach both questions, sometimes - albeit unintentionally - condemn the very answers that Jesus Himself gave.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. As a former Evangelical minister I managed to not notice Jesus' wording, "say." I had been taught that the Lord's prayer was a model prayer (which it is) and through it we were taught to "when you pray, pray like this." In my head that is all it was... but you are quite right to point out the very obvious implications to a very oblivious person who formerly believed it.